Adventures in Indian Fruit: Singra

This is a Singra

It looks like a dried skull or very wrinkly prune. You see them in the market, laying in large piles next to cauliflower and spinach. 

It was pretty easy to crack open and pull the white "nut-like" fruit from the shell. 
It has a crisp bite and tastes a lot like raw corn on the cob. Corn on the cob with a dash of coconut or chestnut. It has a mildly bitter after taste, but is over all quite pleasant. It has that kind if flavor that reminds you of a family holiday, like they would be arranged in a bowl on the coffee table, accompanied by another empty bowl to hold the discarded shells. Only occasionally would everyone would eat a few. 


All for Indra (God of the sky)

Kartik Poornim (Dev Deepawali)  is a festival only celebrated in Varanasi and only celebrated on the full moon of each November. It is a time when the town is filled with lights. The long steps from the town to the Ganga rivers edge are filled with oil candles, while the houses are covered with long strands of electric lights. 

Deepawali celebrates the sky. It offers lights to the mighty air above with a reflection of stars on the ground. 

That evening among the extra chaos of the streets we decided to take a boat to see all of the lights from afar. 
The scene was magnificent, lights covered everything and ceremonies were preformed at every ghat. 

Deepawali is also a very auspicious time to be cremated, and so the burning ghats were filled with tall fires as numerous families gathered to witness the burial by flame. 
(No one is to take pictures of the burning ghats)

Our boat ride became exciting as the night passed and boat traffic increased. Giant motorboat  were making huge waves for our little rowboat. The moon pulled the waters of the Ganges and our boatman struggled against the current, sweating and stripping off layers or cloths. At one point Laney walked the length of the boat to pour some water in his mouth. Finally after a long battle with the tide and congestion we made it back to the dock. The rest of the night we spent perched on a step, high above the chaos, and watch the festival goers move through the ghats like a herd of salmon swimming upstream. 

Chat at the ghats

On the same day as Jameson's birthday the women of Varanasi fasted so their children would be blessed. They had been fasting for two days now, the festival know as Chat was to mark the end of their hunger. In the evening the Ganga river was crowded with families presenting food to the goddess of the waters. 

The mothers baptized themselves three times while the fathers held them steady. Baskets full of coconuts, fruits and sweets were carried into the river by the blessed mothers who spun in circles while the family poured water and milk upon the offerings. 

After the food was blessed and the sun had set the families prepared their camps along the ghats, the celebration wasn't over until sunrise the next day. All night children and adolescents lit fireworks while street musicians clapped their songs into the evening air. 

We watched the festival from a boat full of young men and a baby monkey who had adopted us as friends.
They knew it was Jameson's birthday and bought him a cake as a surprise. They sang happy birthday and smeared icing on his face, then lit fireworks on the edges of the boat. The panicked monkey climbed from head to head but really wanted nothing to do with anyone but her human father. 

Small candles surrounded by flowers within floating tree leaves were offered to the Ganges. All around us small cups of light drifted with the rivers current. We added one to the group, as a birthday blessing, and to the journey of birth and life. 


slide show: Varanasi boat ride

City of Light

The narrow streets of Varinasi are crammed full of people, cows, dogs, motor vehicles, bicycle rickshaws, poop from a variety of living creatures and piles of trash and yet the city glows with wonder and magic. 

It is filled with temples, altars and a populas of worshipers who adorn the streets with litter as they adorn the statues of the gods with flower petals. It may seem confusing or even disrespectful, but the real spirit is found in this cities ability to worship everything. 

If you choose to only see the chaos, then that is what you see. But if you can stop for a moment and blur your lines, that is, see all things as matter waiting to decay. Then the beauty rises like a phenoix from the ashes of burning trash piles and funeral pyres. 

Varinasi is like no place else. It exist in a different dimension. 
For the past week we have been waking up at 5am to the sounds of our Varinasi alarm clock, holy men blowing their conk shells by the Ganga river and the monkeys fighting on our balcony. 

Once awake we wait for sunrise and then walk along the ghats of the forever holy Ganges river. The Ganges, or Ganga, is used for everything: bathing, washing, drinking, collecting trash and sewage. The cement steps of its urban shore are used for ceremony, from pujas (prayer and ceremony) to the burning, washing and sinking of the dead. It is said that to die in Varinasi ends ones cycle of rebirth. You may transcend to Nirvana. So many people come here to die. When they do they are buried by the river waters or burned by the shore.

 These waters are truly holy and keep those who use it healthy. They do not become sick from bathing or drinking it.   All in one, and all together. Bring your sin, your filth and toothbrush to the rivers edge. 


Into the Woods

Nestled in the marshlands and towering pines sits Hostel in the Forest, a collectively run, sustainable oriented get away.

We had the joy and privilege of staying for free. The hostel has a new " play for trade" program where musicians stay for free in exchange for a playing a concert for the guests. We arrived just after sunset and fumbled our way in the new moonlight through the forest paths. Someone had taken the time to draw hearts and messages in the path using pine leaves and sticks.

We got a dark tour of the grounds and the. We were taken to our room, a towering wooden box on stilts.

 The commune style staff can only all live there for six months at a time, in order to keep the energy in constant fluctuation.
I, accidentally, sat in on a staff meeting one night, the main order of business being to name the rooster. No one really agreed on a name, so everyone scribbled on some paper their vote and placed it in a hat, from which I, being the neutral party, selected the roosters name. His name is now Jesus, which they all agreed was the best name, seeing as they planned to kill and eat him sometime in the spring.

Along with the roosters there are many many chickens. They roam free in the forest eating grubs from kicked up leaves. Next to the chicken coop is the outdoor cob kitchen where two guest baked a mountain of bread our first night. It was delicious and sweet, covered in sunflower seeds and raisins. You eat like a god at the hostel in the forest. The indoor kitchen is stocked with herbs an fruit. Every night, all the guests gather together and eat a feast of lentils and root vegetables and greens from the garden. Before dinner everyone gets in a circle and talks about what they are grateful for, then they stomp their feet and yell "CHOMP!" This tradition goes back to the beginning of this hostels inception, sometime in the early 1970's

When we were not feasting and playing music we were exploring. The hostel is situated on a ton of land with all sorts of hidden nooks and cranny's. We spent a good hour, our first morning, sitting on a swing by the lake. Walking around the lake's perimeter we found a teepee, sweat lodge, fire circle, and tons of fruit trees. As we walked back to the main house along the weaving wooden boardwalk we passes an screened area with a big bathtub and candles all around it. There is nothing like sitting in a hot tub and staring at the tree tops and stars.

It's amazing how one can create such luxury in a sustainable way. Other notable parts of the hostel are the enormous stone labyrinth wrapping itself around an ancient oak tree, as well at a glass house situated right over a lake, a perfect place for yoga and meditation.

Time just melts away at the hostel in the forest. The days pass with no consideration of the outside world. It's a beautiful place to lose (or find) yourself. We Are so grateful to have found this hidden gem in the backwoods of the Georgia coast and we will visit as often as we can.