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As we entered the Harishchandra Ghat in Varanasi, India, we noticed the heat and we were 20-25 feet away. Then, we saw a group of people watching from a step high above the sacred Ganges River.dsc_0124 And all along the river for several Ghats, thousands and thousands people were everywhere. It was then that we learned everything that was happening.india-jan-2008-1-886-2

What were we’re seeing, Ajay Pandey with Bestway Tours and Safaris told us, were Hindu ceremonies at the most sacred place in India that take place 24/7 each and every day. “No other place on Earth, Ajay said, “holds daily cremations at Varanasi like this right by the sacred Ganges River for the devout Hindu.” Over 80 cremations are performed daily on bodies brought by family members from everywhere any way they can to reach the cremation site because this Ghat and the Manikarnika Ghat are the main places where Hindu can reach Moksha. Cremation must occur within 24 hours of death.

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Ladies observing  Chhath Puja.

In addition, on this particular day, several Ghats( concrete steps on the bank down to the Ganges River) were packed with people observing Chhath Puja, a yearly 4-day observation where the faithful Hindu pay obedience to the Sun God. And this event was separate from the daily cremations. It just so happened that the 2 events shared the same area of the Ganges River. Married men and women observing the 36-hour fast prayed for the well being and prosperity of their families.dsc_0248

This age-old observance on the Ghats by the Ganges River was one of the many sites in eastern India where the festival was observed. The puja starts with the ritual of ‘Nahai-Khai’, in which devotees prepare traditional food after bathing. The second day is ‘Kharna’, during which devotees observe a 36-hour-long fast which starts from the second day evening onwards and continues till the fourth day sunrise.The third day, the devotees stand in water and offer ‘Arghya’ to the setting sun God.dsc_0255

On the fourth and final day of puja, devotees and their friends and relatives assembled at the Ghats on the river bank before sunrise and offer ‘Arghya’ to the rising sun God.dsc_0240

These devotees and others all watched the cremations and final day of the Chhath Puja, a once a year happening at Varanasi and all of East India. Several of the 87 Ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi were full of people, and the river close to the cremation ceremonies was full of boats full of people observing it all.india-jan-2008-1-984

As cremations were on going 24/7, we saw only males watching their loved one being cremated on a pyre. Hindu accepts death as a positive event on the way to Moksha and peace. Hindus believe the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives -samsara- and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived -karma. Hinduism is not only a religion, it is a cultural way of life.

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This Rangoli is an Indian art form on the floor using petals, rice, flour, colored sand, and other materials. It is thought to bring good luck and reflect traditional folklore and practices unique to an area. A Rangoli can be done in flower shapes, deity impressions, or flower or petal shapes.

Before each cremation began, the male survivors took the body wrapped in a gold or white cloth topped with ribbons,  marigolds and other flowers to the sacred river for washing to relieve the body of its sins.india-jan-2008-1-861

Then the body was placed on a wooden pyre and the #1 male survivor, dressed in white, set the wood on fire. Prayers are said to Yarma, the god of death. The body is now an offering to Agni, the god of fire. Cremation takes 3-4 hours. When the skull explodes, it signifies that the soul had been released to heaven. The Dom keeps the fire going during the entire cremation and cows strolled around some of the pyres eating the marigolds and other flowers on the ground.dsc_0123-2

Many of these family members saved money for years to be able to buy the wood for their cremation. The most expensive wood is sandalwood and teak. Mango is the cheapest. The untouchables of society, called Dom, oversee each cremation and charge a fee to do so. They also charge for wood and weigh each log. Many of these Dom make a lot of money from the cremations.dsc_0121

The Dom stacks the wood into a pyre. Then the body is unwrapped and placed on the pyre. To keep it flat during cremation, more wood is placed on top of the body. The attending Dom then gives the #1 male survivor the flame with which he sets the pyre afire. Dry wood ignites immediately with flames leaping into the air and covering the body.dsc_0118

Should a person not have enough money to buy all the needed wood, the body is partially cremated with the amount of wood they can afford. Then the ashes and remaining body parts are put into the Ganges River where the soul is transported to heaven to escape the cycle of rebirth. The holier the place the better the chance the soul will achieve “Moksha” or cycle of rebirth and avoid returning to earth as an animal or insect.

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The red line into a woman’s hair indicates she is married.

Women are not allowed at the cremation because it is believed that their cries will interrupt the cremation and cause the soul to not make it to moksha. The transfer must be pure, and not sad or painful. We were allowed to pass through Harishchandra Ghat by keeping a respectable distance. And photographs are allowed only from a respectable distance.dsc_0288

Because of pollution concern, some cremations are performed in other locations and then the ashes are put into the Ganges River. But most Hindu choose the traditional cremation that has been carried out for thousands of years. After cremation, the ashes are searched for gold, and if any is found, it is given to the poor for purchasing wood.dsc_0206-2

After observing cremations from afar, we reached the Ganges River where a small wooden boat was waiting to take us to observe the “Prayer of the Ganges” to make the Ganges River happy to receive bodies into Moksha. This was at the Dashashwamegh Ghat. My first tour of India with Tauck.com included this Prayer of the Ganges ceremony and I was so impressed I decided to visit again on my private Bestway tour.

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dsc_0241Lasting for 1 hour each night, the Prayers are watched by scores of boats full of observers floating on the Ganges River. And we were one of them. The 9 Hindu priests perform the worship arti of the river Ganges to fire where a dedication is made to the Ganges River, Lord Shiva, the Sun, Fire and the whole universe.india-jan-2008-1-888

Under powerful lights that illuminate the Ghat, rhythmic chants and offerings are made by the nine priests to the river to accept the soul of the deceased on their journey to Moksha. We floated oil lamp candles in the river meaning light, happiness and knowledge. It was a most reverend ceremony.india-jan-2008-1-862

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One of the neon umbrellas under which a guru will celebrate the Prayer of the Ganges, which makes the River happy to receive the body into Moksha.

dsc_0210-2This one particular evening once a year, 2 events occurred at the same time, the daily cremation ceremony and Chhath Puja, the last day of the 36-hour fast that pays obedience to the Sun God. Hundreds of Hindu devotees packed the Ghats with baskets of food and flowers and family and friends to break that fast.dsc_0259

Watching the deceased take the journey to Moksha and the Hindu break the Chhath Puja fast was a total experience like no other in the world. Being able to observe both ceremonies in Varanasi, India, the holiest city in India, at the same time was a total honor.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

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The sacred Ganges River the morning after a night of cremations.

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Every morning the Hindu bath in the sacred Ganges River to wash away their sins.

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A man and his Cobra.

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At the ceremony was a Sadhus (Religious man) or Guru.

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This young man was selling marigolds and candles to put into the river to honor the dead.

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Cattle are everywhere all the time eating anything they can find, such as the flowers left over from the bodies while they were being cremated. All animals are sacred.

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It was fun and it was different. And my feet were massaged in a way much different than any other massage. All of my thoughts were focused on just the stomping and smashing. But my feet felt more.

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When I went to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, California, to stomp grapes like Lucy did on the “I Love Lucy” TV show, an iconic episode of all time, I saw a 3-foot diameter wooden barrel that was about 18 inches tall.dsc_0938

In the barrel were grapes ready to crush. But to my amazement, the grapes were on the stems just like they had been cut off the vines. “What?” I said to Sean Hubbard, the handsome young man who helped me with the grape stomping. “Why are the grapes still on the stems?”dsc_0958

Come to find out, that was the way the grapes have always been smashed since the Romans began stomping grapes in 300 A.D. But I had never heard or considered that. So after my shock, and with Sharon Mason Davis taking photos with my camera, I lifted my bare feet into the barrel and stepped onto the cold grapes. My feet did not sink far into the grapes because there were just a few layers of grapes, but there were enough to get the feeling of stomping grapes.dsc_0896

My feet noticed a soft and hard feeling because those soft squishy grapes instantly smashed flat but the stems didn’t. It was like stepping on lots of twigs with mush in between and around them. I then wondered how the stomping was done many years ago if many layers of grapes were to be stomped in the barrel. How did they stand up, and did they have to hold on to the side of the barrel, I wondered.dsc_0847

Finally, after my eye-opening and foot massaging experience of smashing those grapes, it was time to end the experience by stepping out of the barrel onto a white t-shirt with my grape-colored feet. So one foot at a time I landed on the t-shirt and then I had a priceless souvenir.dsc_0090dsc_0062

The next stop was stepping into a #3 washtub full of cold water to rinse the grape juice off of my feet, dry them and put my shoes on. The end of my grape stomping experience was over at Grgich Hills Estate but another visit was just beginning.

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After the stomping, we were given a glass of award winning chardonnay and the glass as a souvenir of the stomp. Plus Linda gave me a tour of the vineyard.

Sharon and I met Linda Whitted, with Grgich Hills Estate, for our wine tasting appointment by introducing us to the grapes in the vineyard where the grape stomping was being held. And we sampled Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that were hanging on the vines in the vineyard nearby. Each one tasted and looked different from each other.

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Linda Whitted, Sharon Mason-Davis and me loving the wine samples. And so was the cheese.

Then we all entered the winery headquarters sales room, cellar and tasting room. And there, Linda had samples for us to try, complete with cheese and crackers.

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Award winning Miljenko “Mike” Grgich’s bottle of Chardonnay revolutionized the world of wine. And he continues producing the wine today.

She began by telling us the five “S” of wine tasting – See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor. And we enjoyed doing them very much. The first sampling was 2014 Chardonnay Miljenko’s Selection, which was like the wine at Miljenko “Mike” Grgich’s first victory in Paris May 24, 1976 when the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that he crafted outscored the best wines of France in the 1976 historic Paris wine tasting that revolutionized the world of wine.

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This is the bottle of wine on display at Grgich Hills Estate that changed the wine world in 1975. Shortly thereafter, Mike Grgich started his own winery.

It was delicious and wonderful to know I was sampling the best Chardonnay in the world. Then Linda told us to take a bite of the first sample of cheese and crackers and then taste the Chardonnay again. It totally changed the taste of the wine and was even more delicious.yountville

Then we tasted 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley and then the second sample of cheese and crackers. Next was 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley followed by the third delicious cheese, and finally 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville Selection, followed by an awesome cheese. All were outstanding and we wanted to continue sipping and sampling and each time cheese and crackers changed the taste of the wine. As a result, the cheese and crackers were all gone. And, we had to buy several bottles to take home for sampling with family and friends and get back to San Francisco.dsc_0901

Grgich Hills Estate was founded in 1977 by Vintners Hall of Fame inductee Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills, formerly of Hills Bros. Coffee Co. The winery farms 366 acres of vineyards naturally without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides in the Napa Valley, and uses its passion and art to handcraft food-friendly, balanced, and elegant wines. His daughter, Violet Grgich, Vice President of Operations and Operations, and his nephew, Ivo Jeremaz, Vice President of Vineyards and Production, assist Mike.violet_vineyard_2016

Ivo met with us and told us a story of his Uncle Miljenko and the times when he had to stomp grapes in a barrel while everyone worked in his native Croatia. “That way, everyone knew where he was and that he was safe while they worked in the vineyards. Grapes and wine were always in his life,” Ivo said.

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Ivo Jeremaz, Mike Grgich’s nephew, examines the soil in the vineyard to make sure it is top shape for the grapes to grow. There are 300 kinds of soils in the world and Napa Valley has 100 of them.

Stomping grapes like Lucy did was something I always wanted to do and it wasn’t exactly as I imagined it to be. But sampling the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons was truly a fun and favorable adventure that we will continue to enjoy with each glass of their wine.

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Rudy was our tour guide with Napa Valley Tours which specializes in taking guests to the wineries in the Napa Valley.

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This beautiful lady from Trinadad followed me in the grape stomping at Grgich Hills and she enjoyed it also.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

When we entered, it looked like an outside man cave or party room underneath a palm tree.

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Hussen invites us into his outdoor coffee “room” under the palm tree.

Seating was set up around the perimeter of the room, incense burners were sitting on the shelves ­­­­­­and assortment of objects and handmade carpets were covering the floor of the room.

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The outside coffee “room” complete with TV.

If there wasn’t a wall, carpets where hanging to make us think there was one and all kinds of old items used in life were sitting everywhere. After we were invited to sit, we began to notice this might not be a party room either because in the corner was a gas grill, pots and cups.

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Here’s Hussen again pouring his wonderful coffee for us.

 

And it was not a man cave either, Khalid Alqahtani, our Saudi Arabia tour guide, explained. This was a private coffee ceremony “room” on a driveway where Hussen, a retired mechanic, and his male friends could share one of the best coffees in the world, Yemeni Arabica coffee. In the corner, a grill was set up to roast fresh coffee beans until they were just right. Then he allowed the beans to cool in a tray.

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Chopping up the coffee beans outside.

 

And when cool, the beans were ground using a mortar and pestle. Grinding the roasted beans is very noisy, which says to all, “Come to my house I am making coffee,” Hussen explained.

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Khalid Alqahtani, our Saudi guide, shows and explains all about the coffee ceremony.

 

Coffee making was next as Hussen poured the ground beans into boiling hot water and let them sit about 5 minutes for that perfect cup of coffee. But, before we could take a sip, Hussen tasted the coffee so we knew the coffee was safe and good. Following tradition, the oldest man at the ceremony was served coffee first, then the rest of the guests. Oh, the coffee was so delicious because it was flavored with a hint of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

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Coffee Room # 2 in Hussen’s house.

 

After we had coffee in this outdoor ceremony “room“, we entered the house, and another coffee room. This one had a large flat panel TV screen hanging on the wall, plus wild goat skulls, antique janbiya knives, and it was full of more antiques, handmade carpets and an assortment of other collectibles. The display of many coffee pots on the shelf shines in every coffee room.

Then we visited another room of Hussen’s house and it was his third coffee room full of antiques and carpets displayed in places of honor all around the room. A collection of old coffee pots set regally in a row on a shelf while an assortment of janbiya knives hung in a row above them.dsc_0606

We loved the shape of the Saudi coffee pot so much we began visiting places that sell real authentic handmade coffee pots.

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In one shop we visited, we watched this man make a copper coffee pot.

Shop after shop was checked out and several had a coffee ceremony in progress where 8-10 men were sitting on the carpeted floor in a circle drinking coffee and visiting. At each shop we visited, men were sharing a cup of coffee on a short break.dsc_0566

 

Women also have their own coffee ceremonies with their female friends at locations where and when the ladies specify during the day. But we did not attend one. It is tradition in Saudi Arabia that men and women have separate coffee ceremonies.

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Khalid’s son, Mujeb(in the middle), greeted us at the door as is tradition for the oldest son.

 

Earlier in the week, we had visited our first coffee ceremony at Khalid’s home in Abha, Saudi Arabia. This coffee ceremony was held in the public receiving room of his house, where 3 walls were lined with couches and cabinets full of collectibles from his family. Khalid showed us his trophy he received for being named the No. 1 travel guide in Saudi Arabia.

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Khalid showed us his prized trophy of being named No. 1 tour guide in Saudi Arabia while his son served us coffee.

 

Serving us coffee was Khalid’s son, Mujeb, following the tradition and duty of a man’s oldest son. He graciously and patiently offered each one of us a fourth of a cup of coffee over and over because we all drank it so fast. The cups were small and the coffee was so delicious I must have had 7 refills which indicated to the host that I really liked his coffee.dsc_0666

It is tradition in Saudi Arabia that the cup be small without handles. And it is tradition that the little cup be filled one-fourth so the guest can take a sip, not burn the fingers and not waste the coffee because the price of it can be expensive.dsc_0550

The coffee ceremony is one of the ways men and guests and women and their guests get together to socialize, communicate, relax and unwind. And women do the same at their own coffee ceremonies. In Saudi Arabia, alcohol is not consumed. So the coffee ceremony is a very important social event.

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June Landrum found just the coffee pot she was wanting.

 

Finally, after 2 weeks visiting Saudi Arabia and the many coffee ceremonies, the ladies just had to have a coffee pot with cups as a souvenir of the custom practiced in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi coffee pot is so beautiful we just had to show it to all. So Khalid, our tour guide, took us coffee pot shopping and we found a custom made metal shop that had pots made of all kinds of metals. The one I chose was brass.dsc_0002

At each coffee ceremony, a dish full of native Saudi Arabian dates was waiting for us to enjoy. They were so delicious and fresh I had to have several with each cup of coffee. At one ceremony we attended, we were offered fruits, nuts, pastries and dates to accompany that perfect cup of coffee.dsc_0330dsc_0328

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was enjoyable and fun as we met people and experienced their culture and life while learning how they live and make it in life. One way we enjoyed being with them several times a day was at the traditional coffee ceremony where we drank many cups of their tasty and refreshing Yemeni Arabica coffee brewed to perfection each time in their ceremonial coffee rooms. And the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon flavor made the coffee irresistible.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

 

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This nice and beautiful lady put henna in Saudi style on my hands and it was so much fun visiting with and greeting the ladies as they came into the shop.

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Kim-Kay Randt of Houston, Texas Executive Director of Travelers Century Club, an International travel club, presented Carolyn with a certificate certifying  she has visited 251 countries and territories in this wonderful world. And it only took Carolyn 45 years to accomplish that goal.

“It has been unbelievable experiencing and enjoying the different customs and peoples on this planet. And following on my international travel blog are many stories and photos of the encounters I have enjoyed,” Carolyn said. “I hope you enjoy the world with me as I show and tell you of my many adventures.”

Travelers Century Club, an international travel club, lists 325 countries and territories for its members to visit. Carolyn has 74 more to visit. So keep following her to see how many more countries she will visit.

 

All of their offices are on sidewalks. As we watched at one of them on Churchgate Street, each one arrived on foot or bicycle carrying priceless bags of spicy treats and specialties for their many clients.

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The Dhabbawallahs lift a tray full of heavy tiffins full of delicious food for their clients. And time is of the essence in delivering at a specific time.

 One after the other they arrived at about the same time and exchanged scores of tiffins with each other using a delivery system that is one-of-a-kind.

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A metal Tiffin. Photo by June Landrum

In those bags were tiffins full of fresh cooked hot food that family members prepared at home for their loved one to eat at work a few hours later. Each tiffin contained 3 or 4 bowls that connect together to make one container. How the tiffins get to the family member’s place of work in downtown Mumbai/Bombay, India, is a system and method only the Dhabawallah delivery men understand. The Dhabbawallahs put certain marks on the tiffins, such as a different color or group of symbols indicating the correct train or office.

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The coding system the Dhabbawallahs use to know where to deliver and pick up the tiffins. Photo by June Landrum

“Dhabba” in the Hindu language means food and “wallah” means person. So, the delivery men are called Dhabbawallahs and they have been delivering the home cooked meals since 1890 for clients who want only their home cooked specialties to eat because they think their food is best because of their religions or diets. As more and more clients requested delivered meals,  a delivery system had to be developed that worked for them because they have minimal education.

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A stack of tiffins to be delivered to a certain office building in Mumbai.

The delivery system was started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havai Bachche, a Parsi banker, who wanted his family’s home-cooked food. More and more friends and employees also wanted home cooked food so he hired 100 Dhabawallahs at first to deliver the food. Today, more than 5,000 Dhabbawallahs do it, delivering 60-70 tiffins each day to clients in downtown office buildings in Mumbai/Bombay, India.

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The Dhabbawallahs hang so many tiffins on their bicycles that they have little room left for themselves.

The Dhabbawallahs are men who pick up the tiffins each morning at 7:15 a.m. at client’s houses located about 60-70 kilometers from the office area and deliver them by train, bicycle and foot by 12:45 p.m. to the family member’s place of work using their unique coding system. Very few mistakes are made in deliveries considering that a tiffin can pass through up to 12 different Dhabbawallahs’ hands from the home to the office and back.

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Checking the delivery list to make sure all is correct before delivery.

Dressed in all white and wearing a Gandhi hat, the Dhabbawallahs meet every day Monday-Saturday at the same places in Mumbai and exchange bags containing tiffins. And they deliver the tiffins though all kinds of weather, conditions and holidays. They place the appropriate bag on the sidewalk to start a group of other tiffins that are to be delivered to that same building or street. As each Dhabbawallah arrived between 11:40 a.m.-12noon, they placed the tiffins in the appropriate office group on the sidewalk.DSC_0141

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And now all is in order to deliver, so the Dhabbawallahs take off as fast as they can through all the traffic and watching tourists to the correct offices. Our guide with this Bestway.com tour, took us to the Churchgate Street corner so we could watch the Dhabbawallahs do their work.

When all the bags had arrived from the clients, each Dhabbawallah took off with all of new bags attached to a bicycle or in a large wooden tray and delivered each one to the appropriate person’s place of work. In the tiffins, some family members placed notes, flowers, tickets, an all sorts of communications. Now, the clients enjoy their delicious lunch until 1:45 p.m. And the Dhabawallahs enjoy their lunch when all the tiffins are delivered.

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Now for a final check and lunch for the Dhabbawallahs. Photo by June Landrum

This custom service provided by the Dhabbawallahs cost $14 USD or 900 Rupees per person per month. Each Dhabbawallah earns 10,000 Rupees per month ($155 USD) and they all work for the common good as a team for the trust that oversees them.

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A tray full of tiffins ready for delivery, each one with a special code on the top directing the Dhabbawallah where to deliver them.

But this service did not end after all lunches were delivered because each Dhabbawallah then returned to all of his client’s offices and picked up the empty tiffins at 2:15 pm. With the empty tiffins in his hands, each Dhabbawallah then met back at the Churchgate corner where they reversed the process and exchanged empty tiffins.

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These Dhabbawallahs wait for a few more tiffins to arrive before they can take off for their destination.

By 2:45 pm the Dhabbawallahs were back on one of the three train routes where their clients live with all of their empty tiffins to deliver to the homes around 5pm. Family members then cleaned and washed the tiffins and had them ready for the next day’s spicy Indian food specialties such as lentils, rice, vegetables and chapattis, all home-style and delivered to the customer’s delight. And the Dhabbawallahs will be there at 7:15 a.m. the next morning to pick up the fresh cooked specialties.

And this has been going on for more than 125 years, by Dhabbawallahs using a delivery system that is one-of-a-kind, where they deliver home cooked lunches appreciated and enjoyed by all the customers.         Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

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Photo by June Landrum

They come by the thousands every day dressed in turbans, scarves, saris, kurtas and western clothing not only to pray but to sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall next to anyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, age or social status. And they all get along and follow the procedures established by the kitchen.DSC_0626

 

This is every day at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India where the Temple’s kitchen (called langar in Punjabi) serves up to 40,000 hungry people a vegetarian meal 24 hours a day every day of the year. And on Holy Days, weekends and holidays the crowd can reach 100,000+ at the Golden Gurudwara (Temple) for a free meal. And this has been going on since the Sikh religion began in 1469.

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Although all Sikh temples have a langar and serve free meals to pilgrims, the langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar is like no other because it has the largest free kitchen in the world. “It has so many visitors it rivals the Taj Mahal as the most visited place in India, “our guide on this Bestway.com tour told us.DSC_0631

The Golden Temple is the home of the Sikh religion which has 3 aspects: sing and chant the name of God, sing religious hymns and volunteer. Plus, it considers all people equal in every way. And all Sikhs wear a turban to be equal with each other, to show respect to the Guru, and to protect the hair.DSC_0638

Serving the hungry pilgrims everyday is their volunteer mission all over the world. It was the founder, Guru Nanak, who began the concept of the langar. Volunteers do almost all of the work and show up every day to prepare the food. Ten percent of the volunteers, however, are paid staff to manage and coordinate the program but the other 90% is all done by volunteers and donations from the local community and the world. All of the food is donated or purchased with donations.DSC_0605DSC_0578DSC_0576

Thousands of volunteers chop, cut, boil, and mix organic onions, garlic, chilies, carrots, radishes, cabbage, spinach, fruit, rice kheer (pudding) rice, lentils for soup called dal, ghee (clarified butter) and roti (Indian flat bread). The food is cooked with wood and gas in huge cauldrons, and roti making machines, yielding a simple vegetarian meal for all to eat.DSC_0596DSC_0692

And the pilgrims do eat. But before they can eat, however, when they arrive at the Golden Temple, they must immediately put a provided triangular orange scarf on their head, then must check their shoes at one of the many windows where they are kept until claimed. Entering the Temple with head covered and barefooted shows respect to the Guru. DSC_0609Then, they get in line and receive their stainless steel food plate, spoon and water/tea/dessert/soup bowl before going to the big marble hall where new arrivals are being seated. Many times, a person takes a seat on a cloth in a row on the just cleaned floor next to someone s/he doesn’t even know. Receiving the food with both hands signifies blessed food.DSC_0606DSC_0602

And then volunteer servers arrive carrying buckets or tubs containing food to give to each person, one after the other. Rice, lentil soup (dal), roti, tea/water, ghee pudding or fruit awaits them.

DSC_0623 And each day’s meal is determined by the availability of foods in season, purchased or provided. And they never run out of food even when 100,000+ come to eat. After the people finish their meal and leave, the process begins all over again. But before new people arrive, each section is mopped clean and it is done many times a day.DSC_0570DSC_0565

Then it is time to wash the dishes for the new arrivals so each dish is washed several times. Volunteers stand and wash dishes in large vats full of soapy water and then pass them to another group of vats and finally to clean water vats. DSC_0671The stainless steel dishes even go through a cleaning that polishes and shines them. Then they are stacked in large steel trailer-like bins with large wheels and pulley so they can be positioned near the awaiting new arrivals. And huge steel boxes of clean utensils are also moved nearby.DSC_0584DSC_0634

It impressed us how orderly and clean everything was and how, with all the people, it was relatively quiet and respectful. And it impressed us how all pilgrims sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall with anyone and everyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, social status, or age to eat. And they all get along and follow the rules of the langar and Temple. The Golden Temple langar is like no other.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

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The Golden Temple complex is magnificent, huge and very clean. June and I covered our heads and removed our shoes to enter the complex.

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The Golden Temple model box receives many rupee donations for the Kitchen and Temple.

After riding for hours and hours through the barren Al Nefud Desert, small mountains started to appear. We thought at first they blended in with the desert and were ordinary hills of sand. But these weren’t normal looking mountains. Since we arrived at our destination during the night, we couldn’t see much of them. But when we left our hotel room the next morning our eyes popped open in amazement.
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Our guide, Khalid, and my most favorite tomb in Mada’in Saleh

Right before our eyes next to our hotel were the original natural creations shaped by rain, wind and temperature for millions of years. These unusual and outstanding mountain outcrops were Mada’in Saleh, of Saudi Arabia, also called the “Number 2 Petra.”
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As we left our room, we saw these interesting rock formations.

This famous Nabataea necropolis has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008 because of its well-preserved remains from late antiquity, especially its 131 rock cut monumental tombs with elaborately carved facades of the Nabataea Kingdom of the 1st Century AD. And it is also known in Saudi Arabia as “the Capital of Monuments.”
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June and I just couldn’t resist having our photo taken from the hole in this tomb.

My favorite of all the Mada’in Saleh tombs was Qasr al-Farid, a single tomb in a stand-alone dome. It also is called the most photogenic and most iconic symbol of all the tombs. The façade is not finished and is heavily carved at the bottom which shows how the mason did the carving from the bottom up. But it’s massive and domineering presence was magnificent.
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The Siq.

Another one of my favorites was the Jabel Ithlib. And in the middle of it is a slit, separating 2 outcroppings approximately 1 meter wide (39 inches). Like Petra, that space is called the Siq. It was a refreshing walk from the hot sun through the 131 feet (40 meters) Siq. The walk through it leads to the Diwan, a Muslim council chamber or law court. Small religious sanctuaries with inscriptions were also cut into the rock.
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Another view of the Siq.

A total of 4 necropolis areas exist in Mada’in Saleh and many have inscribed Nabataea epigraphs on their facades. The Qasr al Walad necropolis constructed 0-58 A.D. includes 31 tombs decorated with fine inscriptions as well as artistic elements like birds, human faces and imaginary beings. It has the most monumental of the rock-cut tombs, including the largest façade measuring 52.5 feet (16m) high that is called “The Palace of the Daughter or Maiden.”
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Almost every tomb had steps at the top of the tomb that lead to heaven. And many had 1-2 cornices below the steps.

The largest of the 4, Jabal al-Khuraymat, has numerous outcrops separated by sandy zones, although only 8 of the outcrops have cut tombs, totaling 48 in quantity.DSC_0669
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Several of the tombs had these wonderful artistic formations to crown the tomb.

 Area C has single isolated outcrop containing 19 cut tombs. Jahal al-Mahjar tombs are cut on the eastern and western side of 4 parallel rock outcrops and the façade decorations are small in size.
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This tomb had 2 steps to heaven and one cornice at the top.

All the tombs are spread over 8.3 miles (13.4 km) and inscribed with Nabataea epigraphs on their facades. The site constitutes the kingdom’s southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, the capital. Non-monumental burial sites, totaling 2,000, are also part of the place.
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The tombs were assessable and we didn’t have to walk too far.

Known also as Hegra and Al Hijr, the archaeological site is located 310.7 miles/500 km southeast of Petra. It is on a plain, at the foot of a basalt plateau, which forms the southeast portion of the Hijaz Mountains. Under Nabataea King Al-Harith IV (1 BC-40 AD), the place enjoyed an urbanization movement that turned it into a city and second Nabataea capital after Petra.
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Our top guide in Saudi Arabia, Khalid Alqahtani, showed and explained everything to us every day on this discovery tour.

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Visiting the tombs was relatively accessible because our Top Saudi Arabian guide, Khalid Alqahtani, and our driver took us right up to the different areas which were not adjacent to each other. Then when we finished visiting that area, we rode to the next areas making it easy for those who didn’t want to walk that far in the hot sun or were somewhat handicapped. Khalid and Spiekermann Travel Service Inc. 800-645-3233 www.mideasttrvl.com made this experience in Saudi Arabia an outstanding, educational and fun one for all of us on the tour.
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In Saudi Arabia, the men and women eat separate, so all 5 of the ladies on our 7-person tour with Spiekermann ate together in private room.

Located at the crossroads of commerce and culture, the Nabatean Kingdom flourished and had a monopoly on frankincense, myrrh, and spices. These products had to pass through the Nabatean Kingdom to be traded on the main north-south trade route.
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RV, one of the 2 males on our tour, bought the traditional Arab dress for males to wear during the tour. And, of course, I just had to try it on.

The motifs of the façade decorations, from stylistic elements of Assyria, Phoenicia, Egypt and Hellenistic Alexandria combine with the native style.DSC_0670.JPG
Some facades indicate the social status of the buried person and the size and ornamentation of the structure reflect the wealth of the person. They are finely carved and fairly uniform in their style. Some have plates on top of the entrances providing information about the grave owners, the religious system, the person who carved it, or the military rank.
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The tombs inside were roughly carved with niches for coffins but outside the tomb was elaborately carved and smooth,

Inside the tombs, we found roughly chiseled large and small rooms with recesses carved into the walls where bodies were placed. The Mada’in Saleh site is outstanding with its desert landscape with sandstone outcrops of various sizes, heights and shapes.
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A famous rock formation that’s called The Elephant.

Right in the middle of the flat desert are small freestanding accessible mountain/hills, perfect for carving tombs. The Nabataea’s carved beautiful facades and tombs for their citizens for the entire world to see and enjoy for thousands and thousands of years. And they made my eyes pop wide open when I first saw how magnificent they are.
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In our big bus, we did not have to eat separate so we all enjoyed lunch together in the back. We all had a wonderful time discovering Saudi Arabia.

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We all just loved this road sign!!

 

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And when we saw this outcropping, yes, we just had to kiss its face.

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Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com
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It was Valentine’s Day when the ladies, all wearing an abaya, had this photo made by RV who gave each one of us a red rose.