Two Curious Women: Belinda Carlisle and Lisa Borgnes Go to India

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Two Curious Women: Belinda Carlisle and Lisa Borgnes Go to India

Belinda Carlisle and I have been traveling together for over twenty years. In that time, we’ve eaten horse meat in the steppes of Kazakhstan, followed a trail of secrets to a cursed chapel in the French Pyrenees, cross-country skied in the Austrian Alps, explored Irish coastal cliffs, had hot oil dripped on our foreheads in the Indian Himalayas, and hiked the English countryside with just a map and a compass. When we’re not actively on an adventure, we’re living deep in the past, researching our next one. Our nightstands are piled high with books by Martha Gellhorn, Herodotus, Marco Polo, and Lesley Blanch. For us, history is the best way to understand the present, and every journey is an inner one as much as it is an outer one.

On our most recent trip to India, Belinda and I had some particularly special experiences in Old Delhi, Varanasi, Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Kolkata.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Nizamuddin, Delhi

Old Delhi

We met up with historian William Dalrymple who led us deep into Nizamuddin’s maze of twisting, dark alleys to the 15th-century dargah (shrine) of Sufi saint Mohammed Auliya. Here, every Thursday evening, there’s a qawwali performance of music and poetry that draws huge crowds of Muslim devotees. Entering Nizamuddin is like stepping back in time. It’s a riot of noise, color, fabric and fragrance, and packed crowds, punctuated with hypnotic music, and the smell of incense and roses.

Of course, you can’t do Delhi without doing Chandni Chowk, the town’s oldest and busiest market. Belinda is a real expert here; she knows exactly where to find the best kurtas, spices, perfumes, and food stalls.

Varanasi Ghats

< p>Holy Men on the Ganges, Varanasi

Varanasi

Varanasi is one of India’s most sacred cities, set on the banks of the Ganges (itself sacred) in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The best way to see the city is from the water, so as dusk fell, we hired a boat to take us up and down the river and watched as the cycle of life, death, and rebirth played out directly before us. Every ghat (a set of river steps) revealed a different story: There were flocks of pilgrims undergoing ritual water purifications, holy priests leading crowds of chanting devotees in nightly aarti ceremonies, and Hindus tending to the cremation pyres that burn bodies around the clock.

The Windamere Hotel

High tea at the Windamere Hotel

Darjeeling

We endured the scenic, if arduous, five-hour drive from Bagdogra Airport to Darjee ling, covering 7,000 feet of altitude and taking us past tea plantations and tiny villages straight up through the clouds.

We stayed at the Windamere Hotel, a colonial-era structure originally built for bachelors running English tea plantations. It’s the Cotswolds transported to the Himalayas: The cottages have names like Tinker Belle and Forget-Me-Not, and uniformed maids serve high tea promptly at 4 p.m. every day.

The famed Mall Road, in the central square of town, is lined with food and trinket stalls and the famous Oxford Bookshop with its hill-style architecture dating from the early days of the British Raj. Our visit coincided with the Durga Puja festival (celebrating the ten-armed goddess Durga), so there was an ornate shrine with life-size painted statues set up in the main square, which played host to nightly chanting and prayer services.

Monks at the Enche Monastery, Sikkim

The Elgin Nor-Khill Hotel, Sikkim

Sikkim

A former "princely kingdom," which retained much of its autonomy until India annexed it in 1975, Sikkim lies in the Eastern Himalayas and is still mostly inhabited by Buddhists. We visited the stunning Enchey Monastery, commonly known as the "Solitary Monastery”, which according to legend was founded by a monk who had the ability to fly. While we didn't see any levitation at work, we did have the opportunity to witness a place and a practice that's remained largely unchanged over the course of 200 years.

Kolkata

In bustling Kolkata, we met an idol maker who sculpts the gods and goddesses for the Hindu festivals that occur all year round. He is a member of the kumhar (potter) caste and comes from a long line of idol builders who have been making the statues for generations. When celebrations end, the clay-and-straw statues are immersed in to the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges, until they dissolve.

Once you’ve been to India, it never leaves you. Chaos and magic live hand-in-hand here, and the first thing you learn is that when you let go, wonderful things happen. We have so many vivid memories from this trip: the burning ghats of Varanasi, the Himalayan cloud towns of Darjeeling and Sikkim, the steamy Kolkata. Sharing these adventures together has not only strengthened our friendship, it has kept us continually laughing. Our favorite moments are usually when things go a little wrong.

On our next trip, we will be exploring the wacky and wonderful Bangkok.

Source: Google News India | Netizen 24 India

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