Vrindavan – Jai Singh Gera Ashram

13th February 2014 (Day 5) (Vrindavan #10)

While in Vrindavan we stayed at Jai Singh Gera Ashram.  This was founded by Raja Savai Jai Singh, or Jai Singh II, ruler of Amber (later Jaipur) in Rajasthan.  He was the strongest Hindu ruler in Northern India at the time and was also an important official for a succession of Mogul emperors, though Aurangzeb sidelined him because he was a Hindu and Bahadur Shah sidelined him because he took the wrong side in a Mogul succession war. He built what is now the ashram on a two-and-a-half acre site bordering onto the river.  It slowly fell into ruin for much of the next 200 years until rebuilding and restoration commenced from the 1960s.

I do not have any photographs to show you of the more modern accommodation and facilities in the building where we stayed, but I accidentally discovered an unreconstructed section of the original buildings.

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Gateway to garden, with squirrel.

Looking for the back gate, I walked past it and instead walked through a gateway to a rather charming garden.

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Beyond the garden, I discovered an unheralded and enchanted wonderland that included buildings that must have been built by Jai Singh.

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The river is just beyond here.  I suspect this was originally a gateway to steps leading down to the river.

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This must be Jai Singh’s Pavillion.  I surmise it was used for religious ceremonies and performances.

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Going back through the garden, there was a set of steps by the river wall leading up to a vantage point.  This is a view from there.  I don’t think these buildings are part of the ashram.  There appears to be a school for young children in the walkway at the left.

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Down below there was a monkey studying itself in a fragment of a mirror.

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And this is looking along the road beside the river.

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Outside the back gate of the ashram, there was a building that we were told was abandoned.  It appeared to have seen better days.

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Here we are looking back towards the street.

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I made some photographs in the central courtyard and then a dog started barking from the upper level.  I then realised there was a family squatting up there so I left.

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Here we are looking back from near the pontoon bridge with darkness descending….

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Vrindavan – Snake charmer and markets

13th to 14th February 2014 (Day 5 and 6) (Vrindavan #9)

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Continuing on from the morning walk in the previous post, we left Vrindavan and headed off towards the country.  We walked past a dozen or so people washing and beating clothes in the open air as a commercial activity.  We were told they would not appreciate us taking photographs so I have none to show you.  However, here are the clothes lines as we walked past.

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After a while we arrived at a small family settlement where we were to meet a snake charmer.

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And here he is.

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For those who are into the history of the Blues, his young assistant is playing the portable equivalent of a diddley bo.  In the southern US of yore, this was an instrument consisting of a wire stretched between two nails and could be on the side of a house, used by those too young to be able to afford a guitar.  Here the youngster has a guitar string (?) stretched between a stick and a tin can (under his arm).

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On the way back, these two people at a small farm settlement asked me to take their photo.

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Here we are passing the washing again.

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Back in the outskirts of Vrindavan, the municipal rubbish disposal workers are hard at work.

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I had a picture of this gateway in the last post with the doors half closed and a group of children.  Walking past it again, here you can see how little remains inside.  Perhaps sacked by Aurangzeb’s forces, I don’t know.

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The next morning was the day we were to leave Vrindavan but the bus didn’t go until 1:00pm, so I went for a walk and found some fruit and vegetable markets.

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The monkeys are a hazard here.  One of their favourite tricks is to grab someones glasses and retreat to the roof.  People then have to throw food up to them so they let the glasses go.

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Vrindavan – Morning walk

13th February 2014 (Day 5) (Vrindavan #8)

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Early this morning we set off on a walk through part of Vrindavan. In the background above is Jugal Kishor Temple, constructed in 1627 following permission from Mogul Emperor Akhbar.

Following images show some of the places and views I encountered on the walk. In most cases they need no further comment, particularly since I may know little more about them than what you see.

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A vendor on the way to work, I should think. Rubbish collection is not a strong point in the Indian states Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Corruption is also not unknown. Apparently the current or a recent mayor of Vrindavan sold the land that was being used for a tip, so now they have no official place to dump rubbish.

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This is a passageway into a compound where we visited a local family.

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And here is the family. While we were there a dog unfortunately bit one of our party. This resulted in quickly organising a doctor for rabies injections. Fortunately she was OK.

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This is a view at the upper level above the compound.

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Some followers of Shiva whom we visited.

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Vrindavan – Evening ceremonies

12th to 13th February 2014 (Day 4 to 5 (early morning)) (Vrindavan #7)

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Washing clothes at the pump.

Following our visit to the sugar factory, we returned to Vindravan.  The first two images look across the road before we alighted on the bus.  The next four are from the bus on the way back.

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Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

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Preaching to the converted?

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When the light was starting to get low, I headed off to the river where another puja ceremony was underway.  This time I was more interested in what was happening around me than the ceremony itself.

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The ceremony is going on below me here as I sit on top of a pillar like the one at the right.  While I was sitting there, a young girl aged eight approached me to sell me small containers with a candle surrounded by flowers.  I did not understand their purpose at the time but it was to set them adrift on the river with the candle lit as an offering.

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I didn’t photograph her then but she was in the details of some of the images I took from the boat of the puja ceremony, two nights previously.  She is on the right having probably just tried to interest the people sitting on top of this column in her wares.

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Gunjan.  Image by David Bassett.

Here is a portrait of her taken on this evening by Dave Bassett, another member of our group.  Her name in Gunjan.  We know this because when we returned to Australia, Brian Rope, the leader of our group, discovered a remarkable article on the web about her.   By an extraordinary coincidence it was published on the web just nine days before this night, though we did not know of it at the time.

Her father was killed by his brother a year or two ago and her mother has difficulty finding work so Gunjan supports her family of five by selling the flowers.  This means she is no longer able to go to school and she is illiterate (though she speaks English very well).  At the time of the article, her twelve year old sister was unable to leave the house because she was of “marriagable age”, lacked a dowry and it was not safe for her to go out by herself.

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Image by Brian Rope.

Gunjan is here talking to me as I sit on top of the column.   The photograph is by Brian Rope (web site, blog).

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Slowly the sun goes down.

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The women in the archway above are eying off the monkey to make sure it does not creep up on them.  These monkeys have been known  to attack women and children.

It is some hours later, quite late at night, and this is the entrance to the Sri Radharaman Temple.  It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Krishna that dates to 1542.  It escaped the systematic temple desecrations in Vrindavan at the time of Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century because it was located in what was thought to be a residential quarter.  It houses one of the most important deity statuettes of Vindravan.

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We were able to photograph during the ceremonies though we were given some instructions on etiquette such as not to turn our backs on the altar.

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Returning to the ashram through the narrow back alleys….

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Vrindavan – Making Sugar

12th February 2014 (Day 4) (Vrindavan #6)

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On the way back from Kusum Sarovar to Vrindavan, we stopped off at a village where they produce sugar.  Here is a young boy sitting in front of the sugar factory.

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There were also a couple of young buffalo tied up nearby.

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But I digress….

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This is the operation as seen from the street.  Usually I post the images in chronological order but here they are in an order to show the sequence of a process. Actually in this one we are returning to the bus and I am taking a last shot looking back.

The edge of a pile of cut sugar cane stalks is at the bottom left corner.   The machine grinding the stalks is at mid-left.  The furnace is towards the centre and there are a series of large shallow ceramic bowls on the ground to the right of that, not visible in this image.  These are for heating and cooling the sugar cane juice.

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Here we have a friendly operator feeding the machine that grinds the sugar cane stalks.  A hidden petrol or diesel engine drives the machine through the big wheel and belt at the right.

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This is the other side of the machine where the mulched sugar cane emerges.  I presume they later use this to feed the furnace.

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The juice from the cane comes out a chute at the front of the machine, into a collecting bowl and then flows further down a channel.  You can see that better in this view.

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The juice flows into a heated bowl.  The heat comes from the furnace that we saw earlier.  The chimney is behind the person at the back of the crowd with the horizontal striped shirt (you may be able to just see the top of it).

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The juice flows down a series of large ceramic bowls that are heated from below by the furnace.

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Image by Julie Manley.

This is the final cooling bowl.  I took one of this but it wasn’t in focus, I think I had accidentally put the camera in macro mode.  My partner Jools, standing beside me, took this one.

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Some nice patterns on the surface….

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Stirring the final mix.

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Image by Julie Manley.

Eventually, it goes into moulds and ends up as cakes of sugar, as above.

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On the road near Vrindavan

12th February 2014 (Day 4) (Vrindavan #5)

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Family with house and dog.

Most of the images in this post were from the journey back from Govardhan (and Kusum Sarovar temple) to Vrindavan.  The first two are from the journey to Govardhan.  Many were taken from the bus, in motion.

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This is at Govardhan, having just alighted from the bus.

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This is still at Govardhan but we are leaving on the bus.  This appears to be a makeshift shrine.  Three seekers or holy men and their puppy.

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The shadows don’t really help here or in the previous image but when you’re travelling you can’t be everywhere in good light.

The wheels are a kind of mechanical threshing machine that you can see more clearly if you click on the image.  There is a handle on the large wheel to turn it around.  I suspect the huts store the green materials used to feed the machines and the output in turn is for animal feed, such as for the buffalo tied up in the foreground.

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Low-tech traffic signals for trains, it would seem.  This is taken from the bus on an unregulated crossing and I presume that all trains are expected to stop to ensure no accidents.

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A village scene flashing by as we drive past.  All the huts would be for storage.

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After a while we stopped for lunch under a large tree.  This image and the next five were taken of people passing by or of the farming area around where we stopped.

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I can’t show you the photograph taken on the phone.

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For the last two, we are on our way on the bus again.  I understand these cattle are just lounging around in the sun, rather than being outside their own house in a village where cattle have property rights.

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Current technology transport and transport from time immemorial.

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Vrindavan – Kusum Sarovar

12th February 2014 (Day 4) (Vrindavan #4)

We went on a short journey from Vrindavan to Govardhan where we saw the Kusum Sarovar temple complex which was built in the eighteenth century.
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The area round Govardhan is on Govardhan Hill, which I also heard described as the Sacred Mountain.  It is a gently uplift over four or five kilometres that you only really notice from a distance.

Krishna is said to have encountered villagers preparing to sacrifice to Indra, the God of Rain, and he told them to stop the sacrifice and go about their business.  When Indra sent torrential rain, Krishna lifted up Govardhan Hill to protect the villagers and their cattle.  The legend represents leaving behind old practices of sacrifice to concentrate instead on dharma, the way of living one’s life to generate most beneficial karma.

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People are actually not supposed to bathe in the waters but there is no way of stopping them.

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Inside the domes there are ancient frescoes which are sadly in need of restoration.

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