Visit to Haifa

January 26, 2007

Visit to Haifa from Jan 13 to Jan 16 was dominated by several themes.  We arrived in Haifa on Saturday afternoon.  Once we got into the hotel, Dan Gardens Haifa, we walked down to the gate at the top of the terrace.  We could not get in as we had not registered yet.

When we went down to the Shrine of the Bab, we were directed to go to Pilgrim Reception Center.  On our way, we meet our friend Jonathan Graves from Portland.  After registering, we went by sherut to Bhaji and visited the Shrine of Baha’u’llah and later the mansion of Bhaji.  This was a spcial treat as the mansion of Bhaji was only opwn that evening.  We also had the opportunity to visit briefly with the only remaining Hand of the Cause, Mr. Varqa.

The next day, I was brave enough to climb down the steps from the top of the upper terrace to the Shrine of the Bab.  There are about 850 steps, and because of my bad knees, I had to walk backwards as I got fown on the stairs.  It was worth it even though this took almost 90 minutes.  We did take a lot of breaks.

I am happy to report that while visiting the Shrines, we can ask for a chair and sit down on the chair to meditate and pray.  This was a very important one for me as sitting on the floor was am impossible task.  I’d have had a very difficult time to get up.  We offered prayers for our cluster, prayers for those recently departed such as our precious daighter Patti, Sharon Cameron and Russel King, the husband of my long time friend Molly King of Southern California.  We also offred prayers for the success of teaching in our cluster.

To our surprise, Mehran and Kim of Bend were also staying at the same hotel as us visiting their daughter who works at the world center.  It was wonderful to get to know them, and we ended up having breakfast together for the next few days.  They also had come back following a brief visit to India.

We heard a presentation from the member of the Universal House of Justice Farzam Arbab.  I have some notes on his presentation and if you want my notes, contact me and I will share them with you.

The next day we ventured out to Akko and Bhaji again.  We had some adventures in Akko, and finally found the prison and were able to offer prayers there.  Later we went to Bhaji again to the most sacred threshold.

The last day of our stay started off with a tour of the buildings of the International Teaching Center, Universal House of Justice, and the Center for the Study of Sacred Texts.  Later we heard from a member of the International Teaching Center.

When we arrived to register at the pilgrim reception center, there was a note that we had a message.  I went to pick up the message, and it was a note from the secretary to UHJ member Peter Khan who wanted to meet us during our stay.  We got an appointment and went to see him in his office at the offices of the Universal House of Justice building.  We were escorted to his office and we had a wonderful chat for 30 minutes.  It was a real honor for both Jeannie and me to visit the office of a member of the House of Justice.  I will pull together my notes from that visit and share it if anyone wishes it. 

 We left Haifa late afternoon on Jan 16 and stayed overnight in Haifa.

We are now back home recovering and this concludes our blogging on our travels.

Megha Shyam

Final Comments on some special nieces and nephews

January 9, 2007

I will offer these final comments from India and we can share more when we get back.

My niece Shobhana (54 and ha the energy of 16 yar old) is the CEO of a non profit group called DISHA.  She and her husband operate from their home several projects.  In one she worls with 500 slum children in Delhi ( age 4-15), and 100 villages in a state called Bihar.  In this state she works with families of 100 villages on AIDS, collecting and harvesting eain water for use for daaaaaaaily lives in a region that is often arid.  She will be urilizing stories from Junior youth animator training program.

A nephew of mine works with 70-100 children evry Sunday by offering them basic value education.  I met some of them and I have some pictures and their faces tell it all.  He also works with many villagers on a special life insurance program to help yje poor backed by the Government of India.

Another nephew who works at Intel in Bangalore teaches high school students in Saturdays for 5 houes.

Another one is involbed in developing a home for older folksl one works in organic faeming in a remote village.

There is also a talented niece who is an artist and does designs for companies.  She is now working on materials for display in 2008.

Thet are all very precious genms in my family.  It has been hard to say good bye to all of the,

Final Days in India

January 9, 2007

As we say godbye, I encountered several old classmates.  Hopefully we can plan a 50 year reunion in 2010.

So so lomg from India.  I will blog from Haifa,

Grand Party

January 9, 2007

We finally came back to Bangalore on Dec 30th after nearly 45 days on the road and staying mostly in hotels.

We went to mysister’s house where preparations were on the way for her birthday party on Jan7.  We relazed a few days watching India and South Africal play a 5 day test match that India lost.

The party was arranged by my sister’s children.  Six of her children were present, two of them are in the US at this time.   The party was very well organized.

Jeannie wore a sari for this occassion.

In the morning around 7:30 my sister and all her children recited 1000 names of Vishnu in sanskri.  Afterwards theu read Chapter 2 and 12 of the Bhagavad Gita – a long tradition in my family that my father established.  In fact as they were reciting Chapter 12, a lot of the verses came back to me as I used to do it in the 50′s on important occassions such as Krishna’s birthday, Gaesha’s (the elephant faced God) birthday, Ramas’ birthday, special days such as birthday or anniversary of grandparents etc.

After about 90 minutes of this we all went to breakfast prepared by caterers in a house across the street.  They had erected a tent in the drive way and in a vacant land across the home where we would all have lunch later.  Friends and relatives started arriving around 10 AM, and we had set up many chairs in the shade in the driveway to sitdown, relax and visit with each other.  My sister’s children made sure everyone of them said hello to every guest and made tem all welcome.  Some children (19, 12) provided classical music and drums.  Some of the guests were long lost cousins and their children  There are more in town and we did not know how to reach them.  It is some what difficult to reach my sister’s home as it is at the very north end of the city, and many live at the evry south end of the city, a distance 30-49 kms.

By 1 PM we had nearly 80 guests and we started serving lunch.

As is the custom here, the family members always ate last.  Lunch was served in 3 batches.  At every barch many of my nephews and nieces were active hosts, inquiring with each guset eating, made sure they were comfortably seated, respected, etc.  It was a real nice touch.  I was playing this role when my sister;s family sat down for lunch.

Every guest went away with a gift ( a coconut, betel leaves, a bag with sweet and salty preparation by the caterer and a candle.) The candle was hade specially by mentally retarded folks in another part pf Bangalore. 

We spemt all afternoon visiting with relatives and friends and mot of them lefr by 5 OM.  That is when the real party started – family members and some friens started enjoying many hours karaoke.  We finally went to bed around 10 PM after a long day. 

My sister received many calls that days including 4 from the US.  Iy was a great day for a wonderful woman who raised 6 boys and 2 girls under extraoridinary conditions (poverty, children aving all kins of problems in which she personally intevened.)

All her children just adore her and they all know how difficlut it was for her.  They are all doing very well.

That was the party we came back to Bangalore for.

Madurai

January 9, 2007

From Pondicherry we arrived in Madurai by caer over a very bad set of roads.  This is the worst road I have seen in India.  The driver was not much help either.

Madurai (means Sweet city)is famous for its temple for Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati.  The temple is the second biggest in India occupying 15 acres in the center of the city.  It has gates from each direction and lies on a land 972 ft x 879 ft.  It has the unique presence of 33 billion (yes billion) images and stautes of gods, goddesses, figures and images.

The temple was busy with pilgrims particularly from the state of Kerala and there is a big harvest festival coming up on Jan 14 which we will miss of course.  This is celebrate in the southern states in style.

They tuen over 2 crops a year.

They were having 30,000 piligrims a day and the place was very crowded. 

Chennai (Madras) and neighboring areas

January 6, 2007

We arrived in Chennai (Madras for the old folks)we with very little agenda.  The main goal here was to meet my niece Shobhana’s daughters Ruchira 27) and her sister Anupama (23).  They came for breakfast on Saturday Dec 23rd and we had really a wonderful visit.

The older girl is the Assistant Editor for a daily newpaper called Deccan Chronicle.  She was quite busy because of the Christmas season.  (This town has about 10% christian population and was one of ths eary footholds of the East India company as they made their way north.)

The hotel was set to celebrate Christmas in style.  We ate dinner on Christmas eve, and the dinner was very well prepared and we had to wait to get dinner as they were taking pictures of the arrangements probaby for their catalog.

The next morning we took off by a cab to Kancheevaram an old city with wonderful temples and is well known in India for silk and bronze work.  It is a really small town (~ 50,000 people).  The main temple had been closed for the day due to the death of the priest.  We were able to go around the temple.  This town is a major pilgrim canter and often called Varaani of the south.  It has many many temples (nearly 200 of them built over 25 centuries.  It is also known for its unsual silk and bronze,  The main temple was built in honor of Shiva and Vishnu.  There are also reminders of Jainism and Buddhism until 4 AD when Hindusim took over and now dominates the landscape.

Closeby is another old temple now somewhat in ruins built for Lord Vishnu.  This tenple was built in 1500′s when the kingdoms here were very strong and scultopture had royal patronage.  This temple had some of the classic works we saw earlier in our trip in Karnataka.

After a quicklunch, we went to a seaside place called Mahabalipura.  This town was used as a laboratory for artists who later worked on the temples described in the previous paragraphs.  This area is pretty unique indeed.  It was hit by the tsunami in 2004, but very little damage was done to the area.  Kanchi is on par as a hoy city with Benares (where Ganges flows north), Ayodhya (where Lord Rama was born), Mathura (where Krihna was born), Dwarak (where Krishna was taken to the area to spend his childhood years). Ujjain, Haradwar (where Ganges descends from the Himalaya’s and water is very pure ).  Kancheevaram has a special type of silk that was orginally used to dress up Devadasis (women who danced in temples), today women all over India long for silk from Kanch providing employment for nearly 25,000 people.

The major feature of Mahabalipuram is tha sculpture on large boulders that tell stories from ancient times.  On a giant rock, we saw a huge rouck almost round just standing.  The round eock called Krishna’s butter ball is nearly 30 feet in diameter.  Over the years people have tried to move it without any success.  Even the tusami (ocean is only 1000 feet away would not budge it.  The English tried with horse, other as well but no budging of this rock.  By the seashore there are carvings that were the laboratory for work at Kanchi.  Life size elephants have carved of single stone and looks very real indeed.

We went back Chennai and stayed next day and relaxed and drove to Pondicherry.

Pondicherry

January 6, 2007

We arrived in Pondicherry from Chennai on Christmas day.  It was a 3 hyour drive and we passed through a lot of areas hit by tsunami as we drove along the seashore of the Bay of Bengal.

Pondicherry was a French colony from 1799 until 1955, except for a brief period around 1812 when the British had control for a few years.  This area as where the English and the French fought as the last phase of the US colonial war.  After the British won in the US, they continued to fight the French (who had been on the side of the Americans).  Infact many of the generals who fought on the British side were later sent to India to continue fighting the Fremch.  Some of you may remember General Corwallis from your history.

This is a small area 160 sq. miles run by the federal government from Delhi.  They say Pondicherry is a lazy town with only 4 things to do

Drink (Low tazes – so a lot of people from neighboring states show up for that)
Go to Arabino Ashram
Walk on the beach
Shop

We did three of the four above and I will leave it to your imagination which three.

The Ashram was stated by Arabindo Ghosh.  Born in 1872, he was educated at Cambridge University in Engand, came back tried to become a civil servant by taking an exam; he failed and became staunch nationalist.  He was involved in political agitation in the early part of 20th sentury and was imprisoned.  They let him go baecause of lack of evidenceeeee.  They he wandered into Pondicherry on a spiritual mission, and receive enligtenment in 1926.  He stated this Ashram and was soon joined by another seeker of spirituality who also settled in te Ashra.  She is called “The Mother”.  The Ashram is a very peaceful place where both are buried.  Their goal is to develop the entire human race in to a self sufficient instutution through knowledge.  They have a experimental town earby calle Auroville.  We did not get a chance to visit.

Obviously we saw a lot of French tourists as well as settlers in the region.  Along the beach ais a monument for the soldiers surrounding a beautiful scultpture of Mahatma Gandhi.  We did ventur out and shopped in the city.

The area is warm with a nice breeze.  Typical temperature was 85 deg F.

We left for Madurai after anotrher of rest and relazation.

Bhubaneshwar, Puri

December 31, 2006

We arrived in Bhubaneshwar early in the morning and went straight to the hotel.  This was a Hilton Hotel very much organized with American style and taste and we felt right at home.  Bhubaneshwar is the capital of a state called Orissa on the east side of India.  The Bay of Bengal is the ocean that hugs the beaches.

This area has a tremendous history for Buddhists.  In 240 BC, a mauryan emperor Ashoka fought a very fierce battle 10 kms south of this town, (nearly 150,000 were killed) was very upset with the bloodshed and convertedto Buddhism and helped promote it all over India and abroad.  He sent emissaries to Sri Lanka, China, Burma, Japan, Korea and made Buddhism a state religion.  His empire overed most of what is modern India.  After that empire collapsed several years later, the country was pretty much broken up into smaller kingdoms until the British consolidated it in 1857.

Over the centuries, the rulers of Bhubaneshwar hae brought 10,000 Bramhins and build many temples for Lor Shiva. Over 7000 temples were built in a period of 6 centuries.

About 70 kms from Bhubaneshwar, is the famoue temple built in  honor of the sun.  This temple at Konarak now declared as a UNESCO heritage site.  The entire temple is built in the shape of a horse drawn chariot.  There are seven wheels (3.5 m in diameter) named for each day of the week.  Each wheel has very intricate carvings and can also be used as a clock by observing the shadow of a element at the center of the wheel.. They said the accuracy is within 3 minutes.

The carvings on the sand stone rocks are spectacular.  They cover a wide range of topics including erotica, daily life of the people in the period, animals (I even saw a Giraff – must have had contact with Africa), elephants working, Lions etc.  The attention to detail is pretty spectacular.  The size of stones used to build the temple is about 10 ft long 3 feet high and 3 feet deep.  I have some wonderful pictures to share with you when we return.

After a few hours here, I went to Puri the home of Jagganath (our word Juggernaught comes from here).  Every year in June/July period in this famous temple are placed on specially built charriots and pulled down the main street (3 kms), and brought back after a week.  The interesting thing is that the charriots are all made of wood, and are built in a 3 month period by the descendents of the families that originally built them.  These days they just donate their labor for food and do not accept any salary.  The orginal families received land as compensation and this is still owned by the same families.  After the procession of the diety (called Ratha Yatra), the charriot is torn down and the wood given away to the poor. The wood is not used again.  It is a very unique temple indeed.

Varanasi

December 31, 2006

We arrived in Varanasi (Benares) on Sunday the 17t of December. By this time, we had organized a private tour for the rest of our travels in India at the strong advice of my nephew in Mumbai.

Varanasi is a very old city (some people say 5000 years old).  It is the confluence of 3 rivers Varna, Assi and the Ganges.  In this region Ganges flows south to north for about 40 kms and this is considered very auspicious.  We were met by a fine guide at the airport and driven to the hotel on the banks of the Ganges called Palace of the Ganges.  It was a very nice hotel, but Jeannie continued to be sick.  So the next morning (Mon Dec 18), I went on a boat ride on the Ganges to view the sun rise and see the Ghats.  Ghats are basically small regions of steps (typically 20-60 steps)  fom the street level to the water surface.   A lot of people come to bathe on these Ghats -it is said that all your sins are forgiven if you bathe in the waters of the Ganga in Varanasi).  We went on the boat for 30 minutes, saw a lot of palaces built by Maharajas from Rajasthan, each outbuilding the other.  On two of these Ghats they allow cremation.  They said about 30-40 people are cremated daily.

Later in the morning, I went to Saranath – a very important place for Buddhists as this is the first place where Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon.  I saw a lot of pilgrims from Viet Nam, Cambodia, laos, China, Japan and Korea.  The area has been dug up by the Archeology department of of the Government of India and is indeed preserved very well.  It is said at all the major places of worship, there is some personal item of Buddha (a piece of hair, a tooth etc).

The place was very busy as the Dalai Lama was in town and making a presentation that evening.

From Benares, we took the train to a city called Bhubaneshwar about800 kms away.  This was a very difficulty journey as the there had some mishaps and we were on the waiting list without a confirmed seat.  We had some interesting adventures traveling on this train.  It had been overbooksd and every seat was taken.  I will describe it to anyone who wants to hear about it individually as this was not the best experience of our travel.  We arrived in Bhubaneshwar the next morning at 5 AM.

New Delhi

December 31, 2006

We arrived in Delhi on Tuesday 12th of December.  It was quite chily here reaching 6 deg C when we landed.  Due to some miscommunication, my niece was not at the airport, so we were a little lost.  Thanks for the mobile, we were able to get hold of her, and she gave directions to get to her house to the cab driver.

My niece who is 54 lives with her second husband and her mother.  She has two daughters from her first marriage who live in Chennai with their fathe.  Chennai is the name used now instead of Madras.

My sister-in-law (wife of my oldest brother who passed away in 1994) is in her late 70′s and has been ill with a cold, and other complications and some heart problems.  My niece’s husband is also not very well, he is very weak with a serious condition of his colon.

Shobhana, my niece is a very energetic, enthusiastic woman.  She has boundless energy and works with her husband out of their home on a project that I will describe in a separate blog.

Shobhana paid a lot of attention to Jeannie who was quite sick by the time we arrived in Delhi – cold, caughing with severe chest pain, phlem settling in her lungs etc.  We took her to a doctor the next day who prescribed her antibiotics and jeannie was pretty confined to bed for most of the stay we had in Delhi.

Shobhana and family live in a nice apartment on the ground floor with their dog.  She really pays detailed attentionto the needs of everyone, and retres to go to work at 9:30 AM and remains there until  6:00 PM, except she joins everyone for lunch.  She is the CEO of a non profit organization.

I was able to go the Baha’i House of Worship about 20 kms away by a rickshaw and spent some time there offering prayers for our Baha’i community, people who have passed away in the past year such as our daughter Patty, husband of a long time friend Russell King of Santa Paula and of course Sharon Cameron.  I also said some prayers for our cluster as well as our community.

The gardens around the House of worship are taking shape and look very nice.  It seems to attract a lot of visitors (20-30,000 a day).  Many forigners on a trip to India, local school children and the resdents of India.  They are guided by youth from all aroubd the world.  I saw and spoke with a young girl from Houston area, here on a 1 month visit welcoming people in English or perfect Hindi.  She said she meomorized her speech in a few days.  There were youth from Malaysia, Singapore, many European ountries as well.

The House of Worship is very serene and has a nice calming effect on you in sharp contrast with some of the temples we have visited.

We were able to visit the House of Worship again on Saturday Dec 16, and this time Jeannie was able to join me.  We also went to the Baha’i House, the old head quarters of the NSA of India.  (This is the same building you saw in the movie Gandhi – the scene where he joins the muslim leader to talk about the demands made by muslims.  At the Baha’i House, we met the Key person in charge for External Affairs for the NSA of India.  We had a very nice visit where Shobhana and her husband were also present.  Shobhana expressed interest in the books for children developed for Junior youth, and linked with the Baha’is involved in the program in Delhi.  Later she wrote to me saying that they will be collaborating in this progra.

Delhi has 30 devotions every month.  (not always one every day, but sometimes severala day spread around the city).  Delhi has a population of 8-9 million.  It is a lot cleaner today than the time we saw it in 1981 or 1986.

Because of Jeannie’s health, we had to cancel a revisit to the Taj Mahal.


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