Swargadwar: the burning ground in Puri

Sculpture of Kali at entrance to burning ground, Puri, OdishaThe goddess Kali is everywhere in Puri, portrayed in some of the fiercest, wildest, most bloodthirsty forms I have seen in our travels around India. A string of human skulls around the neck is nothing – Odishan Kalis have blood dripping from their mouths, they plunge lances into the chests of the humans below their feet, their eyes are crazed with lust for yet more blood.

Kali is the goddess of the graveyard. She rules the burning ground, the ultimate place of transformation where the body of this earthly life is promptly dispatched, the soul freed for the next stage of its journey.

Today in Puri I saw, right up close – and for the first time in all my travels through India – the details of a body being burned.

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Ahilyabai Holkar: the people’s ruler, the people’s goddess

Queen, warrior, social reformer and saint: I had never heard of Ahilyabai Holkar until we saw a statue of her in a park in Indore. I looked her up on Wikipedia then and there.

Photo of statue of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar in Rajwada Chowk, Indore, Madhya PradeshGlancing up from my phone to tell Alan what I’d learned, I saw a man standing before the statue of Ahilyabai, his hands folded in prayer. I watched as he prostrated, then sat in meditation at her feet. That’s when I understood Ahilyabai is much more than a historical figure, or even a heroine: She is a goddess.

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Surprised by Indore

Photo of a mother and daughter who jumped into our rickshaw in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
This mother-and-daughter duo jumped into our rickshaw our first morning in Indore. We enjoyed a chat (and a few selfies) before they jumped out to shop.

I didn’t expect much from Indore. The city doesn’t seem to get a lot of love from the Rough Guide authors, nor from reviewers on TripAdvisor. So I just thought of Indore as a large Indian city marred by traffic, noise and pollution.

Yes, Indore is large, and yes, there’s plenty of traffic, along with the attendant horn honking and bad air. But the streets of inner Indore are highly rewarding for anyone who loves to walk and look, a fascinating mix of colorful clothing and jewelry shops, small vegetable markets, temples and mosques, and traditional buildings in varying states of decay.

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Visa run: from India to Nepal and back again

Photo of re-entry stamp into India at Banbasa, India, from our visa runEvery long-term India traveler hits the wall eventually: the expiration date on your current visa. Some travelers simply choose to travel in other countries. Neighboring Sri Lanka and Nepal are interesting places in themselves, and of course Southeast Asia is another popular region. But for people who want to stay in India continuously to work on yoga, study meditation, volunteer or simply hang out in a place that’s meaningful to them  – the visa run is a natural solution.

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Haridwar: a walk to Kankhal and the Ma Anandamayi ashram

Some interesting old buildings we spotted in Kankhal during our walk to Ma Anandamayi's  ashram in Kankhal, a suburb of Haridwar.
We spotted some interesting old buildings in Kankhal during our walk to Ma Anandamayi’s ashram.

Today was the third of a six-day visit to Haridwar, a break from Hindi classes and the rains of Mussoorie. We decided to have a morning walk to the Ma Anandamayi Ashram in Khankal, just over four kilometers from our hotel.

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House building in Kumaon

Photo of neighbor's house with new addition in progress and cow, Papershali, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The cow doesn’t care.

We live on a mountainside (or hillside, if you like) that slopes steeply down to a river valley. The village we’re staying in is small enough that we can see every house in it. So when we first noticed that one of the nearby houses had some rebar sticking up out of the rooftop, we figured the owner planned to add on someday. It wasn’t until we saw a line of thin, wiry men walking down the hill with loads of bricks suspended from their foreheads that we realized “someday” was “right now.”

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Kasar Devi Mandir: the peak of Almora

Kasar Devi Mandir, Kasar Devi, Almora, Uttarakhand
Kasar Devi temple at Kasar Devi Mandir. The boulder on the right shelters the cave where Vivekananda meditated.

Kasar Devi Mandir is one of the most popular temples to visit in the Almora area, and indeed in Uttarakhand. We’re lucky that we have been living just three kilometers from the temple for the past few weeks. But even before we moved to Papershali, we walked the seven kilometers of uphill road from Almora to Kasar Devi a few times, drawn by the beauty of its setting and the peaceful shakti of the place.

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How we travel (including Delhi to Almora)

Passengers on a bus to Hubli, Karnataka
On the bus to Hubli, Karnataka

India is a big country, and getting from one place to another can be complicated. It can also be really fun. Some of my most memorable experiences in India have happened on trains and buses.

Tourists and travelers here are constantly exchanging information about how to get from one place to another, where to book tickets and how much you should pay for a taxi ride. Recently, some friends who are thinking of coming to India have been asking about how we travel. So I figured it was time to write something about our travel style, and offer a few tips.

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