Stinky and polluted Delhi gives me a Headache – 31 Jan 16

Yesterday, Purnendu and I spent the day in Delhi. It was a trip that we knew would take us the whole day, as we had a lot of things to do. And having returned safely after a long and exhausting day, I definitely have to say: Delhi is too full, too loud, too stinky and too polluted for me!

Purnendu and I had started in the morning – but not very early, as shops in Delhi usually don’t open before 11 am. Already when entering Delhi, we saw something which is rather unusual: there was garbage lying around everywhere! Nowhere did we see any of the otherwise quite hard-working cleaners and sweepers in town! Instead, on every corner we saw huge piles of plastic, dirt, papers and indefinable dirty objects. That’s when we remembered news we had read in the newspaper the days before: Delhi’s cleaners were on strike!

I don’t actually know the outcome but I assume it is in the favour of the cleaners, judging from the amount of chaos their strike caused in town! It was dirty everywhere and of course smelling badly, too!

On top of that, there is the well-known problem of pollution in the city of Delhi. With 1400 cars daily added to Delhi’s roads, you can imagine where this is coming from! If you want to go from one side of Delhi to the other one, it can take you hours.

At the beginning of this year, the Delhi government put a rule into place called ‘odd / even’, with every other day only cars with odd or even numbers being allowed to drive in town. And you know what? When we were driving around in Delhi in that time, it was indeed better! Less traffic, less time to get from one place to another and I even imagined that the air was a bit better. That was a two-week experiment however and yesterday, it was all back to normal or, with the strike of the cleaners, actually worse!

When shopping for pots for our restaurant’s kitchen, lights and lamps and more, we obviously had to cross nearly the whole town – partly by car, partly by rickshaw and partly by foot. Walking by the garbage piles, sometimes covering our noses, taking good care where to put our feet – it was exhausting, to say the least! And you can imagine how difficult it is to find a half-decent place to pee when you have to!

In the end of the day, I had a headache, something which I have really very rarely. I was nevertheless satisfied: we had been able to run all our errands and get more of those things together which we need for opening our restaurant next month!

Yamuna Arti – Superstition, Waste of Food, Pollution and a nice Atmosphere – 3 Dec 14

We are enjoying these days a lot – Michael and Andrea are here! With my first German friends here at the Ashram, we have lots of fun. Of course they also want to go out a bit and Ramona just came home from Kheshi Ghat and the Yamuna Arti with them. Obviously, how could it be different for my wife, she has some non-religious observations on the ceremony and the time spent there.

Our friends, also not religious, sat there together with Ramona and Purnendu, watching first how the men performing the ceremony poured milk into the river. After that, they saw them throw sugary sweets into the water and finally hundreds of rose petals. When they were looking after the petals flowing down the stream, they suddenly realized what happened to these flower petals: just about a hundred meters down, children were picking them out of the river. Children in worn-out clothes, without shoes and with dirt and dust all over them. The same children who had previously tried to sell our friends little bowls with flowers and a candle that they could have put into the river themselves.

It was a revelation: on one side, there are people pouring nourishing milk into the dirty water of the river and on the other side there are children, trying to somehow earn a few rupees which they can bring home and with which their family can buy rice, grains and – yes – milk. They won’t get to enjoy the sugary sweets though which also land in the river! They cannot afford it.

At the same time you look at the river and wonder whether you can actually still call it a river. Due to only little monsoon rains and big dams in Delhi, there is very little water these days. A big part of the river bed is clearly visible and where previously boats took tourists and pilgrims out on the river, there are now camels walking around. For the ceremony, they had to dig a channel and bring the water to the stairs. This shallow waterhole is where they now throw their flowers, milk and sweets in, polluting it even more than it anyway already is.

It is really not much more than sewage water and chemical waste coming from Delhi. There is no life in it. No fish, no turtles, none of all those animals that swam around us when we played in the water as children! They cannot live there – the water is dead.

In spite of all of this and in spite of two competing ceremonies blaring at each other by speakers Ramona and our friends enjoyed the visit to the river and the ceremony. How come? My wife did great effort to put it into words: she has no religious awe. No feeling that a god or goddess would now bless her for her visit there. No, but sitting on those old stones in front of the ancient building, the setting sun shining in their faces, listening to the singing and just looking around at people coming together, felt good. It was a certain atmosphere which, when in, makes you feel good.

There is nothing divine in that. It is not god that makes you feel good. It is you. You enjoy the get-together with people because human is made for being social. You like seeing the beauty of nature, even though it could be much more impressive. And you enjoy music and listening to others sing.

Couldn’t we have all of this without superstition, waste of food and pollution of the river?

India’s religious Businessmen succeed in cheating God and his Devotees – 22 Oct 12

In our area, not far from Vrindavan, there is a town called Govardhan, a popular pilgrimage town for religious people. Daily there is a huge crowd of pilgrims and on weekends, full moon days and other religious festival occasions it is even more. The main ritual at this place is to wash the statue of Krishna with milk. Many religious pilgrims also walk the Parikrama way of 21 kilometers around the town, carrying a pot of milk from which continuously milk flows onto the road.

You can imagine how much milk is used at this place every day. But where does all this milk come from? Religious businessmen of this town have made arrangements for it! They produce synthetic milk from urea, detergent and meat and sell it to pilgrims so that they can pour it onto their God. How easy is it to cheat God and his believers on the name of religious tradition. Or maybe they have a firm trust that their God won’t come to complain about the fake milk or that it won’t harm them in any way. In this way they have done business for years!

What is the bad result of this? All this fake milk will flow into the auspicious pond of the town called Mansi Ganga. We often read in local newspapers that their pond has become so polluted by this fake milk that the fish die in it. Many unaware pilgrims even drink this milk as blessed milk. You can imagine what will happen to them!

Now the time of pilgrimages is starting and according to one report, up to 68% of milk in India is not real milk. Drinking such milk can cause several different serious and dangerous illnesses, especially to children. I am always surprised about those people who are involved in this wrong business.. Unfortunately in this religious country and on religious occasions such wrong actions increase more and more behind the cover of religion because these religious businessmen don’t only think that they can cheat God and his devotees and give them synthetic milk out of meat, detergent and urea but also think that by earning some money from this sinful work, they can bribe God and do some rituals to free us from that sin again. Because there is a possibility to be forgiven anything according to religion!

You may have heard about the pollution of our holy river Yamuna. I don’t know how much holiness is left! You cannot even stand at the side of the river because of the bad smell! Fish and turtles and other water animals often die . For the purification of the Yamuna and for other religious rituals people pour many liters of milk into the Yamuna. I don’t know how you could make them understand that the Yamuna won’t be purified by pouring milk into it but stopping untreated sewage and chemical waste of factories from reaching the river.

Well, this is obviously not only about synthetic milk, many religious people surely take well care of the quality of their milk and give God only good, branded milk. And you cannot imagine how much food gets wasted for religious reasons in the whole country, not only in this area! Millions of liter of milk are poured onto Shiva Lingams and are used in other religios rituals. And this in a country in which 14 million children die of malnutrition and hunger every year! And 200 Million people daily go to sleep hungry.

Experiences of a Tourist in Vrindavan – 11 Apr 12

When our friends were here, they of course also visited the sights of Vrindavan. We went down to the Yamuna, as I already told you, they climbed the stairs to the top of the Pagal Baba Temple from where they could get a view over the whole town, they took several trips to the colourful market, they walked through Nidhivan garden and they saw the evening ceremony at Kesi Ghat. They enjoyed their time here and loved visiting all those places. There is however always something that could have made the experience even nicer.

I already told of our short walk down to the Yamuna. We walked down the newly-tarred Parikrama Marg and then turned to a sandy road. I really enjoyed seeing the sand, just as it was everywhere in Vrindavan in my childhood. There were parrots and peacocks and everyone was enchanted by the beauty of nature – until we reached the dirty waters of the Yamuna with dead cows lying in there, everything stinking badly.

Our friends went up the nine floors of the Pagal Baba temple and enjoyed the view from up there, trying to find the Ashram, looking at the Yamuna in the distance and getting a better idea of the geographical situation of Vrindavan. Ramona, who had been with them, told me that on the walls of the complete staircase people had written their names, the dates when they were there, phrases that were supposed to be funny or insults. It is a temple, a holy place, pilgrims are going there – who writes on those walls and why?

When they came home from Nidhivan, the garden in which Krishna is said to dance every night with his loved one, they told of the beautiful trees there. It was nice to walk in their shadow and they marveled at their knotty branches. It is without doubt one of the most pleasant places in Vrindavan. For getting to the peace of the garden however you have to fight off several guides at the entrance who offer to take you through the garden and tell you the story of Krishna there. They insist and can be quite annoying to a first-time visitor. This visitor then walks by the many donation boxes in the garden. My friends commented that a Hindu pilgrim has to really spend a lot of money if he has to donate at each and every of those boxes and temples.

Finally, the best experience: watching the Yamuna Aarti, a fire ceremony, at Kesi Ghat. That is something we recommend to all our visitors and they love sitting there, watching the sun go down and maybe buying a candle and flowers in a little bowl to send it floating down the river. In earlier times everyone came back and told how peaceful the atmosphere there was. They still come back happily and they still enjoy the place there – but the word peaceful is now hardly ever a part of their description. The first people they encounter there are boat drivers who compete with each other to be the first ones to offer a boat ride. Having stopped their advances by simply sitting down and ignoring them, they look out towards the sun – and get irritated by the ugly remains of a bridge that was supposed to be built there but was stopped midway. Luckily now an artificial island in front of that will hide the ugly view. The most disturbing thing at the Ghat however is the sound of several loudspeakers shouting out spiritual songs. If someone was simply singing there, it would be fine but the speaker noise from both sides is too much to feel the peace of that place. People are happiest when there is a power cut – then we hear the word ‘peaceful’ from them again!

All these stories show that people enjoy seeing Vrindavan and going to these places but that they could enjoy it even more were there not those disturbing factors. And those factors are created by human and could be avoided. I know that rivers are dirty in other countries, too, that tourists write on walls of sights all over the world and that there are annoying guides at every tourist attraction, not only here. Why don’t we make our earth a nicer place and stop all this? Imagine you are the one going there, wouldn’t you appreciate more peace and cleanliness? Contribute your part and behave the way you would like others to. I am waiting for the day when our town is a place that I can show to my friends without the feeling that it was so much nicer in former times.

The holy River Yamuna – stinking Water, no Fish and dead Cows – 6 Apr 12

Yesterday evening Michael and Andrea left the Ashram after a short but very nice stay here with us. We had a great time with them and I even went out with them for a walk to the river. I don’t usually go for a walk here and I enjoyed walking with my friends. At the river I was unfortunately reminded of why I normally don’t go out much in Vrindavan.

The way was nice and sandy, just as I was used to see all streets of Vrindavan in earlier times. We came to the bank of the Yamuna, which is today much closer to Vrindavan and actually the remains of a road that the monsoon flood had torn. We went forward until the end, looked down – and immediately took two steps back again. There was a dead cow lying in the water, belly bloated and legs visible under the water surface. Another dead cow’s body was lying a bit further, already half eaten by five dogs surrounding it. It was not a nice sight, additionally stinking horribly, and definitely not something that I would have liked to show my friends if I had known this before.

It is however impossible to avoid seeing such scenes and similar ones when you are at the Yamuna. You see dead cows and other dead animals in the river, the river is full of plastic, it hardly flows anymore and it is so dirty that you would not even like to stick your little finger into it. Some visitors have even told us of corpses, dead human bodies in the river – the corpses of people who had nobody who could or wanted to afford burning or burying them.

From where we were standing you only had to look a hundred meters down the river though and you saw a man performing rituals at the river. He was clothed in the colours of a spiritual person and was standing knee-deep in the water of the holy river Yamuna of which he and so many other Hindus believe that it is sacred and that it blesses you. Our friends looked at the dead cow, looked further down to him and could not understand why he would dip his hands into the water and then pour it over his face and head.

In my childhood we were drinking that same water. We were swimming in the river, we played at the banks, spent whole summers playing there because jumping into the water was a chance to cool down in the summer heat. Later it was not only a place for playing anymore but a place of worship. Now however I would not put even my little toe in touch with this water.

It is a contradiction how Hindus see this river and what they do with it. On one hand they worship it as a Goddess, they believe that a drop of this water has the power to heal and improve your life and they perform rituals on the banks of the Yamuna and in the water. On the other hand however they dump their wastage water and their chemicals in there without hesitation, they throw their garbage into it and with this all kill any life in the river. They actually kill the river.

It is not only the Yamuna, the Ganges is in a similar state and I have written before about the government plans to improve the situation. I hope that someday I will be able to take my friends down the way to the river and show them our Yamuna with pride again, seeing it flow strongly and clear, fish playing in there and turtles swimming around as it was before.

Formula One Car Race – Fun in Dying, Injuring and Polluting Environment – 11 Feb 11

This week I by chance saw some news on the internet the subject of which usually is not at all a topic that I think about a lot. Today however, I talked with Ramona about it and we agreed that it may be interesting to know the opinions of our diary readers, too.
A driver of the Formula One, Robert Kubica, some days ago had a horrible accident. He was actually not driving a formula 1 car but was participating in a rally.

Nevertheless, he was driving a very fast car in a race and on a wet piece of road lost the control over the skidding car, which crashed into the safety fence that then pierced the car. In the end the car crashed against the wall of a church.

Miraculously the co-pilot had no injuries but the pilot’s complete right side of the body has been injured badly. He was bleeding internally, his leg and arm were broken in several places and his right hand was like smashed. He was immediately brought to a hospital where doctors and surgeons managed to stop the internal bleeding and made every effort to place the bones of his leg, arm and hand again into the right places. For some time they thought they might have to amputate his right hand but then managed to place the bones and muscles together again. They are still not sure whether he will be able to use his hand again with its full functionality. He will however most probably never again drive in a formula 1 car.

Well, why am I writing this? Each time when I hear about motorsports I wonder very much why it is called sports and why such a thing even exists.

First of all, what is the sport in this? Are they physically very active in this? Of course, people say the drivers need to stay fit and are training every day before these races but actually during the race, what is the sport? Is it only the competition? I don’t understand why people have fun in watching that. Are they actually waiting for an accident to happen, is it just the craving for sensations that makes them watch?
It is dangerous to drive with speed of 300 kilometers per hour or more, even if you are trained and even if you have driven on that racetrack many times before. There can always be some kind of mistake in your car, something on the road, an unpredictable move of another car and your car starts sliding and you lose control. People have broken all bones of their body, have carried away permanent injuries and disabilities and people have even died.

You may now say that the drivers are well aware of these risks and everybody working near the racetrack knows that he can get injured or even die if an accident happens. Another point, a very important one, however is that they are not only harming themselves, they are harming every single one of us through the pollution they create. I really don’t understand, with all the measurements that are taken against global warming all over the world, why have motorsports not been banned yet? With each race they use that fuel which is getting rarer in this world and thus more expensive everywhere. We hear everywhere that oil is getting less and less but here they just blow it out for fun and in this way create pollution, simply for driving in circles for several hours. This sport is harming nature, harming our environment and contributing in our deaths in the long run! They pollute the air and millions of people sit in front of their TVs watching them and cheering for them.

If humankind really wants to change something, this kind of ‘sports’ have to stop! You have to stop destroying our planet just for that short-sighted kind of fun. It costs lives, not only those of the drivers.

Polluted Water of the Yamuna in Vrindavan not Treatable anymore – 5 Feb 11

In our local newspaper I read that the water pollution of the Yamuna is so high that it is now not anymore possible to treat its water in a way that it can be supplied as drinking water in Vrindavan and Mathura.

The Yamuna is, after the Ganges, the second most important river of India. It has its source in the Himalayas and after flowing through the country for 1400 kilometers, its waters mix with the river Ganges. The Yamuna flows through the capital Delhi before surrounding Vrindavan on three sides and flowing past Mathura in direction Agra. All along its way, people depend on its water. They need the Yamuna to water their fields but also to get drinking water. In water treatment plants, the water is cleaned and treated so that it can be mixed with groundwater and supplied to towns and cities. 70% of Delhi’s water supplies are treated Yamuna water.

Unfortunately however, Delhi also dumps approximately 58% of its waste into the Yamuna and thus pollutes the water that much that the Yamuna is now one of the most polluted rivers in the world. India manages to pollute this water in a way that makes it impossible now for treatment plants further down the river, to get it clean again. Until now, they have been using, as usual, chlorine and alum to purify the water and then mixed the purified river water with groundwater before supplying it to the homes in Vrindavan and Mathura. They had more and more difficulties to reach the level of purification which is required to use the water. In the last months they have used 100 ppm (parts per million) chlorine and 70 ppm alum which is the double amount of what is normally used but still, the water is not clean.

You can imagine then how much dirt and how many chemicals are in the water which many people here in Vrindavan drink each day! At the Ashram we drink bottled mineral water, which also the participants of our retreats and all other visitors get, and every drop of water which is used in the kitchen goes through a separate filter which again purifies the water as much as possible. In this way we are sure that our water is not polluted but none of the poor families of our school children has the money for such a water filter, not to mention bottled water. They cannot afford to make their water cleaner and so they have to drink what they get! There are already statistics that imply that this has increased stomach diseases with the inhabitants of Mathura and Vrindavan. The water supply of the area will now fully depend on ground water.

Isn’t it unbelievable that we pollute this river so much that we get ill and die if we drink its water? And the Yamuna is not the only river which is that bad, the Ganges is in a similar situation. Of course the government has made plans and campaigns for cleaning both rivers and has spent more than 370 Million US-Dollar in this cause.

They planned on improving the treatment plants and the sewage system that directs the waste into the rivers but unfortunately the rivers have not got any cleaner until now. Due to corruption a lot of the money which the government made available, reached nowhere near the rivers.

People should not only try to improve the purification of the water, they have to stop putting all those industrial waste into the river! If we pollute nature, our rivers, our air and our earth in this way, we will only make ourselves ill! We will be the ones who will suffer from the consequences.

Many of my readers may wonder why exactly I am writing about this. Maybe they have nothing to do with the Yamuna and maybe never even heard of it before. For me however it is painful to read this as I have spent many days of my childhood playing at the banks of the Yamuna and swim in its water around Vrindavan. We even drank this water, just as it was. It hurts to see the current state of this formerly beautiful river.

Spiritual people here see the Yamuna as a holy river but they don’t see the actions that pollute its water. If, instead of only worshipping the Goddess of the river by rituals at the riverside, they could also take some real action against its pollution, it would help the river, its water and ultimately the whole country much more than any ritual could do.

Nature around Rishikesh Destroyed by Human – 04 Mar 08

We started in the early morning from Haridwar where already the Aarti ceremonies were going on. Normally I really like the sound of this but today it was very artificial. It was not the sweet sound of bells and gongs which are traditionally used at these ceremonies but the music was played by a machine. It was very loud and did not have anything of the devotional sweetness of the original instruments. I do not understand why some people think that God should be especially pleased from this. Do it yourself, do it with devotion and don't just press the button and let the machine play.

Like this we got on our way to Sahastradhara. I have been there two years ago and, like everywhere in India now, things have changed. Two years ago there was still wonderful nature but when we came there today we saw a 'joy park' next to the natural beauty of the caves. So commercialized! All the nice nature destroyed by buildings of concrete and this amusement park. It is really horrible what human does to nature. This is another thing that I love in Europe. There are parks and old buildings preserved by law. People also have more consciousness about pollution of rivers, air and all nature.

We started from there again and, because of the bad state of Indians national highways we got a puncher. Well, this happens, it is quite normal here. The street has many holes, there are all kinds of vehicles on the road and sometimes there is not even a proper road to drive on. Good, so we put on the spare tyre and had our tyre fixed in the next workshop. About 150 kilometers later we had to stop again. We got a second puncher. It was very good that we had the tube of the first puncher fixed in time. Okay, we changed the tyres again also had that one fixed and then we got stuck in the organized chaos of Indian traffic. In the end we took 17 hours for around 420 kilometers. You cannot do anything when you are stuck in traffic jam or when the railway barrier is closed for twenty minutes. Being in traffic is one of the best exercises to accept things as they are. Become the observer, the seer instead of being the doer and maybe even getting angry. Stay calm and relaxed and you will enjoy your journey much more!

Vrindavan – Changes of City and Nature – 24 Feb 08

This is my holiday time. I do not have any schedule. I do not have to be anywhere at a certain time. Time is not important for me here. I do not even know what day of the week is today. I just enjoy being here in my Ashram and I do not go out much. Vrindavan is my home town, yes, but when I grew up here it was very different. We were playing in the forest and swimming in the Yamuna, the river that is flowing around Vrindavan. The water was clear and it was flowing rapidly. If I see it today it makes me sad how dirty it is. Because of the pollution it is also not flowing nicely anymore. There is a way around the city which is the way of the pilgrims, the Parikrama. It is the holy way in the city and I did this 9 km walk for many years daily. In that time it was sandy and you could do it with bare feet without any problem. It was like walking on the beach. If you walk on it today you will find it is partly tarred, some parts are very stony, nearly everywhere is dirt and only a little bit of the old sandy way is left. Of course you will have a nice walk around the city; you see a lot, temples and the river. Many of my guests enjoy doing this pilgrim way it but I have seen how it was and today it is only a pale reflection of the former beauty of the town. So I stay here and I am happy when my guests come home from a long walk and experience the Ashram as an island of peace in the hectic life of Vrindavan.