Wednesday, August 03, 2005


This is an ongoing list of thoughts I've had since returning to the States. Some of them are just things I've come to realize, and some are things I realized were left out and should have been included... STP/IPC/PCO This was the name of the phone and internet booths that are sprinkled throughout India. They are used regularly by both travelers and natives. Of course, seeing "STD" everywhere is pretty amusing to Americans. "It's spreading across the nation," I said at one point. TNP This was the term we affectionately ascribed to our frequent stoped while traveling to "tea and pee." Dynamic pluralism India is host to many Major World Religious. Even Hinduism isn't really one conglomerated belief system, as there are many divergent and conflicting views and Gods. Hindus are "hendotheistic," meaning that while they support a particular God, they are aware of the existence of other, and that others worship them, and this is not problematic. This general sentiment can be said of most of the people of India. There are so many varied beliefs, and people are not oppresive or condemning of others simply for acknowledging a different belief system. This was one of my biggest takeaways from my travels in India Of course, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the Hindutva militants, one can see the teachings of Gandhiji slipping away... Symbols as visual theology Every temple and mosque is intricately carved and decorated, just as is much of everything in India. What at first glance simply looks beautiful and impressive can upon further inspection tell you so much about the time and culture when it was created. It can offer stories of the opeople who visited it. It can open your eyes to things you hadn't previously consider. This visual theology is everywhere, and one need only a brief introduction to start seeing it. Mr. Subramaniam, Nikky Singh, Cathy Asher These were the guides that accompanied us on our trip. They were invaluable as leaders, translators, teachers, and friends. They made the trip the huge success that it was, and I feel forever indebted to each of them. CNG Compressed Natural Gas. The autorickshaws are run on this, and some newer ambassadors use the new fuel type as well. As the world approaches peak production of oil, and gasoline becomes much more expensive, I think this is the next option. Of course, it is no answer to the world energy crises...but to see smaller, lighter vehicles provided for mass transit within the city and running on this is very symbolic of India's awareness and commitment to environmental friendliness. Rickshaws, for the record, seem like the perfect blend of public transportation and convenience. I think they'd go over well in most large cities and college towns, if it weren't for all the (explitive deleted) SUVs. Nikky and the Prime minister The day before ManMohan Singh traveled to America to meet with President Bush, he met with Nikky. She informed him of her concerns for women's rights, and also transferred an idea Mary had to employ the homeless in trash collection. She and he are both Sikh, and it was sort of exciting to talk with someone right after they had met with the Prime Minister. Sitting by river - productivity vs. purpose While sitting on the side of the Ganga in Haridwar (the night I couldn't stay alseep), I sat thinking about the primary difference I see in Indian and American culture. Americans seem to be searching for productivity and efficiency in all that they do, whereas Indians are looking for purpose and meaning. As the two nations start to merge, I see that our productivity is rubbing off on them. I really, sincerely hope this can be a two-way street, because the function of our life is not to produce and grow an economy. Without searching for purpose and meaning in life, I worry about the willingness of Americans to become corporate drones, working 10 hour days and purchasing things they don't need, only to achieve a fleeting sense of happiness and a feeling of purpose that will not endure. While you can't spend forever deciding what you believe and what your purpose in life should be, I see that as infinitely enviable to simply working and making, with no purpose past that of your corporate master. Shigella I returned to the US with a new friend! Shigella, a foodborne illness similar to E. Coli and Salmonella, has gone everywhere with me - through 22 hours of plane rides to Amsterdam and Detroit, for a 3 day trip to Columbia to move things up to my third-floor apartment, and to the Emergency room, for a get-to-know-you session. Reverse culture shock Upon my return to the US, I had to overcome the reverse culture shock, which was almost as difficult as the Shigella. Things seem slower, and I feel more calm and in control. I find it difficult to feel overwhelmed (though Master's school is giving me a run for my money). I also am amazed that such a smart and powerful nation can be inhabited predominantly by people who have no zest for knowledge, no want of civic involvement, and no worries regarding the state of the world. On a number of occasions, people said to me that "travel abroad should be compulsory for American students." Having now traveled abroad, I agree completely - for this and so many other reasons.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Last Day in Delhi (Day 24)

When we woke up, we had arrived in Delhi. We bargained for a rickshaw ride home. One guy said he couldn't do it for any less than 200 rupees, so I said "well, I guess we'll just ask anybody else, because we don't have that much money." And we didn't. But the bluff worked, and we got a ride to Defence colony (about the entire extent of Delhi away from where we were), for the equivalent of $3.

When we got back, we immediately passed out on couches. We didn't get far, however, because the Jaipur Inn next store claimed that we had made reservations with them again. Unlike last time, I strongly objected this time. I tried to explain how silly it was to imply that we would have booked BOTH an overnight sleeper cab AND a hotel room for one night. They didn't seem to like it, but I was too grumpy to care in the least. When we finally did wake up, we spoke with Purnima (who is amazing), and she hooked us up with a key to one of the bedrooms, where we went and took showers. After this, I packed up my stuff, and divied up the Ganga water I had into separate bottles. I then distributed them to Prunima and a student who was in her office, to Ashok, the cook who had raved about the water, and to Purdeep. I then gave the rest of a water-bottle full of the holy water to Purnima, and asked her to distribute it on our behalf. Everyone seemed elated by this. Maniji was going to leave shortly, so Lee and I said goodbye to the guy who is perhaps the coolest guy I've ever met.

Then we headed out. We went first to the Defence Colony market, hoping to get some street food. I had been saying that I would do so the entire trip, and the mutton fritter, as it turned out, just turned me on to eating more. It was really hot, so we bought a bottle of water for Rs 12. We searched for a streetside food stand, but Defence COlony is a little too posh for that. Across the street and down the road from the market, however, we found what we were looking for. In retrospect, we must not have been looking very hard at all. There were about 300 flies circling the food prep area, and a bunch of Indian men with grease on their shirts and hands. We paid Rs 12 for our entire plate of food, which we ate standing. It wasn't particularly good, but it wasn't awful. I would come to think otherwise.

From there, we caught a rickshaw to the Gandhi museum (we were very scrutinizing in picking a driver this time). We arrived, and spent another 5 hours at the Birla house, where Gandiji was asassinated. This time we went upstairs to all of the multimedia, and though they usually rush people through, we insisted on being shown every video and audio clip. It was all humbling, just as it had been before. Once we had finished viewing multimedia, we went out again to the back lawn, and to the exact site where Gandhi was shot. We paused and took it all in for a minute, then departed, knowing that everything from here out was in an attempt to exit. But right outside the museum, another streetside vendor was selling pakoras and aloo bread, so we got some of that really quick, first.

We caught a rickshaw back to the AIIS guest house, and gathered up our things. We went and ate masala dosas and stuffed ourselves, then packed up and said our goodbyes. Soon after, we were headed to the airport. Our plane left at 12:30 am, and we made it. We had left at 9:30, so we actually had quite a bit of time. Lee find a humongous bottle of whisky and considered purchasing it, only to find out that customs would make him pay duties on it because, at 4.5 Liters, it was 3.5 Liters over the limit. Eventually, we boarded our plane, and were on our way.

The plane ride got worse for me as we went. I believe the Rs 12 rupee plate of food was the cause of what would later be diagnosed as a Shigella infection. I spent the majority of the 22-hour trip back home in the bathroom. I had hot and cold streaks, and tried to sleep as much as I could. Eventually, when I was assuredly completely empty, and feeling completely miserable, I was able to drift off to sleep. When we got to Amsterdam, I was able to make it through the overlay and run through customs with no problems. On the next plane, I tried eating again, and thus spent most of that trip in the bathroom as well. When we got to Detroit, even though I had just gone to the bathroom before deboaring, I went to the bathroom again. Lee did as well, but that lucky punk did not end up getting sick. Finally, when arrival at my gate, we said our goodbyes. It was kind of sad to depart, but he goes to KSU, and I figure I will see him again. Maria goes to MU, so I knew I'd see her soon enough. And Tony has promised to make a trip across country all the way to Maine, where Nikky Singh lives. We'll see (especially with the cost of gas now...)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Hiking, the long drive to Amritsar, and a disaster barely averted (Day 23)

As soon as we were all awake, we headed to breakfast at the hotel. It had a reputation for serving great food; it was decent. When we came back to Maria's room, we were surprised to see a monkey reaching his hand inside and trying to get at her food through the gate! Unlike the grey monkeys, which were passive but defensive, this was a red monkey, which we'd heard was aggressive. That indeed appeared to be the case. He hissed at us, he shook the wire grating holding him from entering the room, etc. We fed him some banana chips, and Lee even gave him some pudding he had brought back to the room. Then Lee put some of the pudding on his finger, and the monkey licked it off. Then, we all did it. But that didn't make the monkey go away. We were headed out to go on a hike and see the Bhagsu Devi temple, so we left with him still there. However, Tony (whose room it was also), unlocked the door to go back and get something, and found the monkey had gotten inside the room! Luckily, it crawled back out as soon as Tony came in, so he closed and locked the window, and we left.

We walked out of town and up the hill, with Yovindar telling us about how we were his friends and he was a good driver. He insisted that we go to the Bhagsu Devi temple, and I was interested anyway, so we headed that way. After about 3 km, we arrived. It sits up higher in the hill range than McLeod Ganj, and has a waterfall that flows into a man-made pool. All of this sits right in the temple, but we chose to skip it for now. Instead, we walked up into the hillside to take pictures. The view was amazing, as we were very high up and could see many smaller peaks around us, and the mountain range in front of us. We decided to hike through tall grass on the side of this large hill, which was very dangerous. Eventually, we made it down to a path (that we could have just stayed on from the temple, and saved about half an hour), and followed it onward. We walked up, up, up, with Tony saying he was going to bathe in the Ganjes when we got there. Eventually, we passed a small stream, and everyone washed their hands and feet (if they were wearing sandals). Soon enough, Yovindar made us aware of a leech that was on his foot, which he removed with a stick. We all assumed it was from the water, but we didn't see any on ourselves, so we moved on. Soon, we came to a little covered tea shop. Runoff water was being used to ice a bunch of sodas sitting into a chiseled-out hold in the rock. A tarp had been pulled over a small area that had been cut out, which made for a small dining area. We ordered some tea, and sat watching as it began to rain. Suddenly, Maria screamed as though she had been attacked by an animal. I turned to see what was going on, and found that there was a leech on her foot. When she took off her sandals, she found five more. There were none on me or anyone else, but after Maria's had been removed Lee put one on his skin (because he is slightly insane). The attendant informed us that the leeches were not in the water, but in the grass of the hill we crossed. He put them on a piece of paper and tossed them into the river. Then he brought us our chai, which really hit the spot. It was now pouring rain, and just as it began a Japanese guy came under the tarp with us. We talked to him for a bit and then, realizing it was 11:45, Lee and I began hustling back to the hotel we needed to check out of by noon.

We rushed back, with Lee taking time to shop and me taking time to check out the Bhagsu Devi temple (so, not much hustling). We ended up getting a rickshaw most of the way, since we had come a long distance and it was still raining. When we got back I took my last hot shower, packed up all my wet clothes, and gave away those belongings I would no longer be needing. Then came the goodbyes. Lee and I were headed out, so we took time to dwell on our travels and properly send each other off - Maria and Tony headed to Shimla and on, and Lee and I headed back to Amritsar, then Delhi, then the US.

So we got in the car with Yovindar, and Lee and I both chose to sit in the back. At this point, we both thoroughly disenjoyed Yovindar's company, and also his conversation. We had also become aware, especially when I stated it aloud and heard no rebuttal from him, that "He doesn't really know a lick of English past basic conversation." From that point on, we would regularly direct comments to him in accents, telling him that the music was absolutely terrible, and that we hated him. WWhat did it matter? He didn't understand us. We spent most of the trip reading "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of Life" (which I just finished - enlightening, yet confusing) and a book on Guru Nanak and Sikhism. I held my laundry out the window for a bit just to get it dry (not clean). We listened to the iPod over the blaring of the same 8 Bongra songs he had played all the way up. We stopped at the same restaurant to pee. Lee threw Walnuts at water buffalo. In short, we bided our time, hoping we would make it back to Amritsar for our 9:30 train.

We arrived in Amritsar with about an hour to spare. Lee and I decided, on Yovindar's sugestion, that we would go and get some beer. Yovindar wanted to go to a sit-down establishment, but Lee very explicitly stated he wanted to go to a Godfather (a streetside liquor store). After we passed two of them, Lee said, in a wild voice, "You better go to the next one, I'M WARNING YOU!" It was hilarious, because we both knew he didn't understand. Eventually, we pointed frantically and he pulled over. He of course expected us to buy him a beer, but we refused. At this point, he had asked us "You like my driving" (No, he was terrible) about 67 times. We realized that appeasing him by saying yes throughout the course of the trip made him feel a tip was warranted. We told him we'd pay and tip him once we made it to the train station. We still had 40 minutes to spare, but we told him to head to the train station because we still had to find our particular train, and didn't want to risk it. On the way, we saw a Ferris wheel. Yovindar kept driving, and soon pulled into a sit-down drinking establishment. Instead of acquiescing, I started LOUDLY SCREAMING, from the back seat, "Ferris Wheel! Ferris Wheel!" Lee joined in on the chanting, and soon enough Yovindar gave up and turned around. Lee started to laugh in this high-pitched, insane style of laughter, and I just busted up. We were slap-happy, it was late, and we figured out that we had the time (the station was close by).

We arrived near the fairgrounds, and rushed in. We found a bunch of kids playing on playground equipment, a bunch of junky, unsafe carnival equipment, and the Ferris wheel, which was somewhat different from the ones I'm used to. For starters, the booths seat passengers toward each other, not next to each other. Instead of sitting facing outward along the track of the wheel, you sit perpendicular to it. Last and most important, it goes way faster and the booths swing way more. Before we got on, however, Lee had an idea. We pooled our money, and then went and got every kid in the entire park. We told them we were going to pay for a Ferris wheel ride for everyone - that it was completely on us. After getting this across, about 35 kids came with us to the Ferris wheel. We were seated, and the thing started up. Against our wishes, they sat Lee and I together, but we still got to talk to the people in the carts ahead of and behind us a little bit as we circled around. The kids were ecstatic, and audibly pleased. As soon as the ride ended (we were the first ones off), we realized that we had to go immediate. So we left, and the kids never really knew why we had decided to be so charitable. It was the perfect setting though, because it just made us both feel really good.

Then we headed to the train stop. We arrived with about 15 minutes left and found, much to our dismay, that our train had been CANCELLED. There was no alternate route. Our only option would be to catch the Golden Temple train on the next day, and that would cause us to miss our flight home. I was in a state of near-panic, and Yovindar wasn't helping. We had already paid him, but he lingered on (presumably because he has no friends). By coincidence or fate, I ran into a Punjabi named Nafdeep who was very rational, had full control of the English language, and who was on the same train as us. He was also Sikh, and in that selfless manner that I have come to find characteristic of Sikhs, Nafdeep helped us through the process. He said he was actually glad to have found two white guys, as it would better his chances of getting his own arrangements fixed. I told him I felt like it was fate, because Lee and I had been reading about Guru Nanak the whole ride there. Unfortunately, fate didn't have it in the cards. Nafdeep decided he would just travel another day, and the bus authority refused to exchange our tickets for a train that would be passing through Delhi and leaving in an hour. They would, however, bargain for our tickets, and then go and trade them in on their own time. We didn't have the time for this, so we had to accept. Luckily, Nafdeep made sure we got the price of our tickets. Then Yovindar butted in again. His friend (also his uncle (but who isn't?)) owned the bus line in town, and could get us seats if we hurried, and of course bought him a beer. So we went to a Godfather, and bought him, and when he started whining like a bitch, Rintu beers. Just to trump it up, Lee and I each got two beers for ourselves. We also stopped by a streetside food vendor, and got a fried mutton fritter. It was absolutely delicious. We slammed the first of our two beers while eating it, and then, when Yovindar showed no urgency in making it to the bus, we got out and started walking back. We made it, and Yovindar soon pulled up. Our bags were already packed, so we were just waiting to get on the road. In that bit of time, Yovindar's friend, happy to have gotten his beer, gave us a shot of Indian rum (good!). He also rolled up a hash cigarette, which was worthless, as I found most Indian hash to be. We came to discover, but not be surprised by the fact, that Rintu's "Uncle" had no affiliation with the bus line whatsoever, outside of knowing it existed. But whatever. We got on the bus, trying hard as we might not to have to say bye to Yovindar.

We went from being on a second-class AC sleeper cab, which would take 8 hours to get to Delhi, to riding back on an non-AC bus on bad roads that would take 10 hours. This was impetus enough to slam our second 40, in the hopes of passing out. It would have worked well, but that Lee had no urinated for a while. Somehow, almost immediately having pulled out of the station, all the Indian passengers were sound asleep. Lee walked down the entry steps, pissed into his bottle (at the time, I thought he was pissing on the floor), and chucked it out the window. I waited until the first stop, which was just alongside some field. Everyone got out, even women, and urinated in this field. We got back on the bus, and soon after I was finally able to pass out (though I was awaked repeatedly).

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Dharamsala (Day 22)

We woke up early, and went to meet with Mr. Naga. He was a new hire of AIIS, and is working for the library of the Tibetan government (not the gov't itself). His niece was the desk attendant at our hotel (Hotel Tibet), coincidentally enough, so he met us there. We then walked to a coffee shop in the rain to have chai and chat. Mr. Naga, as we would soon learn, spoke English, Hindi, and Tibetan fluently. He was also a historian of sorts. Basically, he was the ultimate tour guide. He told us about the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Kargyue, Sakya, and Gelugpa. While the original master's were just teachers in the main line, their followers picked up these titles over time. After tea, we headed to the Dalai Lama's temple!

The Dalai Lama arrived in India in 1959, and the Tibetan government settled in McLeod Ganj in the 60s. With Nehru as Prime Minister at the time, the area was ceded to the government in exile because it's cold, hilly terrain was similar to that of Tibet. Travellers from all over the world will come to stay for days, months, or years. If they stay long enough and can convince their home country, they can actually even get the little green book required for Tibetan citizenry.

The Dalai Lama had just left, so we did not see him at any time. We did, however, meet many monks, and visited the rooms of the Lama and the oracle (Tibetan society believes in state and national oracles that can be possessed and used as a conduit when need be). Mr. Naga explained that our presence there, according to a Buddhist, was made to hopic by a karmic connection, and that nothing happens without some Buddhist cause. He also said that Buddhists believe that if you are very intelligent, you rise above all religions, and become a true philosophers.

The first temple looks like what we see on tv. It was red, with lots of ornate decoration, and big bald gold statues (Buddhas) all over. There were big metal wheels that you spun with your hand when you walked by, called "mani," or prayer wheels. Truning them earns the merit equal to recitations of the mantras printed on the wheel. There were a lot of these in and around the complex. Inside, a large gold Buddha sat in a chair at the head of the complex. On a sign next to him, a sign read "Never commit any evil deeds, accumulate a wealth of merits, completely tame one's own mind...this is the teaching of the Buddha." Everywhere in the complex were small butter lamps, which are burned in offering to the Buddha. Some of these lamps have the ligght fan lamps above them, that spin with the rising of the heat. Also in the room were offering trays. People would offer money sometimes, but also packaged food, and other things that seemed odd to me. When I asked Mr. Naga about this, he explained that what one is giving is not of importance. It is the gesture and the personal significance of giving that appeases the Buddha. He told the story of a young boy who once came to make an offering, and dropped a pile of sand at the alter. Although this gift had no practical use, it was all the boy had to give, and he had given it generously and willingly, and thus the Buddha was joyful. The thou8ght mprocess behind that intrigued me.

After checking out the temple, we headed out and started hiking down a small shale path around the side of the hill. As we walked, Lee and I began to sing. "We'll be yelling rade rade when we come. We'll be yelling Bom Bolay when we come. We'll be yelling Namaste, we'll be yelling hari krishna, we'll be yelling Kaje Rade when she comes!" It was hilarious. At one point, someone made the comment that water doesn't flow uphill, to which I responded, "unless you turn the hill over." At the time it was really funny also, but I think it loses something in transcription.

In due time, we arrived at the Tibetan Library where Mr. Naga works. (On the way over, we passed a basketball court!). We went upstairs and took our seats, and soon after a Tibetan Buddhist monk and translator arrived. We were sitting in on a one-hour philosophy lecture. I quickly made count: the ratio was 38 white people to 8 asians, which I found sort of disconcerting. Nonetheless, the lecture was very good. Upon the Monk's entrance, everyone stood up and bowed, then sang a ten minute chant/song. We were attending the third lecture in a series on the third stage of the Bodhisattva, which discussed the "perfection of giving." The monk, in his low, gravelly voice, told us that the Bodhisattva awakens into a Buddha-field, and attempts to awaken other minds so that they all may escape cyclical existence. They approach this noble goal through the perfection of ten stages. The art of giving means to give selflessly of oneself, as there are no such things as personal possessions. The Buddha-to-be is even willing to give of his flesh if it betters the lives of those around him. The lecture was very educational, even though one guy decided to try to argue with the 80-year old monk on basic principles of Buddhism and essentially wasted the last 20 minutes of the period. After that, everyone sang/chanted again, bowed to keep their head below the level of the monk's (I figured this out by the second time around...oops!), and awaited his exit.

We went back downstairs to rejoin Mr. Naga, and he took us back upstairs to a small museum. We saw a miniature version of the Lhasa Tsuglag Khang (the name of the Dalai Lama's temple, both here and in Tibet). We saw many artifacts, and sand art. Our teacher was there as well, along with some other monks. We greeted them, and them us. They took special interest in Lee's belt buckle, which had a large turquoise amulet on it. We would think of it as very country, but the monks have a special affinity for turquoise, I guess. After this, we headed downstairs and into a room for library employees only. Here, we were shown the original writings of the Tibetan Buddhists, along with many writings that had been written since. This is not something most people get to see, and we felt especially honored when they took out one of the original bindings, opened it's cloth cover, and let us touch the paper. There were two types: one that is thick like a card stock, and another that is strong but thin, and doesn't get wrinkles when folded. The symbols on them were illegible to me, but I still felt like I was viewing something of great importance. It was, in short, hecka cool. Mr. Naga informed us that these were holy scriptures, and that there were 108 volumes with block prints on paper (minus the ones from Tibetan, which were hand-scripted). They were wrapped in different colors of cloth, which roughly categorized them to the lineages of Buddhism (but not exactly). Yellow was Gelugpa, red was Nyingma and kkargyue, orange were the sort of scattered, and blue were part of the "bonbo texts." Bonbo refers to the Tibetan (as opposed to Buddhist - these aren't strictly religious texts) writings. The library was thus very colorful, and the scripts were very old and important. I was amazed when they gave Maria the OK to take pictures.

We then headed out, cutting through and around buildings in the complex on our way to the temple donated to the Dalai Lama when he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. As we arrived, we saw the bus taking off, and we had to jump onto the MOVING BUS! We all made it fine, though, and were on our way. Bus rides costs RS5, or roughly 10¢, and the bus travels all the way to a distant town of Manila. AT on stop, I made eye contact with a gorgeous girl sitting in a room on the side of the room. We had that kind of connection that is hard to break, and both looked away only to look back. I notice it because I will never forget her eyes. Sadly, I will never see them again...

Anyway, we shortly arrived at the Gyoto Ramoche temple. The first thing we did was headed to a restaurant where some monks were eating (meat, no less - though it is not looked well upon, Buddhism is not ascetic and strict - but more of a guiding principle). Mr. Naga explained to us that the monks take turns running the tempple, the restaurant, and other enterprises. We sat down to order, and Mr. Naga explained the difference between chow mein (noodles) and tugba (noodles sans soup). I ordered Chow Mein, and also some momos (meat-filled dumplings) for the table as appetizers. While we were waiting, Mr. Naga explained that the original Buddha had a wife and children before becoming a religious leader - but that other monks do not marry. He said anyone can become a monk, as long as they have a sense of pronunciation of earthly rights and ownings, and are willing to dedicate themselves to the teachings of the Buddha. Still, it is awkward for older or already-married men to start training, and thus it is very rare that these things happen.

When our food arrived, all hell broke loose. Yovindar (who had been bitches about how hot it was, and how he didn't want to walk any more, and just generally crying all day) had been served a meat dish. Not that it matters, but he did order it of his own accord. Still, he felt the need to produce a picture from his wallet of a Hindu image, and decry to all "THIS MY GOD!" Mr. Naga quickly defused the situation by saying that he would eat Yovindar's meal, and that Yovindar could order another. When that plate of food arrived, Yovindar declared that it also had meat in it, and it took the cook and Mr. Naga quick some time to convince him that it was, indeed, a vegetarian meal. Whatever. My chow mein was -awesome.-

After lunch, we headed up into the temple area. Along the path, there were small apartment complexes on each side. They didn't have doors. There were monks sitting and conversing outside. We headed up to the temple, and after removing our shoes, headed in. There were many, many images of Buddhas here, along with offerings and a gigantic image. Mr. Naga and I had bought white scarves, which we wrapped around a pole in front of the image as an offering. Next to the Buddha, there were mean-looking images. Buddha believes in wrathful deities, and includes them to highlight the calm and peacful nature of the Buddha. We viewed them all, and I was again surprised when we got the go-ahead to take pictures. After spending about 15 minutes just taking it all in, we headed out.

We jumped on a return bus, and this time I was sitting behind a cute little boy and his parents. He kept turning around to look at Tony and I, so I said "Op kanam kia hey?," which means what is your name? He answered, and his mom turned around with a huge smile. I made small talk with the young boy until we got off on our stop, and the mother was absolutely riveted. I don't think the dad took well to it, though... It was on this same bus ride that I made a humorous comment to Tony (which he subsequently stole and used as the headline of one of his posts (the bastard!)): An AmerIndian, a Hawaiian, 2 white guys, an Indian and a Tibetan walk into a Buddhist monastery..."

The next stop was at the Norbulingka Institute, where the Tibetan environment has been simulated. There were streams, rock paths, prayer flags, bridges, small pools of water, and tibetan-looking buildings. Inside them was a museum and a small store. It was a very interesting area. Deeper inside, we found large, open prayer area with large image, and a library with scripts similar to those we had been shown before. We were also taken to a back room where monks study and train. The large shelf of books were written in Tibetan (which is, by the way, phonetic), but a smaller shelf had books in English. Here are some of the titles I scribbled down in a hurry:

Putting People First - Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore
Java 2
Windows 95
Pagemaker 6.5
Schindler's List
Professional Journalism

We left this complex, and started walking back in the direction of the bus. Along the way, Yovindar started whining AGAIN. The next taxi that drove past us, he nabbed. While I was surprised to find a taxi out on this little country road, I wasn't all that opposed to just getting a ride back and not dealing with walking and buses. After all, we had walked a lot that day!

When we got home, I took a short nap. When I awoke, Maria, Lee, Tony and I headed out on the town. We did a little shopping, ran into Mr. Naga at a cafe, and then stepped into the "friends cafe" when it started raining. We ended up having about a 2-hour political discussion while drinking banana lassis, lichi juice, and waiting out the rain. When it finally died down, Lee and I did a bit more shopping, then went back to our place. My laundry was still pretty much soaking, so I adjusted it, wrung it, and did everything I could to aid it in drying (to no avail). I wanted to take a hot shower, but the water heater would not turn on. I got a stafer to come help me, and he revealed that the water heaters were set up on a fuse, and where the control box was. After saying "thorry" numerous times, he went back to working. With a hot shower in my sights, I went about cleaning my room and packing. 20 minutes later, I took a hot shower, then hit the lights and went to bed.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Amritsar, Pakistan, and the ride to Dharamsala (Day 21)

We exited our sleeper cab into the soft light of a 6am sun in Amritsar. Almost immediately after stepping onto the platform, a man was asking to be our driver. Little did we know, we would be getting to know this man very well over the next few days. We discussed it for a while, and decided we just wanted to be taken to the Golden Temple, and then maybe to the bus station, for now. And off we went...

When we arrived at the Golden temple, we had to remove our shoes and cover our heads. Upon walking through the entry arch, we were confronted by a magnificent, radiant structure. Made of white marble and plated with gold (though I don't think it's gold anymore), the structure floats on a pond that is surrounded by a walkway and a building. We stood and stared for a while, then began to circumambulate. Many people were bathing in the water (which wasn't exactly clean, but oh well). At two corners, they were giving out water in metal bowls. We stopped for a drink, talked to some people (Sikhs are so open and friendly), and continued to the bridge. Before crossing, however, we made a donation and got leaf-bowls of prasad. Tony was absolutely loving the Sikhs at that point, because although they asked for a Rs 10 donation, he gave Rs 100 and refused change. He got a HUGE bowl of prasad, which is basically sweet dough. So then we headed to the bridge. We weren't allowed to cross until we had eaten some of our prasad for some reason, so we started chowing down. It wasn't bad, but I don't like breakfast, and especially not a bowl of sweet raw dough. But anyway, we then crossed the bridge, and went into the ornately decorated temple. It has two floors and the roof, and we explored all of it. On both floors men were reading "the book" as others sat and listened. It was a bit crowded, but I bet it gets worse at other times of the day and year. Finally, we left the structure. We weren't allowed to make an offering of our prasad because we had eaten from it (but they made us eat from it, so I'm still quite confused about all this), so Lee started throwing his into the water. Almost immediately, big goldfish came up and ate it. Soon enough, Tony and Maria and I were doing it as well. When we got to the end of the bridge, there were a lot of goldfish, and little kids were watching. It was fun,. but I think it might have been disrespectful. Then again, a few Sikhs had joined in as well. From there, we went into the buildings at the front of the complex. In one they had a book sitting, and a donation box. In the basement of another, there was a small group of instrumentalists chanting, with people listening. We stayed there for about 15 minutes. Finally we regrouped (Maria has wondered off to take pictures), and headed outside. We went to retrieve our shoes, and the attendant asked if we had seen the museum. We hadn't, so we recovered our heads and went back in.

Our second trip into the Golden Temple was thus to the museum. It was filled with paintings of the gurus and other important Sikhs, as well as mighty battles and important historical scenes. Also, they had a number of artifacts and weapons on display. A number of them started talking to me, and took a lot of interest in me. I ended up talking to a group of guys my age for about 10 minutes, twice. After spending about an hour in the museum, we regrouped and headed back out. This time, the attendant asked if we had langar while inside. Langar is the free meal, in which everyone sits in the order in which the entered. We rcovered our heads, and went to get Langar. Volunteers serve out daal and pani to people, and the dining experience is supposed to indicate equality and community. The food was actually pretty good, especially considering that they were pouring it out of buckets. After we finished, we headed out to return our plates. Then we went back, and this time, we were given our shoes. There was nothing more to see. Still, the Golden Temple is a very impressive site, and we ended up there for about 5 well-spent hours.

When we returned to where our driver had been, we were relieved to find that he was still there, and had not just gone through our stuff and ditched us. We got into the cramped vehicle, and asked him to take us to the Pakistani border. He said he lived near there (though we came to find that him saying he lived somewhere, owned something, or was related to someone was pretty much just banter), and that it would be no problem at all. So off we went.

Because of our driver's "connections," he was able to get us into the customs zone between India and Pakistan. At the gate, we were refused entry. We met a teacher from a women's college there, and also an actress and a producer (who had passport stamps from about 20 countries). We started having a good conversation, and in the meanwhile, our driver was able to work out a little deal. One of the guards took us around the side of the gate, and we were able to walk to the actual ceremony area where, every night, soldiers from both countries do a demonstration, then families are allowed to cross (even without Visas). We even got to go right up to the line of Pakistan, and take pictures with the guard. We even got to step over that line, so I count it as having entered Pakistan.

We then returned to our driver's "boss's" restaaurant, just on India side of the border. We had more Limcas (we'd had some upon our arrival), and then Lee and I requested beer. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to serve us beer, so they....took us around back of their shop and did so anyway. It was thunderbolt, which is terrible, but it was hot enough that we enjoyed it. Afterward, we returned to our friends. Soon enough, however, they ended up heading back to where we were, so we could negotiate the possibility of a ride up to Amritsar and back. The deal we ended up striking was for transport two ways, a driver to go anywhere we wanted while there, and that it had to be Rintu, our driver before (because he spoke a moderate amount of English). (This would turn out to have been a dumb decision later, but $100 for 4 days and 400 miles of traveling IS a good deal). So we moved our stuff to an even more cramped 4-door AC car. Soon after, we were on our way North to Dharamsala.

One of the first things I noticed was a little picture of Deep Singh on the dashboard. Deep Singh is famous because, after being decapitated in battle, he reportedly kept fighting for several minutes, headless. I thought this strange since I knew that Yovindar was Hindu, but whatever. His real name was Yovindar, but he went by Rintu. However, since he decided that he should call me "Jonny boy," I would only refer to him as Yovindar for the rest of the trip. Also, he decided that Lee looked like Dirty Harry (he didn't, and I doubt Yovindar has even seen that film), so he called Lee Harry for the entire trip. Lee never actually informed him that his name wasn't Harry though, on the other hand...

The ride was not fun. It had been sweltering in Amritsar, and for quite a while the temperature kept up. The AC didn't do anything; it was a useless and expensive amenity. We listened to his collection of Bonghra music (about 8 songs, total), on a loop all the way up. He claimed to be friends with every artist, stating that he "parties with them" (a blatant lie). Lee and I ended up sharing my iPod earphones, in a vain attempt to drown it out. Luckily, after we had gotten North by quite a bit, it started to get noticeably cooler. Moreover, he turned the music down and spent the majority of the trip talking to Maria (much to her dismay - but the front seat comes at a price!) Once we got into the rolling, tree-covered hills, it started to actually feel comfortable. The mountain air, once we got farther North, was more refreshing still. Through the course of our ride, we passed several temples, many of them dedicated to the monkey God, Humayun.

Eventually, we stopped to eat. The place we stopped at sat across a small stream (that normally wasn't there, but for the monsoon rains) from a Shiva temple. I went to explore, and found out it was cute into a cave. It was pretty cool. In the mean time, Lee climbed out onto the rocks between the temple and the restaurant, which was pretty dangerous, but ah well. Eventually, we took our seats and had a decent meal (Yovindar ate off us; this would come to be a regular thing). The owner came and talked to us a while, and said he intends to move to New York very soon. He was a very nice guy, and we talked to him for a while. At dusk, we headed out to make the rest of our trip.

Though I might have mentioned it before, driving at night in India is dangerous. Many of the truck drivers drink excessively, plus driving in India is always a little scary. The road is delineated by lines painted on trees on either side of the road, since there are no reflective lines to follow. People still pass, often, at night. So, with all that in mind, imagine our frustration and worries as we started heading up the steepest part of the mountain, and our car started having transmission trouble. After about 30 minutes of worrying, and Lee at one point climbing out of the window and onto the roof of a moving car, we made it to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj.

It was late, so we unpakced. Lee and I decided to go for a walk just to check things out, nonetheless. My immediate impression - so many white people, so many hippies. We stopped into a STD/ISD/PCO shop to call family, and afterward ended up having a conversation with the owner about that very topic. He had a very cynical view of the Tibetan Buddhists, and of the white girls and boys that come to Dharamsala. He was very open with us, and while some of what he said hit me off as non-sense, it was interesting nonsense. Our conversation actually started when a larger white woman started addressing a dog outside of the shop, telling it that it was a "friendly dog, who loved friends," and gently tapping it in the face with her umbrella. The guy told us that people here were nice to white people because they knew there was money in it. He also said that white girls come to Dharamsala to have sex with Tibetan boys, and that he knew of a number of instances in which this had happened. Unrelated, he told us that English is now compulsory in most schools, thus his seeming mastery of the language.

We then headed back to our hotel. At the narrow shop next door, we found our driver conversing with the shopkeeper. We started chatting with them, but were soon interrupted by a fight in the alley right behind us. A bunch of asian guys were driving by, and right as they did an Indian guy punched this dude RIGHT in the face. The guy got out of the car, and started trying to fight back (understandably). They eventually moved down the alley, and guy picked up a large rock and THREW it at the other guy. Fighting broke out again, and soon the group of Indian guys can walking back our way. Lee and I were just kind of looking, and one guy turned to us and sai "Fuck you, and fuck your country." Of course, he couldn't differentiate us from any of the other white people, and probably didn't know which country we were from...but whatever.

When we got back to the room, I decided to do some laundry. I soaked and washed things in a bucket, and hung them out to dry. Hindsight is everything: if I'd have known that these clothes would not be clean and dry until I got back to America, I would have saved myself the trouble.

Finally, after a brief allergy attack, I feel into a land of dreams...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Two white guys, a Hawaiian, an Indian, a Tibetan, and a Hindu walk into a Buddhist monastary...

This is a "fill in the blank" joke; While in McLeod Ganj, Jon observed special nature of our group dynamics. So make up a good punch-line and enjoy yourself because the north has been an amazing experience. I don't know which part to even talk about, and given that I will be coming home soon I am apprehensive to even try. Jon and Lee left two days ago and we took Maria to Mundi Yesterday. Currently I am alone, the group has split and soon we will all be homeward bound. After we went to Amritsar and spent about 4 hours at the Golden Temple our crazy driver took us to the boarder of Pakistan. After drinking a few Limcas at the boarder we continued on with our akward driver to Dharmshala and McLeod Ganj. This place is not like India, it feels completly different. Can you just walk down the street and find an operating government in exile? The answer is "yes" if you are in McLeod Ganj, or "Little Tibet." So aside from the lecture on philosophy from a Tibetan Monk, the leeches Maria picked up on our hike, more monkey menace, really good Chow Mein, tons of rain, and really big representations of the Buddha, not much has happened here. Alas, tomorrow morning I begin my long journey home; after a few taxi rides, a 10 hour bus, an overnight train, 18 hours of flying and the Sia Express from SeaTac, I will be home. Shout out to Mom, Sia, Yari, The Fam, the gang, and the office.


Packing, Birla house, and a ride on the Sleeper Cab (Day 20)

Upon waking up on the couches at the guest house, we were informed that we did indeed rent rooms at the Jaipur Inn. Since we were paying for them anyway, I headed over to take a shower. When I returned, I realized that Mary, Lee and Tony had ditched me to go to Catholic mass. Since I had some spare time, I repacked some of my stuff, including a duffel bag full of souvenirs. Maria came down and started packing as well.

When Mary returned, she, Maria and I headed to the Defence Colony market to get some Subway. Maria and I both got a falafel and hummus sandwich for Rs 70 (a little under $2). I made a quick trip to the ATM, then we headed back.

My intention was to hit up a few spots in Delhi that friends had recommended. Mary decided she was tired and didn’t want to come, but Lee and Maria did, so we headed out looking for a rickshaw. We found one who would go for Rs 70 , but a guy pulled up right behind him that said he would go for 60 (you negotiate even the rides, of course), so we got in his rickshaw. What we began to realize, as the ride went on, was that our driver a) didn’t know where the Birla house was, and/because b) our driver didn’t speak a lick of English. I think he stopped to ask for directions (not out of the ordinary) 6 times (that was when we began to worry). Eventually, we passed a sign, and I pointed out the direction of the Gandhi museum. I’m fairly convinced that we came across that sign by nothing but coincidence. I gave our driver Rs 61 and sent him on his way.

The Birla house, which is where Gandhi was shot, was fascinating. It had been transformed into a museum that included a nice yard marking his final steps, a room full of clay figurines depicting important moments in his life, and a room full of his writings and other materials. Maria got ahead of us, but Lee and I spent a lot of time taking in the site. At the end of the day, we found out that if you go upstairs, there are all sorts of multimedia that we had missed out on, so we pledged to return. Nonetheless, the site was incredible and humbling.

Our rickshaw driver on the way home made up for the last one. He spoke English well, and even knew where Hawaii was (an ongoing joke for us). He played along when we told him that women take multiple husbands there, and men pay dowries. He told us a few things that we hadn’t heard expressed about Indian weddings elsewhere, and I won’t bother to defoul this blog with them. Suffice it to say, this hombre was quite a joker. We had him drop Maria off at the market to get some masala dosas while Lee and I headed back to pack the car – we had to make it to our train!

At 6pm, we were en route to the train station. We got there in time, and the AIIS staffers that brought us delivered us to our part of the track. They even decided to wait with us until our 7:30pm train. In the mean time, Maria and I headed up to the walkover. From there, one could see the families of rats moving in and out of the elaborate tunnel systems they had dug through the feces-covered tracks. The train stations have a charm all their own that eclipses the rats, the smell, the stray dogs, and the homeless people. Anyway, I held on to that thought for a while until we found out that our train would be 2 hours late, at which point I started to think a bit otherwise. Maria and I ate our Dosas right there in the station, along with some Manaqqa. This set the stage for some wonderful conversation with a group of Punjabis who sat down next to us. They were all joining the Indian army, and though most of them had mastered some simple broken English, one of the boys had studied in school and was fairly fluent. We ended up playing Pictionary, taking turns drawing pictures of men and women from each other’s culture. I let the kid wearing a “Cali” hat listen to a little Tupac Shakur (he didn’t like it). Lee touched a dog that was limping around the station, but this was nothing new for Lee.

Eventually, our train arrived. Or so we thought. One of the AIIS staffers had departed, leaving the older man who didn’t speak much English to help us. When someone told us our train would be coming on different tracks, things started to get iffy. We ended up getting help from a number of people, including a 6’6’’ black guy who, when I began to fold my hands to thank him, stop me to say, “No no no my friend. I am Jose Christian!” Sorry friend, my mistake!

In due time, we found a place to sit. I went and grabbed 4 Limcas, which we quickly downed. Then Tony went and got more Limcas, which we again downed. We sat on the ground next to a group of attractive Indian women. I managed to create a seat between Lee and Maria, who were sitting at a slight diagonal. We rocked out to some tunes, and Lee let that same dog lick his face when it returned. Finally, our train arrived and we found our cabin.

On our walk to it, we witnessed a robbery. To be exact, it happened right behind me, and had I realized what was going on just a few moments earlier, I could have dropped a mean clothesline across the small Indian man’s face and floored him. Instead, the Chinese girl he pilfered from yelled as he ran off. But wouldn’t you know it, thirty feet up, a tall Japanese guy was escorting the thief back the other way, and as we passed I tapped him and said “good job,” to which he smiled.

So then we got on our train. Sleeper cabs are COOL. We were on a second class, so there were only two beds per stack, which gave each berth about 4 feet of clearance. I was in an upper birth opposite from Lee, and Maria was on the single bed on the other side of the aisle from us. Tony was in the bunk below her. The beds and the chains that hold the upper birth beds up are wrapped in this bright blue pleather, like gymm class mats. After eating some sunflower seeds and edamame I had brought, Lee and I had a really bad, but really cheap meal. Chai was 4 rupees, and bread was 10. The little bags of water that came with the meal were UV radiated, and presumably safe to drink thus(?). Eventually, I drifted off to what ended up being a terrible night of sleep. Might I suggest, to anyone with allergy problems, that you try to get a bed that isn't under a vent...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Back to Triveni ghats and Onward to Shri Trayanbakshwar (Day 19)

This morning, Maria, Tony and I headed back down to Triveni ghats to witness the other daily ritual that occurs there. In the morning, people bring buckets of milk to the ghats, pour it into the river, then bend to collect more, and repeatedly pour the water in from above their heads. It's kind of neat to see people doing this, eyes closed, at daybreak, as a thick fog slowly rises up from the river. The other interesting spectacle is seeing men and women of all ages getting in and bathing. First, because the water is no cleaner in the morning than any other time. Second, because it is COLD. I think the quote I uttered at the time was, "These men may have balls of steel, but they are small." Anyway, as I walked around, I met a river ecologist who told me about the significance of the river in non-religious terms. He told me the major river systems actually form the image of a cow (don't know if I believe that). I walked onward, and saw a cow trotting along the ghats. This is the most movement I have seen a cow make so far on this trip. Most of them just lay down, usually in the middle of highly trafficked roads. It began to rain as we headed out, and was pouring by the time we made it to the hotel.

Which signaled nap time for me. I had a great nap, and some crazy dreams (maybe due to the malarone, but I usually have crazy dreams, so who knows.) Long dream short, I had a vision of a kid sprinkling something on a rock, and making it become a star. Somehow all of my graduating class had gone on a senior trip to India, and met me in Haridwar to sit in circles and see this. But whenever I took a picture, the screen would show up black. Then I stood up, and the hall was empty.

I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing. My ayurvedic massuer had arrived. I thought ayurvedic massages involved a steady stream of oil on one's third eye, but this one was more or less a regular massage, but the best $12 massage I'll probably ever have. My heel was still in all sorts of pain, which the massuer helped me figure out. When he was finished, I felt quite relaxed. So much so that Lee decided to schedule a massage for himself. While doing so, he also expressed interest in a banana lasse, so I ordered two. They were decent, but it was the quickest thirty rupees I spent on the trip. After that, I relaxed, showered, then packed up some of my stuff and moved it into Maria and Christy's room so Lee could get his massage in peace.

That's when the fun started. Christy and Tony were out on the balcony, and Christy pointed at some grey monkeys running around on nearby rooftops. I got the rest of some crappy trail mix, and we chucked it on the roof of a nearby building. Soon, about 20 monkeys, including moms, dads, and "little oo-oos" were running around. Soon enough, they realized where the food was coming from, and started heading up. Within ten minutes, we had two mamas, two baby oo-oos, and a guardian papa sitting on our balcony. Tony handfed the dad, who just took the banana chips from his hand. But when Tony tried to pet it, it got mean, and thus we immediately went inside. We proceeded to throw banana chips out the window while snapping pictures for the next hour. During this time, the babies started playing tug-of-war with Maria's orange skirt, chewing and rolling to their hearts' content. Then they played a little tag. Then they wrestled. All of this while mama sat by the window and tried repeatedly to get in, as she was in full defense mode. In time, she decided we weren't a threat, and backed off. By the time Lee, who is mildly insane, came to the room, we thought it'd be ok for him to go out and pet them. And he did. One of the babies touched his palm a few times, and the mama let him pet her side and tail. But when he tried to pet the dad, dad got mad again. This kind of ended monkey time. We headed to lunch and I was finally able to get some chaat (I got aloo chaat, which was cold potatoes and herbs). After lunch, Moses was ready to go, so this we did.

So from there we headed to a 13-story temple called Shri Trayanbakshwar. The walk down to it revealed it as a touristy destination: when little streetside shops selling carvings accept credit cards, you begin to realize their targeted audience might not be locals. After walking through the small town, we came to a large bridge. As we walked across, an older man saw my mala (beaded necklace) which I had around my wrist and thumb. He took my hand, raised it in the air, and shouted "Ram! Ram!" Knowing not what to do, I just sort of smiled and said Bom Bolay, which he reacted kindly to. Christy told me that "Ram! Ram!" is a dedication to Ram, and is similar to bom bolay or hello. Anyway, it was pretty cool. Also on this narrow, shaky bridge were cows and motorcycles...

On the other side of the Ganga, standing like an enormous phallic symbol, was the temple. This temple required the visitor to walk all around each level, ringing a bell at North, East, South and West (you are supposed to touch these walls when in Hindu temples anyway, so the bells were a nice "touch"). The temple featured images of Gods such as Ganesh, Ram, Brahma, Kali (God of Death), Saraswati, Durda, and Shiva, to whom the temple was dedicated. The images appeared in separate small rooms, many of which have been converted into stores (in fact, one whole floor was all shops). On about floor six, a small boy smiled at us, and we said hello. We had gotten most of the way along the floor when he came running towards us, shook Lee's hand, smiled, and ran back to his mom. It was SOOOO cute. Toward the top, we started seeing, instead of images, these egg things with lines and dots on them. Christy told me that you were supposed to look into these eggs, and through them you would see the image. I'm no good at magic eye posters, and I couldn't do this either... After walking back down all 13 stories (my heel was purple again), we headed back to the car, and after some brief shopping, got on the road to Delhi.

The trip home did not go well. For some reason, most of the major roads had been shut down, so we were rebuffed in our return effort about three times. Each time, we were redirected to roads of worse quality. Eventually, we stopped for a meal at a hotel. We did the unthinkable: We had a meal without daal OR paneer (Tony will contend that one of the dishes had paneer, I will contend that Tony is a complete liar). When we finally got into Delhi, we had turned a five-hour drive into about a 9 hour drive. We made it to a gas station in the nick of time. Many of them close down at night so they won't get robbed, and this has the unfortunately side effect of creating long stretches of road where no gasoline can be purchased. While at the gas station, one of our group members kept holding out a stalk of marijuana leaves out the window, and asking the attendants, in a superb towelie voice, "you wanna get high?" This person even offered it to a guy holding a gun, who took it, looked at it, and HANDED IT BACK. See, the plant grows literally everywhere. Collecting it was no challenge whatsoever, and possessing it was no cause for alarm for anyone. They just thought the person offering it was kind of strange. That's why we made sure to tell them we were British before we left.

We got in late, and headed straight to the couches to pass out.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I drank from the Ganga

Right out of the river, it was pretty cool. I figure if the Hindu Gods protect them from water borne illness, my God will keep tabs on me. In Haridwar our hotel was like a woven hut on the bank of the Ganga. It is a religious holiday right now, so thousands of men, and a few women, came to Haridwar from throughout the region. Anytime during this month they will come, stay for a few days in large tent cities and bathe in the Ganga. Then they will carry very ornate yokes with Ganga water back to their homes by foot. Throughout the process the water may never touch the ground, it is holy and will bless their houses and used for medicine and other religious purposes. While in the city the men were very festive; most had a 12-15 day walk ahead of them, but were empowered by the number of other Hindu believers in the city (which was very apparent because they were all clad in bright orange clothing with Shiva markings on them.) There were virtually no other tourists there so our group of five was like a parade. Everybody wanted to talk to us, take pictures with us, and just follow us. The girls, who were by far the most popular, always had at least a dozen men around them. Lee would often yell "Bom, Bom" and the street would just echo back in an uproar of people "Bom Bom Bolay, Bom Bom Bolay, Hare Rade." The people were very excited. In Rishikesh we got to see a candle ceremony that takes place on the river bank at twilight. We sent flower bowls with candles down the river. There was nothing familiar to me, but I could not stop thinking about Shan, it was really moving. At our hotel we coaxed some monkeys onto our balcony with some of Jon's trail mix. At first I fed some banana chips to a male. Then we retreated behind our windows for about 50 minutes while two baby monkeys and their mothers and the male relaxed on our porch. They played in some of Mariah's clothes that were drying. Then Lee went out and was petting them and holding their hands. I have rode an elephant and petted a monkey. Tonight we leave on a train for Amritsar; at least we will not be able to get detoured and have to drive obscene distances at night like our last excursion (that was another story.) For Sia, my flight home is Northwest Airlines landing at 11:30 am on August 1, you can bring my phone from my bedroom bookshelf if you want, you should come hungry because I will be, and be early because I will give the pilot a little Baukshish to expidite the flight (that is how we work in India.) Shout out to Mom, Sia, Yari, The Fam, the gang, the office, C-Woo and all our new freshmen who are coming, DHC, Mat and Joe.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Ganga, Mansadevi temple, drive to Rishikesh, Triveni ghats, and the Great Gonga (Day 18)

Upon waking up, I headed out of our grass hut and saw Indians everywhere in the river, bathing and swimming. Our group got up and headed upstream a bit to a bridge, from which we jumped 10 feet into the river. I think all of us got banged and bruised in some way; for me, my entire right heel is purple (and still was not entirely healed three days later). The ritual bathing done by the Hindus is in an effort to cleanse themselves of impure actions and thoughts. For us, it was maybe a bit of that, but more just fun. Lee decided to swim all the way across, which almost caused him to puke. It was amazing how many Indians wanted to take pictures with us, and I gladly obliged. The water is very cold and moves very fast. It's not nearly as clean as I thought it might be...

From there, we headed into the market. Lee and I picked up orange shirts, and he decided to get a streetside shave. While he was doing so, I talked to a guy around my age from Nepal, who had recently graduated with a degree in business administration. He was a smart guy, and we had some interesting conversation. Lee and I then shopped it up, and I bought a staff and a drum, among other things. The shiva shirt I bought was a bit too small, but was the largest one I could find (when I tried to stretch it onto me, the shoulders ripped, so for the rest of the day, picture me in a slightly undersized shirt with ripped-open shoulders.)

After this, we headed through town on foot to the Mansa Devi temple. All of the pilgrims are coming to worship Shiva, and just as the Vrindavan villagers worshipping Krishna said "raday raday," these pilgrims say "Bom Bolay!" Actually, you say "bom bolay" and they break out into dance and song of "bom bolay, bom bom bolay." The spin around on one foot, hit drums, dance about...It's so friggin cool. We proceeded to instigate them all along our walk to the temple, which was briefly interrupted by lunch at a hotel (that didn't actually serve food, but since the owner also owned our hotel and we were white, they pulled together tables in a room with a view of the Ganjes and retrieved our order from surrounding restaurants - seriously, Indians are SO hospitable.) After walking through small crowded streets, we arrived at a chair lift that led up to the temple. Riding this up gave us a magnificent view of the town and the river, the hills and the temple. When we got to the top, we entered the temple and got our bag of string, bindi, incense, and coconut with which to make our offering. After walking through the temple and giving away our offering materials, we headed back out and down. As we walked back, we were stopped severeal times for pictures, and it began to rain. The whole experience was reminiscent of Vrindavan, but not quite as amazing...just a little different, I guess.

When we got back to the Bhaj Govindam, we packed and checked out in order to head to Rishikesh. It's about 25km from Haridwar. When we got to the city, we headed straight for the Triveni ghats. As we walked up, we heard them saying "two minutes." At these ghats at 7pm, they ritualistically make offerings to Ganga, the river Goddess. All of India refers to the Ganjes as the Ganga, which threw me off for a bit. Anyway, the offering was a small leaf boat filled with flowers, a stick of incense, and a bowl of prasad with a small opaque square in it. The little square was lit on fire, and after moving the leaf boat in a circle a few times, I placed it in the water and let it sail away along with many others...Then we all headed to the ghat's center to make our offering. There were big pillars of fire here (and umbrellas, as it was stormy but not yet raining). The whole scene was backdropped by sporadic lightning, adding something to the experience. As we left, some children approached us and chatted for a while. Lee swung a little girl's hands back and forth for a while. She was real cute, but her tummy was bulging out and probably weighed more than the rest of her. Moses said she probably had worms or an intestinal disease, and that people in this area sometimes lead a very hard life. It was a sad thing to see.

Which made me feel a bit ridiculous heading to our first-class hilltop hotel, the Great Gonga. From our balconies, you could see the river rushing by. I actually took the wash buckets from the rooms, headed across the street, snuck in to a building complex, around the back, and lucked into approaching a locked gate at the same time that a guy unlocked it. He didn't say a word, and we went in with him. We carried the two buckets of Gonga water back on our heads, and left them in our rooms overnight to let the sediment settle. While all that was going on, Christy and Maria ordered a room service dinner for us that included, among other things, "buff cheese," or macaroni and cheese made from buffalo milk. The whole meal was great, and I think it cost about $2 each... It was a great impetus for passing out, which is what I did next. Bride and Prejudice was on, so I faded away to an Americanized view of India.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Driving to Haridwar (Day 17)

I was the first to wake up this morning from our group. I head downstairs to find that Mary had just finished breakfast. I got a quick bite to eat (Ashok, the cook, is fantastic), and Mary and I headed out to do just a bit of sightseeing. We first headed to the Lotus temple. This is a bahai temple, and while the architecture was very interesting, the rest really wasn't. From there, we caught a rickshaw over to the Kolkaji temple. This was a definite NONtourist temple. There were about 30 images on the first floor, with a pool of water in the center. Upstairs was a market and a small inner sanctum. Mary and I were most certainly the only white people there, and the experience was just cool.

Around 3:30pm, we were packed and ready to depart for Haridwar, which is about 200km from Delhi. Our driver was a Christian man named Moses, and in time he proved to be cool as well as a valuable resource. Lee had left two Kingfishers (beers) in the freezer, and instead of forgetting them, he put them in his camelbak backpack (a backpack with a pouch for liquid with a hose that you can drink from). So on our way to the Hindu pilgrimage site that allows no meat or alcohol consumption, we chugged 2 40s out of a backpack...=P

As we drove, we kept passing men dressed all in orange, carrying intricately designed carriers with buckets at each end. Moses informed us that these men were performing "kavardi," or the ceremonial walking of Ganga water back to their villages. The ceremony lasts 22 days, and some of the pilgrims will walk up to 300 km back to their hometowns. Particularly, they must carry the water back to the exact site from which they made a wish to Shiva. All along the walk, they must keep the water from touching the ground. Little huts are built all along the return routes, where the villagers can rest and eat for free. While doing so, they must place their carriers on wooden stands. The water is viewed as a holy healer - it can be sprinkled on houses to keep away demons, given to sick people to nurse them back to health, or dropped into the mouths of the dead to help their souls escape their transmigratory paths. Seeing groups of men dressed all in orange carrying buckets of this stuff while singing really got us excited about the trip.

In addition to these Shiva devotees, we also saw a number of tree farms, where the flora had been planted into neat rows. There were many fields of sugarcane. Cannabis grows wild, and is such a hearty plant that it actually dominates much of the countryside. Seeing weed leaves in every direction for miles upon miles is kind of a trip, given the amount of regulation that exists in America.

When we reached Haridwar, we made our first stop at a large Shiva statue right on the side of the river. It appeared blueish-green, and hundreds of people were napping under it. We walked in, and many of them approached us. We ended up sitting down with them, each of us with separate groups, and talking about their voyage, and Shiva, and our purpose there, and music and movies and life, etc. Soon enough, we were being told that we had to leave because our driver couldn't stay parked, so we regretfully departed.

From there, we went to our hotel, the Bhaj Govindam. It was situated, no joke, 20 feet from the Ganjes. The hotel was a row of little air-conditioned grass huts. They were fronted by a small grassy courtyard, and then ghats and the river. It was SO cool. The river was rushing by very quickly. We sat and took it in for a little bit, then headed into town to get something to eat. During our meal, the electricity went off twice, which is really nothing new at this point. We then headed back to our hotel. As I was in a double with a total of three guys, I opted to let them have the blankets, and used towels as mine. I ended up waking up and sitting by the river for about 30 minutes in the middle of the night. It was a very esoteric, zen-ish experience.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The group divides

Nearly half of our group left a short while ago for the airport. With the program officially over, this is a conclusion to an amazing chapter in my life. Three weeks ago I did not know these people and tonight I could look at them and honestly say "I will really miss you." I feel that I will see most of these people again at some time or another, but right now it is mildly depressing. I know I still have nearly two weeks in India and several of the students are still with me, including Lee, Jon, Mariah, Chris B., Mary, and Brent, but I feel slightly lonely right now. We spent the day recapping, so I have been thinking about all the things in the program that transpired - a lot of things that did not go according to plan but were Amazing. It is also kind of weird because we have been in really close quarters for the last couple of weeks. Right now I am the only participant in the guest house and it feels very weird to be alone. With so many of us heading home, I cannot help but think about Washington. I appreciate things like beef, driving, stories, music, the campus, and the valley. I am not sure how much I will be able to blog while we are traveling in the North. I will for sure be able to post one more time (Sia, I will have my flight information then and I expect a party at SeaTac.)

On a much more lively note, we had a really good lecture today on Muslim authors. Nikki also had her uncle come and speak to us; he is the Chair of the Minority Committee and a member of the Indian Parliment. I was able to visit a tea shop today (can you say "darjeeling") and get a second fitting for my suit. I am fairly tired because we went to a couple of bars last night - although it appeared to be "gay night." Don't worry, I have lots of stories about that. Until then, shout out to Mom, Sia, Yari, The Fam, the group, Mr. and Mrs. Mundy (I want a welcome home dinner, LOL), the office, Crimson & Black, V. Hoek, LW, Superman, Annie, the church family, Exec. Media, and E-burg.


The future!

The workshop is now completed, and I will embark with Christy B (only to Haridwar/Riskikesh), Maria, Tony and Lee to Haridwar and Rishikesh tomorrow at 3pm. I doubt I'll have any internet access again until I come home, so I will detail the trip now and fill in the details later.

We will first travel to Haridwar, a Hindu pilgrimage site where thousands of people put candles in leaf boats and float them down the Ganjes every night. The Ganjes is backed by the Himalayas, and is at the point where the Ganjes emerges from them. While in the area, we will also visit Rishikesh, which is where the Beatles went to study transcendental meditation. We will stay there for two days.

After that, we will return to Delhi for a day. I want to visit a jain temple, the lotus temple, lodi gardens, the crafts museum, and a few other places. I will likely do this with Mary, as it will be her last day in Delhi.

Following this, we will take a sleeper cab to Amritsar, where the Sikh Golden Temple is. This is the center of the Sikh religion, and we saw a model of this amazing temple in a museum in D.C. I've heard that people outside will "read your face," or tell you about your past and future simply by looking at you. I've also heard that this is free, so I'll probably be doing it.

From there, we will head up to Dharamsala in the heart of Tibetan Buddhist country. We will spend one day in McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama, though he won't be there at the time. I've heard the countryside here is very beautiful, with some exquisite places of worship.

After two days in Dharamsala, Lee and I will catch a sleeper cab back to Delhi. When we arrive, we will pack and head to the airport at around 9pm on July 28th. We should be back to the Midwest some time around noon on the 29th, for those who have missed me.

An adventure begins where another has ended. With some behind and more ahead, I see a life full of stories and am trying to read each one as slowly and carefully as possible. Knowing not what lies in store, I delight in the content, the language, and the script that has of recent become my life. What a fine read it is. =)

Poetry, parlaiment, wrapping up, silver- and tea-shopping, packing, departure, a night on the town? (Day 16)

This morning, we had a brief lecture on Urdu and muslim poetry. We had been assigned five short stories that depicted the indo-islamic and hindu-islamic relations in India both before and after partition and other important dates. After that, Nikky Singh's uncle, who is a member of Parlaiment and the chair of the human rights commission, came and spoke with us. Both speakers were good.

Then we had a wrap-up session with Cathy, Rick, Nikky, and Narayaniji. We talked about the pluses and minuses, what needed fixing, what was perfect, favorite points, suggestions, etc. This was followed by lunch.

After lunch, we had a little free time, and then Christy C, Lateka, Tony and I headed to the market. We first stopped by a good silver market, and got a few nice pieces. The girls working in the shop had the most unusual/enticing eyes and teeth, and were very attractive. We weren't sure if they were Indian, but they probably were (India is so diverse...) From there, we headed to a tea shop that Rick knew the owner of. I made massive purchases at what seemed like bargain-basement prices. The gave us samples, explanations, and suggestions. The wood boxes they make are made from left over ends from a furniture shop down the street, which I found very cool.

We then returnned to the guest house, and I started packing stuff up. People will be departing within the next three hours, and parting will of course be sweet sorrow...

After saying our goodbyes with the group members who were leaving that evening, Lee, Maria, Christy and I headed to Defence Colony market to meet with Megha and Savita (which I figured out is the consonantal inverse of a strain of marijuana) from Ogilvy. We met up at a place called MB's, and after 2 bottles of wine and some other drinks, great conversation, and a host of other guests joining us, we made plans for this weekend and departed. It was mucho fun-o! As the Americans had their semi-drunk munchies on, we went to pizza hut and scored some Indian pizza, then took a rickshaw home (with Lee and Maria riding on the bumper). Upon our arrival we met Cathy's daughter Alice, just in from Hong Kong. After chatting a while with her and Tony, we all headed to bed (except me, as I stayed up to write postcards for an hour.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Indian films with Anand, a trip to Ogilvy Delhi, a celebration of sorts, and a dull night out (Day 15)

This morning, we awoke and headed to the guest house to see a presentation on Indian films. Anand Taneja depicted muslim representations in film. Most Indian films are shot and produced in Bombay, which is very Hindu. Thus, as the political tides change, the movies, which are keen on political linings anyway, seem to carry the thread. Interestingly enough, muslims are usually depicted as gangsters or people involved in illicit activities. These are the types of movies I generally enjoy, and I found the parallel noteworthy. Anyway, it was a poignant and factually based presentation/argument.

After the presentation, I met with Justin Rabindra, knowledge manager of Southeat Asia for Ogilvy (one of the biggest advertising agencies in both the U.S. and the world). He took me to eat and chat at an Italian restaurant in Defence Colony. Afterward, he took me to his office, gave me a tour, and let me chat with his employees, which I did for the next 4 hours. He, they and I talked about advertising, India, my adventures, politics, music, women, education, and anything else that came to mind. Tomorrow night, they'll likely be taking me out on the town...=) It seemed like a smart and efficient operation...but that's what I've come to expect from Ogilvy, having visited their NY location as well. I must thank Beth Ronsick for the hook-up - this was a valuable experience for which I am very thankful.

I arrived home just in time for drinks. Our instructors had some wine and beer for us, and we had a semi-celebration, then some dinner. They presented floral necklaces to us all, we took all kinds of pictures, chatted, and voiced our repeated thanks. It was sort of sad to see things winding down, but nothing is forever.

Afterward, we headed to the Park Inn to go dancing (I'm not much a fan). The bar was empty because Tuesday is a Hindu religious day. Moreover, as we came to find out, this particular bar had gay night on Tuesdays! After about 30 minutes, we departed, and most of us headed back to the hotel. I fell asleep soon upon my return.


Ok, so that is an inside joke. I finished my last blog in a hurry. I am not going to get into details, lets just say the last day I have had some.......experiences. We just arrived at the guest house in Delhi. We did quite a lot our last day in Lucknow, but I was not there on account of consumption disagreements. If there is a lesson to be learned it would be "don't ever stop drinking your pepto bismol." Don't fret because I feel almost entirely better and after the 6 hour train ride it has to be all downhill from here. Another one of our members was more under the weather than myself. Johanna got sick prior to myself, but is now also showing improvement. Tomorrow we have more lectures. The program is over in a few days and over half of the group will be heading home. I would never admit to being "homesick" because I think that limits my ability to appreciate what I have here. But when the time comes, I will certainly be ready to breathe that Washington air. Oh yeah, the movie, it has my approval. It actually says that it is the tribute to the Godfather. Only there is less time to tell a similar story, so a large portion is just the good guys (bad guys) bringing wrath on the bad guys (worse guys.) Shout out to Mom, Sia, The Fam, the gang, C-Woo, and the office.


July 19 & 20

Back in Delhi, we were treated to two presentations. One on Indian film by Anand Taneja focused on the treatment of Muslim communities in Indian film over a 60 year period. This presentation, which included a number of film clips, gave insight to Indian cinema in general as well as to Indian attitudes towards minorities. A second fine presentation was by Dr. Asaduddin on Muslim short stories which we had read in advance. The rest of the time was spent evaluating the overall experience and giving every one a chance to pack, shop and spend time exploring Delhi on their own.



Monday, July 18, 2005

Botanical Gardens, a bookstore, and a train ride home (Day 14)

This morning, a few of us woke up at 6am to visit the botanical gardens with Cathy and Mr. Subramaniam (the infamous mani-ji). Maniji was very tired, as it turned out, because he had stayed up from 2 to 5am to take care of Johanna. He got a doctor, who diagnosed her with Colitis, then he made a pharmacy open up just to get her medicine. What a hero!

So anyway, we walked around the gardens, saw people doing yoga, viewed the cactus house, etc. Then we headed back through the trash-filled streets of Lucknow. I note this because it is a marked difference - Dehli and many other larger cities have developed at least basic sanitation, and are moving rapidly forward.

When I got back home, I packed, ate breakfast, and rested for a bit. At 11, I headed into town to check out Mr. Advani's bookstore. Mr. Advani has lived in the area for about all 80 years of his life, and has lots of books on Lucknowi culture. I met him the other day, and he seemed quiet but nice. It was nice, but nothing special. From there, Lee and I walked around, distributing balls of Bhang I had no intention of using to homeless people. We found Christy and Maria shopping, and stopped by with them for a bit. Finally, we headed back to the hotel for some lunch with the Urdu grad students, who for the most part we do not get along with, I guess. They play Urdu Boggle (the game, with Urdu instead of English) together, but I get the idea that they aren't a very well-formed group otherwise. They seem very standoffish, minus a few of them, and this sentiment has been echoed by most of our group. I guess we were lucky to have become such a cohesive entity.

Just before lunch, I ate one of the balls of bhang. We then left for the train, and I had a very enjoyable ride up to the point that I fell asleep. Part of the blame lies in that I was listening to lectures on tape by a guy with a soothing voice. Anyway, even when we got home, I headed straight to bed, and probably slept about 12 hours total. Much needed. Great dreams.