November 6, 1961 – India

Clarks Hotel, Benares, India – Clear

     Oh me, oh my.  We had to get up at 5:30am this morning, earlier than we’d gotten up in quite awhile.  We’d been told it was necessary because we were going to have a long day of touring.  Edith and I ordered some coffee sent to our room rather than rushing to get downstairs to give us more time to get dressed.  The coffee came as we finished dressing so we didn’t have much time to drink it before it was time to go but it tasted good and I was glad to have had it.  We had to leave our bags packed and in the lobby so they could be transported to the airport for our flight later today to New Delhi that we were to take after our tour.  I was pleased when I found out we had gotten to the lobby in time so that we didn’t hold up our starting time.

      Our group went first to the Ganges River where we boarded row boats to take us up the famous river.  The religious came to the Ganges to die, if possible, and we saw a massive number of people who were obviously there to do just that.  I found it amazing that as we traveled up the river we passed people washing clothes near other people who were cremating dead bodies in Ghats which sat on a large concrete square by the river bank.  It was also so incongruous to see people who were bathing near others who had kneeled to pray by the river all right next to more of those burning Ghats.  One of temples we passed on the Ganges was even sinking and that made the sights we saw so odd.   

Ganges River

People Doing Laundry Seen during Boat Tour on Ganges

Ganges Ghat Bathers

Ganges with Some of 2000 Visitors There Daily

Ganges Sinking Temple

      When I asked Mahendra, our guide for India, about their process involving the Ghat he patiently explained that the body is completely wrapped for cremation.  Women in brightly colored shrouds and men in more somber shades.  I knew there were many deaths from small pox so I wondered what happened to those bodies.   Mahendra told us that they buried those people as soon as possible after they die because the risk was too great to burn them.   

      Later Mahendra went on to tell all of us that Benares is considered the Holy City of India and that this area is considered the most sacred spot on the Ganges because of the large number of shrines in close proximity.  He told us an average of 1,500 to 2,000 pilgrims came here daily to bathe and meditate.  Afterwards he mentioned they will carry water back in little brass containers to a shrine and then home to drink.  At one point Mahendra called attention to the long lines of people holding cups.  He said those people are beggars hoping to be given money from people coming to worship. 

      When our little boats returned to shore we all made our way to where there was a narrow dark stairway that allowed us to look down on the Golden Temple.  We passed pilgrims and sacred cows along the way.  Once there Mahendra explained that a visit to the Hindu temple and a bath in the Ganges was important in the believer’s path to liberation.  He said it was considered essential for Hindus to visit that temple at least once during their life. 

      As we left the temple and I commented on the number of cows so Mahendra patiently explained to us the background on how they became holy.  He told us that in ancient times it was discovered that the cow that was being used as a beast of burden to cultivate the soil could also be eaten.  Then it was found too many cows were being slaughtered to eat so they made a law prohibiting cows from being killed.  But like other laws the masses who were starving still broke the law and it was difficult to enforce.  As a result the head of the Hindu religion at that time created an edict to make the cow sacred.  That solved the problem according to Mahendra because the people respected and obeyed the proclamation despite the fact that so many were starving.  He also told us that the Banyan Tree was considered holy and couldn’t be cut down for any reason.

      I could see that Mahendra was passionate about his Hindu religion and its dictates but I still thought it was sad.  With so much wealth in this country and so many cows wandering all over I wished that something couldn’t be done to help the poverty stricken.  All I could do each time I saw a wandering cow was shake my head.

      We continued on our tour by motor coach to see an ancient Buddhist city where we were given the chance to see the Temple of Buddha and the Monkey Temple that was there.  The old area had many narrow streets and sidewalks that I saw were being used to sell merchandise although I noticed it was mostly fruits, vegetables and grain.  As we drove along we passed holy men, holy cows, dogs, goats, camels, pilgrims, beggars, and people on bicycles.  There were also three wheeled vehicles and cow-drawn carts with large wooden wheels.  The atmosphere was really old world and I loved the experience, or at least most of it.  The roads were terrible but our driver did a great job of missing the chuck holes in the pavement and everything else on the street.  I was glad there weren’t any accidents because I had heard some terrible horror stories of what happened when someone hit a cow.

Benares Street Scene

Another Benares Street Scene

Third Benares Street Scene

Fourth Benares Street Scene

      Our final stop for our touring today was a silk factory.  As we walked around looking at the operations we saw they used the children to do the work on the most precise patterns for the saris and scarves using a great deal of gold and silver thread in the yardage.  The children were weaving the most beautiful wall hangings.

      Mahendra made a point of telling us that the weaving trade was handed down from father to son.  The father would teach the son and then leave his business him.  Most weavers had passed their trade down for many generations.  I asked about the children having fun and playing but Mahendra just shook his head and led us away.

      I was glad that that was the end of our tour and that we were taken back to our hotel to freshen up before we had to leave for the airport.  We flew out of Benares a little before 1pm for New Delhi but we paused briefly on the way at Agra before we finally arrived at 5:30pm. 

     We drove into the metropolis and were taken directly to the Ashoka Hotel.  I was pleased to see the hotel was beautiful, big and modern.  At check in the clerk handed me two letters that they had held for me and both were from Ramona.  I was pleased to get both letters but it concerned me that I hadn’t gotten any letters from Bob for so long.  I only hoped there wasn’t a problem with him or his family. 

Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi India

View of New Delhi India

      I noticed that Edith wasn’t given any letters so I thought for sure she wouldn’t be in a very good mood tonight.  I only hoped our room would be better than our previous one so that she would be happier.  Edith and I made our way with the bellboy and luggage to our room.  Our room turned out to be very nice so we unpacked and got ready for dinner. I took time to sit and read my two letters but I tried to do it inconspicuously so that I didn’t rub it in Edith’s face that she hadn’t gotten a letter. 

      I felt starved by the time we went down to dinner and I didn’t know if bananas and fruit would be enough tonight.  Once we were seated to eat we were handed a menu and Mahendra reassured us that we would be able to get something good and safe to eat.  I decided to take a chance on what Mahendra had said and I ordered a nice steak and several vegetables.  As it turned out our meal was delicious and I was glad I could eat.  I only hoped there weren’t complications later but it felt so good to be full for a change. 

      Once I was back in the room Edith wanted to play cards but I remembered the letter I had started to Ramona yesterday so I thought I should finish it or at least add more to the letter before going to bed for the night.  Edith seemed disappointed but I worked on the letter anyway:

      Later, Nov 6, 1961.  We drove into New Delhi (after a good flight) today about 5:30pm.  This is a beautiful hotel and the dinner was good tonight for a change.  I received 2 letters from you dated Oct 26th and 28th.  I am not getting any mail from Bob and Pat.  I am afraid they are mailing them too late and if they don’t get it in well ahead of the deadline I will never get the mail since it is not forwarded.  Please drop them a line and tell them this.  The mail is very slow.  Also I would like to know if you are receiving the correct numbered letters from me.  Some places we’ve been, it is doubtful if they even sent the letters or cards out.  A post card costs me 25 cents or over.  The stamps costs another 25 or 40 cents in most places that is why I have had to stop writing cards, it keeps met broke.  You never saw such a racket.  I am holding up the film now until I reach a safe place to mail from. 

     Ramona I just thought if you will put about 2 yards of that gold ribbon in a letter to me I think I can fix my gold dress; in case I don’t get it sent home.  The ribbon won’t weigh much.  Oh yes, I received the church letters and I have received #10 and #11 from you.  Thanks, will write more later.

      I felt better that at least I had added to my letter to Ramona even if I didn’t finish it tonight.  It was my own fault writing so small and using large paper for this letter.  I put the letter in my wallet so that Edith wouldn’t be able to find it.  I felt a little guilty because I really wanted to add my feelings about the children I’d seen working in the factory and also the large numbers of beggars we’d seen in Benares but decided to wait till I returned home to try and explain those feelings.  I only hoped my letter didn’t come across as too petty.

      I waited till Edith had taken her bath and then I went to take mine.  I stayed in the tub till the water was cold because I just wanted some time alone to think about what I had seen today.  Afterward I went to bed but had some trouble getting to sleep.

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