Monday, December 8, 2014
This morning I woke up to my last day in India (for this trip!) and I was sorry that the trip was coming to an end, but still very excited about what was in store for us on this day. Every day in India has been an adventure and most of it has exceeded my wildest dreams, so I expected today could very well be the same.
At 8:00am Faslu showed up and helped us get our bags into the taxi. But I noticed it wasn't the same taxi he had used on the previous 2 days and asked him about it. Turned out, he wasn't personally going with us to Delhi. He was turning us over to his ‘cousin’, another taxi driver. A few minutes later I caught him asking his ‘cousin’ what his name is!)
We set out on our last Road Trip of this adventure!
After an hour or so we arrived in the town of Mathura. This is supposed to be the Birthplace of Lord Krishna (so think of it as the Bethlehem of Hinduism) and it contains a very important Krishna Temple. Many people had told us that this was a place we shouldn't miss!
As we were walking up the narrow street toward the Temple a young boy tried to sell us some post cards. Saji 'shooed' him off, perhaps a bit too bruskly. The boy was probably annoyed that we wouldn't even look at his post cards and he pointed to Saji's Googleglass eyeglasses and said, "Camera! Video! You can't take that into the Temple!!!"
In the words of W.C. Fields, "Go away, kid! Ya' bother me!"
The kid did go away -- straight to the guards that check people for cameras and cell phones before they enter the most sacred Temples. Saji had walked right past these types of guards at every Temple and site we had visited in the past week and always gotten away with wearing the Googleglasses, but not this time!
"Camera! Not allowed!" the guards proclaimed. "But these are my regular glasses," Saji pleaded, "I need them to see! The camera is turned off!" "No!," the guards proclaimed, "No camera! Can't come in!" Poor Saji was denied! He went back to the car to wait for me and I proceeded into Krishna's most sacred Temple alone!
I'll tell you what happened there a little later.
When I came out of the Temple Saji met me on the road. We went back to the Taxi and drove on to Vrindavan. This is an area near Mathura that contained an ancient forest, where according to the Mahabharata, Krishna spent a lot of time during His boyhood. We hired a Guide there and he took us into the first old Temple. "Take off your glasses," he advised. "Why?! They don't allow glasses in here?!" "Glasses are allowed," he clarified, "But we have a BIG Monkey Problem here!"
Boy, DID they!
"They will climb up your back, snatch your glasses right off your face, and run away with them!", he told us.
The little bastards were EVERYWHERE! Hiding in crevices, looking around corners...
...wearing their stolen dark glasses as a disguise!
But we were on to them and kept our glasses safe. If you want to read about Mathura's BIG Monkey Problem, here's a good page about it: http://news.vrindavantoday.org/tag/monkey-problem/
We also visited a Temple dedicated to Widows. Apparently widows from all over India come here to be cared for.
On the way back to the Taxi I came across the worlds largest pot of Gulab Jaman!
Does it look like I'm about to lick my lips over the sweet deliciousness in front of me?
Check out my Holy Bovine friend...he beat me to it!
It was stressful driving to Delhi because we really wanted to get to the Spice Route restaurant at the Imperial Hotel during lunch hours. It was not looking good, at all. Our most optimistic estimate was to get there around 2:15 and their website said that lunch was from 12:30 to 2:30.
We got there around 2:25 and I dashed inside to find a hotel manager and gave him my best impression of an important American. "Ahem!" I intoned, sonorously, "My friend and I have traveled half-way 'round the world to dine in the Spice Route restaurant, which I am told is the finest restaurant in the world. Would it be possible, my good man, to book a table at this late hour? Harumph!!!" Considering how shabby and dusty and disheveled I looked, my best impression wouldn't have won any prizes.
But He said, “Of course. No problem. How many for lunch? Two? Fine. I’ll just go book a table for you.” DONE!
We entered a narrow doorway, flanked by thick wooden pillars, into a darkish room. There were murals everywhere: on the walls, on the pillars and on the ceiling.
Every wall was decorated differently – some were carved stone, some were carved wood, some were a complex mosaic of different kinds of wood.
The waitress was lovely and attentive almost to a fault.
The service was even better than at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia or the Enoteca Ristorante Pinchiorri in Florence (the two finest restaurants I had been in previously). The food was very nearly at that level, also. But the decor and ambiance was far better!
Saji was very surprised and delighted to see several dishes from his home State of Kerala. I guess I hadn't yet told him that this was not an Indian Restaurant – it was a ‘Spice Route’ restaurant, featuring the best dishes from the ancient spice route that had a very important station in Kerala. This is the place Christopher Columbus was trying to find when he blundered into Haiti in 1492 and accidentally re-discovered the Western Hemisphere for the Europeans. (Norway had already done that 500 years before, but the history books I had to read in school failed to mention that.)
Kerala is famous for Black Pepper and that’s the spice Columbus was after. When he landed in the Caribbean and found that there was no Black Pepper there, he grabbed some Chili and called it ‘Chili Pepper’, in an attempt to make the best of the situation.
So we ordered Mee Krob from Thailand, Chemeen Thoren (Kerala-style prawns, stir-fried with coconut, curry leaves and black tamarind and flavored with mustard seeds), Vegetable Fried Rice from China, and an Indian Shrimp dish that featured the largest butterflied shrimp I've ever seen - they must have been four or five inches in diameter!
They also gave us Thai shrimp crackers and Indian lentil crisps and 5 great dipping sauces to put on them. Saji ordered a Tequila Sunrise and I had a Saffron, which was a house signature drink with a mixture of many different fruit juices and rums. Then I had another one.
Between the excellent food, the impeccable service and the most beautiful rooms I've ever dined in, I have to say it was the best meal I ever had in my life.
We went outside and hired a taxi to try to do a little final sightseeing before my flight back to New Jersey. We drove by the Lotus Temple which is the main Temple for the Bahá'í Faith, but it was closed on Monday's so we just stopped and snapped some photos.
Then we tried to see the Qutb minar and the Iron Pillar, but it was too late, it was getting dark, and the hours didn't line up with our schedule. Here's what they look like, though:
The Qutb Minar is the 2nd largest minaret in the world (73 meters high, 379 steps). And the Iron pillar is 1,000 years old -- and almost completely free of rust! Apparently, they knew something about metal-working back then!
It was dark, we were exhausted and we really didn't have time to do anything else so the Taxi dropped me off at the airport then took Saji to his friends house.
I slept most of the way back to the States, and most of the next week. I was really, really happy to see my beautiful family again. Almost as happy as I was to see our perfect bathroom!
I'd like to finish this Blog by telling you about one of the most magical moments that occurred on this trip, and it happened earlier today. Remember when Saji got busted for trying to wear his Googleglass glasses into Krishna's main Temple? And I had to go into that one temple alone?
On my way into the main Temple I stopped to buy 2 beautiful flower garlands - one for Lord Krishna and one for Radha, his devotee. I looked at all the side altars first, intentionally saving Radha-Krishna for last, for 'dessert', for the 'Grand Finale' (See? It's not just at RYLA. I even 'Direct' my own life like it's a Movie or a theatrical production. You always save the 'best for last', right?!)
As I approached one of the side Altars, (probably containing Hanuman or Ganesha), still holding my Garland offerings for Radha and Krishna, a priest saw me and thought I might be about to offer my garlands at that Altar. I must be stopped! He hurried over. "No! Not there!", he said, then pointed to the Main Altar where the Murtis of Radha and Krishna were standing, "Over there!" I smiled at him and gave him my nicest 'this ain't my first Rodeo' look and asked him to show me exactly where I should place the garlands. There was a money box about 20 feet long, with sloping tops leading to the money slot. He indicated that I should put the garlands on top of that.
I did, and a young priest came over and took them. He walked up to the Main Altar and placed them on a hook next to Krishna and Radha.
Then he disappeared 'back-stage' for a second and came out with a handful of other garlands. (I suspected that these had been offered to the Altar earlier). He brought one of them back to me and placed it around my neck. As I bent my head in prayer the young priest asked me, "Where from? USA?" I said yes. He beamed! "I went to college in USA!" he went on, "Iowa! Fairfield! Maharishi University!" "No way!" I shouted, "So did I!!" What year were you there?" "2007", he said. "I was there the year they moved to Fairfield," I said, "1976! We helped them move in!"
So we started talking about Maharishi, Guru Dev, TM, the Siddhis, and finally I told him I'm a TM 'Initiator', which mean I can teach people to Meditate. In response he immediately began chanting Maharishi’s Puja, which if you read the Background post, or the Day 8 post you know is the Sanskrit song of praise and ritual that Maharishi taught us to perform before we taught someone to meditate. I had sung it 8 or 10 times already in India, starting at the final night of iRYLA and I had done it at a few Rotary meetings, quietly, to myself, in a few Temples and most bizarrely in a train with a bunch of boys headed for their friend's wedding.
But this was the BIG TIME! This was the Carnegie Hall of Puja performances! This was Krishna's Main Temple! The BIG ROOM! So I joined in and we started chanting it LOUD, right in front of Lord Krishna’s main Altar. A bunch of people came over to watch and listen. One old Sage with no teeth put his hands up in the air like Arsenio Hall and began dancing to our chant. When we finished, the Old Sage decked me out with an extra garland and I left floating on top of the world!
If this was a movie or a play, it would be one of those hokey, overly-contrived plots where all the little pieces that were introduced throughout the story suddenly come together in that last 5 minutes and fit together perfectly. All the loose ends are tied up. And they lived happily ever after! But it wasn't a hokey movie. It was my life. And the Krishna Consciousness that I was introduced to when I was 15, and the Meditation I was introduced to when I was 18, and the Sanskrit that I learned when I was 22, and the Maharishi University that I attended when I was 24, and the RYLA that I was introduced to when I was 40 all came together and clicked into place to give me one great big shining moment of perfect Bliss when I was 60.
India is Magical. Go! And bring some toilet paper.