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.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

An offer I couldn't refuse

Today in Lucknow we (just our group of undergrads) went to the Residency. That is where the British lived and governed from until they were sieged in 1857. It was a pretty sweet area, except there was almost too much to see. There were tons of ruins that I did not know what they were; so I was kind of looking without understanding. A lot of the buildings had big holes in them from cannons when the Indians sieged it. The siege lasted from June 30th until November 25th. Something tells me that the importance of this victory was vastly inflated because there was a tremendous sense of "we expelled the British." In reality if the Indians had as many cannons as the story seemed, then they did not know how to use them properly. I just don't see how the siege could have lasted nearly 5 months. We also went to see a movie in the theatre. It was the Indian version of the Godfather. It was pretty sweet. I really have to go, will finish later. Shout out to planet earth and Pepto Bismol.


The Old British Residency, La Martinere, and "Sarkar," with more to come (Day 13)

This morning, we headed to the Old British Residency. All the buildings (that remained) had bullet- and cannonball-holes in them. They were all named after the original residents. There was a grassy area in the center surrounded by palm trees that resembled the quad. All in all, this site did not impress me.

From here, we went to the home of La Martinere. This site was built on the bank of a river by a Frenchman who got rich selling European things to Indians. Upon his death, he left the mansion he built for himself to be an all-boys school, and his tomb was stored under the building (which I checked out - bats, guano and all!).

Next we had lunch, then saw the film Sarkar at an Indian theater. I had heard this would be a real cultural experience, and I was anxious to partake. Unfortunately, Sarkar didn't have any musical numbers, so it was much like watching a movie in the US. Later that evening, picked up some more bhang and did more shopping.