Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kumbh: In Search of Spirituality

Pilgrims from all over the country walk many kilometres to reach the place of the Second Royal Bath
by Elizabeth Flock | Apr 17, 2010

Read it at Forbes

When I planned my trip to Haridwar for the first bathing date in March, I felt good. I had been given a partial history of the “jar festival” by my yoga teacher (who had, years before, taken sanyasa), had a fairly decent understanding of Hindu beliefs after almost two years in India, and I would be with a Hindu friend who favoured Shiva. Nevertheless, I did have the same wide-eyed expectations that have attracted thousands of foreigners to the festival before.

It is, after all, the world’s largest pilgrimage, hosted by the world’s oldest religion. That the Ganga washes away one’s sins only added to the appeal. How could I not expect some sort of awakening?

When we arrive in Haridwar, after a harrowing bus ride, the Kumbh is in full swing. Pilgrims from all over the country have walked many kilometres to reach the place of the Second Royal Bath, and because our bus had dropped us off six kilometres away from the city centre, so must we. In front of us stride Rajasthani men with sweeping white turbans and curling moustaches; behind us South Indian maamis tread carefully, resplendent in saris despite the heat and dust; everywhere, pilgrims clothed in saffron walk with us.

When we finally find a hotel with an empty room, the owner tells us that we can’t stay. “I think one guest might change his mind and stay an extra night,” he says, standing in front of a sign that announced No Alcohol, No Non-Veg. “This is a very religious place,” he adds.

“Ah, but I am very keen to see the Kumbh with my fiancĂ©e,” I say, stressing the last word, smiling as sweetly as I could.

“Oh,” he says, clearing his throat. “Well then, madam,

Prague: City of Shadows

Dark and haunted by a bloody past, Prague is a city that can change you
by Elizabeth Flock | Apr 2, 2010

Read it at Forbes

I’m trying to tell you, the travel writers who call Prague a “fairy tale” city are wrong. Explore the enchanting streets lit by gaslight, they write. Hold your lover’s hand while you stroll across the Charles Bridge, and then off into the sunset. Or so they imply.

What’s conveniently left out is the other part of the fairy tale, the part populated by witches and gargoyles and imps. The part where older versions of the Brothers Grimm — Cinderella murders her stepmother, the Little Mermaid kills herself — ring more true.

Prague is dark, filled with grotesque reminders everywhere of its storied, bloody past. And it will teach you a lot, if you let it. I travelled in and out of Prague for six months, but even in an evening, the city can change you. It can also tear you apart.

Like it did Kafka. Prague’s bleakest fiction writer was haunted not only by his evil father, but also the