Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the city of light

little moments swirling in my memory...

arriving to Agra the one day the Taj is closed, finding our hotel on the east gate...so peaceful! a welcome surprise to the hecticness we were expecting. the sheela hotel was surrounded by gardens and green parrots congregating in the trees overhead. we walked alongside the east gate of the Taj property, to the Yamuna river...past peacocks and a small orange temple in a clearing of trees...arrived to the sunset-lit river, looked up at the backside of the Taj...wow! saw hundreds of bats escaping their daytime refuge for the bugs and the night...birds soaring....men doing puja at a temple near the shore, bells ringing, carrying a flame...they invited us in, and ring ring ring we were surrounded by the bell sounds, looking at Durga and her lions, incense, flames, holy water flicked on us by the priest's hands, devotional songs hummed in a pattern, i hummed along, bells bells, walk back in twilight, peace.

meeting two young German guys at the yummy south indian restaurant called Dasaprakash in Agra, sharing a rickshaw with them to the train station. we waited for 3 hours in the general waiting room area and were approached by an indian man in his 60's who immediately stood in front of me, chattering away, pointing his finger at my face and said i looked just like a little doll. 'well, thank you...' is that a compliment? he meant it to be. he spent the next hour trying to coax me out of my address and phone number, scrawling drunken directions to his chaat shop in Shimla and explaining to me how to get there, telling me of his home and that i could stay there for 15 nights for free, and writing down his address and phone number, and son's phone number, and daughter's phone number...then trying to get me to drink some of his water from his water bottle cap (like a small cup)...then asking me for a banana, and then trying to feed me some of the banana with his fingers...then trying to give me a bar of soap, and then some packets of shampoo....really he just wanted to give me something, anything. the Germans were hilarious, and i finally relented and gave him a fake address and phone number, and an Indian woman complained, and he was scolded by security and sent to sit on his blanket on the floor across the room. what a bizarre experience! he could have relented much sooner, we were all quite overwhelmed by his presence by the end, and people all around us were watching the whole thing unfold.

later, we waited for our train by the platform, and an older Indian guy with a long string of hair sticking out of the top of his head came up to us, grabbed the German guys last cookie and the cookie wrapper out of his hand, ate it, and sat on the floor, tracing his fingers in a serpentine fashion over Hindi words, in a women's health and fashion pamphlet he must have found in the trash. he would look up at us every once in a while and burst out in gleeful laughter, then go back to humming the words. i don't even know if he could read, he was singing deeply some other song...then he brought out a handful of bottle caps and other trinkets from his pocket, and proceeded to move a folded business card back and forth as if it were a miniature harmonium, and continued to sing his fashion bhajans...priceless moment. he seemed so happy and joyful, just sitting there on the ground, bursting out into laughter. a street kid with teeth growing out of the base of his nose, frazzled hair, and the dirtiest clothes looked on. he smelled like train grease. the tall german talked to an Indian man about Hitler, the British in India, and religion. our train came and we ran to catch it in time.

arriving to Varanasi, after sunset descending on the ghats to watch the Aarti fire ceremony that occurs here every night. priests wrapped in orange saffron robes stand facing the Ganga, moving fire about in their hands in various shapes and motions, incense wafting, sitar and table music soaring, thousands of people congregated, sitting, watching, out in boats looking to the shore, bells ringing, young girls selling leaf bowls filled with flowers and a candle for a river offering "good karma, good karma..." lights twinkling on the water, the city of lights, this happens every night...

arriving to Delhi early in the morning, sky is brown, dozens of men sleep curled up on the sides of the street, we are earlier than the city wakes, walking down Chadni Chaak in old Delhi, a man sees our disappointment as our favorite Dosa spot Haldiram's is still closed and tells us to go to the Sikh temple across the street while we wait for it to open...we walk across the street, cleanse our feet in water, and walk in to many people sitting on the floor, a man speaking through a microphone giving a teaching...we circumnavigate the place where the holy book is, and turbaned men sit praying, and the holy swords, and photos of the gurus, and sit 13-hour-overnight-bus wearied on the carpeted floor, and close our eyes, and the men sing, and the big drum up above us booms, and they slide the shiny cloth off the sacred book, and sing verses from the scriptures...and a man next to us explains everything..and they ready the harmonium...and someone comes by and places warm buttery sweet prasad in our hands, and we eat it and are grateful for this sanctuary in the middle of this huge city, welcoming our tired selves after such a long journey...

wandering the narrow alleys of varanasi, squeezing by pilgrims who wait to enter the golden shiva temple that we as non-hindus can't enter, stepping aside for motobikes cruising through, navigating around cows, piles of their shit, piles of human and dog shit too (oh my, what's it going to be like to be home and walk around on streets that aren't constantly covered in shit?!)...shops with pictures of shiva, with mala necklaces, with shiny golden candle holders for offerings and prayers, with incense, with chaat and puris, with bangles and bindis, with sweets and prasad, with bowls of flowers for offerings, lotus and marigold garlands, smoke, men sweeping piles of debris and the dust flying up from that into our noses, men wanting to sell us things, sari shops, scarves, postcards (always postcards, everywhere)...hustle and bustle, every day, saturation of sights and smells.

morning boat journey, sunrise wake with our new friend from eugene, wendy....being paddled along the shoreline, watching people bathe, men wash laundry by pounding it on slabs of stone by the sacred river Ganga, rows of jeans hang to dry, white sheets spread flat on a tilted embankment, the crematorium sends smoke into the air, piles of mango/banyan/sandalwood line the two main burning ghats, a body lies on a bamboo made stretcher covered in golden ribbons and saffron colored fabrics waiting to burn, two buildings house old and sick people who are waiting to die (Varanasi is the holiest city to both die and be cremated, in all of India...) walking along the ghats in the afternoon, heated from the day, a young girls' cricket match, an older guys' cricket match, piles of wood burning, we see a body by the river wrapped, just had it's last bath, now is being placed by a group of men onto a pile of wood and lit, flames....i see a human lumbar vertebrae bone below me on the shore, next to a forgotten black sandal. little boys swim and play in the water right next to where the bodies burn...sewage empties out into this river from 116 cities previous upstream from varanasi...sewage empties into the river here....pilgrims bathe to wash away all impurities, garbage floats, the river is brown, yet it is holy, so does it matter? i dipped one finger in as i released my plateful of marigolds and a flame as an offering, that's my own holy dip, just one finger please!

oh there's so much more! this keyboard is sticky and it's hard to type, and we're escaping the current 107 degrees for the slightly cooler fan-in-my-face green walled internet shop. we have today and tomorrow in varanasi, then two days in buddha's enlightment city bodhgaya, then a final day and a half in kolkata...oh india...we're almost leaving your colors, your assault on the senses, your contradictions, your constant attention from every kind of tout, your yes and no lessons, your spicy food, your quiet nights, your ritual and temple around every turn, your red dotted foreheads, your tradition, your caste system inequality, your cricket games everywhere, your dirt and filth, your golden roofs and wealth, your rivers and mountains, your hate and your love, all of it, and i have soaked so much up, and i have so much more to share, to give.


Friday, April 23, 2010


dusty dusty town, 1 hour north of the taj mahal. supposedly they are tearing up the main drag to build a new street, but i say it's always this dusty and torn up. the brick buildings are crumbling, half broke apart and still laying as they fell, no one cleans them up. as we walk down the road we dodge cows, an endless stream of cycle rickshaws and other cars. kids carrying babies begging for money, and the on again off again smell of open sewage reeks, intermingled with incense and food smells and fresh flowers. it's 108 degrees. yes, indeed...inddddiiiaaaaaa. every extreme that you can possibly come up against seems to throw itself at you here. it's not the easiest of traveling..in fact so far it's been some of my hardest traveling. and at the same time i wouldn't change or give up the experience that i'm having. i hate the caste system here, the idea that you can be born into any random family and spend the rest of your life, say 75 years, cleaning floors at the bottom of the totem pole with no chance of bettering your situation. but then again, with 1.2 billion people here i can understand that it's necessary to have a way that things can be that they work here. and for them it's karma. you are where you are because of something that you've done in a past life, and you live now to better your karma for the next life and move closer to nirvana.

we walk down that dusty street in this one camel town, vrindaven, birthplace of krishna and take a right into the hare krishna temple that was built by the founder of the group in the 70's. it's an immaculate marble temple with different rooms and stairways and sweeping archways.and in the main area there is a kirtan that has been continuous since 1986, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. at 6:30 in the evening the director of the program, a western man who has lived here for over 20 years since he was 24, takes the reigns and begins his turn at leading the kirtan. bringing things to a crescendo for the day, as everyone is singing and dancing louder and louder. at 7, the doors to the deities swing open and men blow shells signaling the moment, and everyone gets up in excitement and frenzy for the final prayer moment to krishna .!!! it's all very exciting and amazing, watching the devotion and the colors and the music and the bliss. then we walk back outside and the streets are littered with garbage and plastic everywhere, dust is flung back in the view of headlights, we're asked 20 times in one block if we'd like a rickshaw, 'no, no, no, no, just walking, no no' and a general feeling of...'it's time to get back to the room' occurs. india is not really a place for foreigners to be out at night, in my experience.

it's this constant rollercoaster that is so amazing and so exhausting at the same time. that is invigorating and infuriating at others. that leaves me longing to be home and able to go for a walk in a neighborhood and smell the sweet spring flowers and the green leaves on trees, and people's beautiful houses and yards without garbage EVERYWHERE and pungeant smells. that leaves me wondering what it'll be like to be in a place that's....quiet. and not filled with people everywhere. that i can't be asked by rickshaw drivers who seemingly risk there lives every day in the chaotic streets. where people aren't hanging off of trains, or hopping on to buses that don't even stop...they just slow down.

oh that's right, i still have 9 more days in india before our transition vacation of bali, sweet sweet bali, before coming home middle of may. hope that everyone is doing so well, much love and appreciation for home and away.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

McLeod Ganj...

carson and melissa, happy in our light filled corner room.

Ganesh hiding out amongst the Tibetan prayers. (i love Ganesh!)

our absolutely delightful delicious decadent dreamy breakfast at llhamo's croissant this morning, oh my god: fresh buttery chocolate croissant, homemade plum jam and fresh butter on yummy (also homemade) brown bread; a cappuccino expertly made; freshly squeezed orange juice; a crepe with butter and jam; homemade yogurt with cornflakes and fresh papaya, watermelon, banana....why oh why did we not eat breakfast here until today? at least we have 2 more days!

prayer flags on the walk around the temple.

people waiting for His Holiness today, near the temple

our short and very sweet glimpse of his holiness the dalai lama; he is in the car, you can click on the picture to enlarge it and see his hands in prayer and the profile of his face :)

prayer flags on the walk around his holiness' house and the temples

us with our wonderful massage teacher :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

prayers prayers everywhere

Circumnavigating the Dalai Lama’s home and the main Tibetan temples up on the hill. Clockwise. Through forest and hills, a narrow paved path. Flat stones with Tibetan words I cannot read; alcoves filled with pages from books, small Buddha statues, and two little Ganesh figures hidden amongst the Tibetan relics. (Oh Ganesh, of course you’d be hiding out here!) Prayer flags everywhere: white, blue, green, red, yellow. Tangled together, blowing singularly, strewn across the trees. The wind carries the prayers. A man walks by me when Carson is ahead, and tells me it’s not safe to be by myself on this walk; mere weeks ago, there were several reposts of muggings on this very sacred path. How sad! Such a peaceful special spot, and to think of someone hiding out in those bushes waiting to take something from someone….? We walked halfway around and came to prayer wheels; painted red with flowers and swirls; bronze ones carved with symbols; three large ones, taller than a body, with a bell to chime with each go-around, a female monk in deep maroon robes walks around and around with her hand on the wheel, prayers ascending to the sky, circling the earth, vibrating into the ground. Prayer flags, prayer flags everywhere. The sun in our eyes; more prayer wheels to spin. Views of the valley down below, our legs tired and getting stronger from the hills.

On the lookout for His Holiness the Dalai Lama; we still haven’t seen him, but we noticed a large crowd down by the temple area today and it turned out to be the cricket players emerging, car-after-car, from a press conference with His Holiness. So many people in town this weekend due to the IPL cricket matches happening just down the road; the traffic is too much for this small town, and if I hear one more horn honking….?!! But of course another horn will honk, and then another, right next to you as you scoot to the edge of the road as the car just slides right by you…We have gotten in the habit of covering our ears when a car is approaching, to save them from the horn blast that will almost definitely ensue.

I am learning Tibetan Massage from a real sweet hearted man named Sopa; he came to India three years ago after a 35 day trek across the wintery Himalayas from Eastern Tibet. Despite his limited English skills, the three of us have a lot of fun and I am enjoying learning some new massage tricks. Carson is the happy demo, receiving the work once from Sopa, and once from me as I practice. Every day at 11:30 we walk up four flights of stairs to his small green room, which overlooks the street near the temple. We all smile and enjoy our time together; so easy and light, simple. I am a quick learner because I am already a body worker, so the teachings tend to take half the time as they usually do for him. We always walk to our favorite restaurant afterwards, up the Temple road and then back down Jogiwara road to Lung Ta….oh, Lung Ta. The greatest food here, a Japanese restaurant, non-profit, helping Tibetan woman and creating a place for them to sew bags, clothes, etc. and also providing English classes. We eat Okonomiyaki (photo in a previous post, a shredded vegetable Japanese omelet with the tastiest sweet soy sauce and pickled ginger on top), vegetable curry with fluffy Japanese white rice, a cabbage cucumber tomato salad…maybe some croquettes, or sushi if it’s Friday….lemon curd bars, shortbread cookies. We’re in heaven, and we’re not feeling bad about eating there once or (twice!) a day. J

We’ve taken a momo making class from another sweetheart, Sanjye Tashi. With two people from Israel, and two from the Netherlands, we learned how to make momo dough, roll it out with our palms and fingers, and twist it into varying dumpling shapes around different mixtures of vegetables, as well as a chocolate/sugar/sesame seed sweet treat. We walk many times up and down these hills here, strengthening our weak traveler legs. We look out across the valley from our guesthouse, looking north into where the Himalayas lie, wishing we could go farther into them. We visit our friends Shine and Kajsa at the Rogpa café, another non-profit space, cozy and welcoming, and drink hot lemon ginger honey tea and read books about Buddhism and Mother Theresa. We eat Tibetan brown bread toast with peanut butter and honey (oh peanut butter and honey, you remind us both of being kids!) and listen to tender and moving piano music there which reminds us of our favorite place in Pai (Thailand), La-Liead. Remember me writing about us sitting there with our friend Aie for hours, listening to tear-producing piano music and appreciating his beautiful art made with found objects? The First Cup café here has nearly identical music, and Carson and I are both transported to that time in Pai. La-Liead (slowly slowly) has been one of the themes of this journey; I have never heard that phrase “slowly slowly” before, and I swear I’ve heard it at least 20 times since we’ve been in India from random people. Whenever someone says it, I take it to mean that we’re on the right path, the right track. It snaps me to awareness….oh yes, slowly slowly, that’s right. Slow down, take notice, listen, look at this, go this way, this is it. It’s like a signpost, a spark of intuition, a guide.

Yesterday at lunch a Scottish man sat next to us and told us stories about Krishna and the various sacred stories of India. We are journeying next week to Vrindavan, Krishna’s childhood home and one of the holiest cities in India with over 6000 temples in a city of only 60,000 people. We are enjoying staying put in this place of McLeod Ganj for nearly a week now; I truly wish we had more time to spend here. It is refreshing to be in a place where so much is happening; specifically, where so much of Importance is happening. This place, which is a home to so many thousands of Tibetans who have had to flee their home land in search of refuge and a place that they can study, learn, live with the freedom they deserve. I wish I could hear more of their stories, and commit myself to volunteering with the kids; teaching English classes; any of the many opportunities that abound here. I would also like to take Dharma/Buddhism classes down at the library, or do a Vipassana meditation course (there is a center in the area). Many westerners also come here to learn the Tibetan language, so that they can later help in translating Tibetan works.

Two days ago, I was walking down Temple Road and heard the sound of monks chanting; I followed it to the temple, where I saw hundreds and hundreds of Tibetans sitting on the grounds of the temple area, chanting mantra. I sat with them for about 20 minutes until the prayers ended and everyone dispersed, and then I sat on a bench facing the golden Buddha temple, watching people leave, watching them circle the temples clockwise over and over, watching old wrinkled beautiful smile eyed Tibetan woman stop and bow to the Buddha; watching women behind me prostrate on a long smooth wooden board over and over; watching Indian men watch the Tibetans; watching a little white dog with bells on it’s collar jingle along; watching prayer wheels spin; watching women holding small prayer wheels in their hand spinning around and around; watching malas (prayer beads) in hands, om mani padme hum om mani padme hum, bead after bead, prayer after prayer, sent out to the victims of the earthquake the day before in Tibet/China.

I see the news about the volcano in Iceland….so many earthquakes…so much happening in the world that we cannot control! I feel scared at seeing these things, thinking, where next? What will happen next? I am so far away from home, from my family, from so many people that I love! And yet here I am, still on a journey for another month, still visiting these holy places, eyes opening, observing, learning, participating, growing, reflecting. All I can do is pray that everything will be okay and that the universe will take care of everyone. I walked around His Holiness’ home on the little path today, spinning prayer wheel after prayer wheel, the wooden handles at the base of each one worn with oil from thousands hands spinning these wheels, year after year, over and over, the prayers inside circling and circling, spinning, like the hands on the malas to bead after bead, and the lips murmering prayers, and the deep smile lines at the corners of eyes, and laughing with a language barrier, and healing hands, and the enjoyment of food, and hands in prayer to a man with no leg, and maroon robes, and the journeys we all make, and hot ginger tea, and karma, and how blessed I am to be right here, right now.

I love you all!

Friday, April 16, 2010


durga temple in Amritsar

two photos of the golden temple, the holiest temple for the sikha. we waited in line for nearly an hour to enter, what a special experience! more writing on that in a future post...

shiva at the mata temple in amritsar

us with our cycle rickshaw driver in amritsar :)

mcleod ganj

monks keeping the flames alight at the kalachakra tibetan temple, mcleod ganj

tibetan prayer flags in the forest on our walk to the library, dharamsala

a lung ta special set lunch....yum yum japanese food in india!

carson on the rooftop of a tibetan restaurant in the middle of mcleod ganj.

the momos we made in our momo making class with tashi!

mcleod ganj

melissa at the peace cafe, the tibetan flag in the background....getting very full from the most enormous thick banana pancake ever created...

okonomyaki....the most delicious food ever! we go to lung ta, the japanese non-profit restaurant in town, every day, and order one of these. it's a japanese omelet full of shredded veggies, topped with two special sauces and pickled ginger. it is SO GOOD. !!!

our friends at the rogpa cafe, kajsa and shine from sweden and korea respectively....we go in there every day for a hot lemon ginger honey tea and to say hi to them.

a view across the valley at bangsu village...can you see the mountain peeking over the top of the hills?

a view of our new room at the pink house, so many nice windows!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In The Nick of Time.

On the 2203, Garib Rath Express, from New Delhi to Amritsar. Friday April 9.

It still seems amazing to me that we are sitting on this train right
now. Last night at 1:00 am, I could barely see the possibility. Let me

Two days ago in Pushkar (the sacred city where the god Brahma dropped
a lotus flower and Pushkar was established as a holy place, site of
one of the only main Brahma temples in the world, and of a holy lake
that thousands upon thousands of pilgrams visit each year to bathe in
[unfortunately the lake was all but dried up at this time of year due
to poor monsoons and the current dry season] but anyways…) Two days
ago in Pushkar, we arrived in the afternoon after a 5 hour early
morning train ride from Udaipur. We were on the ever faithful
internet, looking at endless combinations of train tickets to help
ourselves get north. We really wanted to visit Haridwar/Rishikesh at
this point, because the Kumbh Mela is in it's final week, and it's the
largest spiritual gathering in the planet, occurring at different holy
places in India every few years. However, all trains up there were
booked, and the prospect of 20 odd hours on a bus didn't *quite*
appeal to us. Carson found two last minute "Tatkal" seats on a train
to Delhi the following night. Tatkal seats are more expensive, because
a limited number of them are released 48 hours prior to
departure--they graciously offer limited admission (at a cost) to an
otherwise sold-out train. We journeyed over to the Pushkar post
office and had perhaps the most fun we've ever had in a post office
with the jokester postman Mr. Meena. He took us back behind the
counter, sat us down by the railway reservation computer, and told us
no way, there's no seats on any train to Delhi right now. But there
are! We insisted, as we had just seen 2 lone seats available online.
He checked, and there they were, just for us! We went ahead and bought
those, as well as a connecting train to Amritsar the same day (the
train we're sitting on now), and as soon as he pushed purchase and the
ticket printed out, the system froze and no more bookings could be
made for the time being. We had just squeezed through! We spent
another half hour there huddled around his computer as he showed us
all his Facebook friends, all his emails from friends, all his
postcards from traveler friends around the world, and photos of his
family and other tourists who have, I think, enjoyed their visit to
the Pushkar post office as much as we did.

Now the one annoyance about this ticket that we had just been lucky
enough to secure was that it departed Ajmer at 1:55 AM, and Ajmer is a
half hour bus ride or a 20 minute taxi ride from Pushkar. Now, who is
up at this hour in Pushkar? Not really anyone except for the dogs, and
at night they aren't quite as lazy and sweet looking as they seem in
the daytime! We talked with Peter, our guesthouse owner who we'd met
on our bus over from Ajmer the day before and who'd invited us to his
guesthouse. He said, no problem, his driver could pick us up at 12:45
AM and take us on over to Ajmer, for a somewhat hefty taxi fee of
course. We had dinner and packed up our things, trying to get a couple
hours of rest in before our ride. We awoke at 12:30, finished packing,
and wondered why the guesthouse attendant (I can't remember his name)
hadn't woken us up yet. We walked down two flights of stairs silently
and saw to our dismay that he was still sleeping in his bed near the
entrance. No driver in sight. No sound. No one. Uh-oh.
12:45.…12:50.…we woke him up and he turned on the bright light as we
explained no driver….He called Peter…no answer…called again…no
answer…12:55.…1:00.…1:15.…1:25.….1:30.….Meanwhile I start to get
slightly hysterical due to lack of sleep over two days, the pervasive
heat, and the worry about losing our two expensive train tickets due
to a driver's lack of hearing his alarm clock…..Peter continues to be
unreachable, and I walk out into the silent street breathing fast, and
Carson steadily watches me freak out and stays calm, and I find my
awareness split between the choice to be unattached and calm and wise
and just take things as they come and accept the situation, and then
feeling so angry and frustrated that Peter is not answering his phone,
and the driver is not there, and it's getting later and later and
later, and I asked the guesthouse guard if we could have our taxi
money back, and he said he doesn't deal with these things, and he
sighed "oh Peter!" which makes me think things like this might have
happened before….He ended up calling "the boys" who are 4 younger guys
that help out around the guesthouse. They arrived 5 minutes later at
1:35 AM, seemingly high on something, laughing, boisterous and loud in
the otherwise silent street. One of them in particular was annoying me
to no end by continuously making fun of our guesthouse attendant, who
doesn't have full use of one of his legs and has to use crutches to
get around. He kept teasing him, and I felt so disgusted by it that I
began scowling at him, and when he told me he was just having fun, I
said "I do NOT find it funny!" I felt like such a brat, with
simultaneous concern for this sweet man just taking the teasing from
this guy, like he must have to do all the time. One of "the boys"
called someone, who called someone else, and then they said a driver
was coming. By this point it was 1:40, and we're thinking, there's no
way we're going to make it, our train LEAVES at 1:55...then….at 1:44
the driver (not the original one, just some other guy who woke up out
of sleep, hopped in his van, and came to our rescue!) pulled up and we
hopped in gratefully…..We sped off (and I mean SPED!) into the night,
winding through the temple strewn small hill/mountain pass, passing
trucks and other lone night travelers in cars, down the hill into the
streets of Ajmer, winding around a cow, a rickshaw, a
tractor….honking, flashing light, speeding though driving expertly,
pulling up outside the train station, dozens of people sleeping on the
ground outside and inside, rushing in, asking an attendant where our
platform is….and there are still people standing there! It's 1:59 and
still the train has not come. We made it! For once we are ecstatic
that a train is late! We gave our driver a tip as he accompanied us
all the way to our platform, amazed that just 15 minutes prior we had
been standing in the alleyway by our guesthouse, convinced that we
were stuck in Pushkar and out 3000 rupees. What a relief that that
wasn't the case!

The experience was so interesting for me internally. I was tired and
semi delirious, and the money-to-be-lost and unavailability of other
trains was also present in my mind during my mental freak out. Things
are going to turn out how they are going to turn out, no matter what
emotional charge you have around it, yeah? I mean, if I were calm or
if I were nervous and anxious, the driver still would have come when
he did, or he wouldn't have, and I couldn't have done anything to
change that. But do I want to stress out about it and be haughty to
the people who are going out of their way to help me, or can I just
breathe and see how things turn out? I definitely vacillated between
both of these extremes last night. I breathed and closed my eyes and
settled down, and I also walked out into the silent road and started
to cry a little and just let myself GO THERE, to the place of
frustration and anger and pissed-off-ness. I think that adrenaline
helped me get through our transport and onto the train and helped to
create what I have now, a very grateful feeling to those few guys who
really helped us out last night!

Pushkar ended up being a pretty brief visit, though our time there
felt complete to us too. At other points of the year, the lake there
is full of water instead of mostly dried out as it was….you can
imagine the difference of the scenery! The main market was quite
touristy, full of clothing, incense, jewelry, travel bookers,
bookshops, holy accoutremonts such as prasad sweets, roses, rose
water, incense burners….A few sweets shops, things frying in pans of
hot ghee...We found a little health food restaurant and had our first
brown rice since, hmm, Thailand? The food there was okay, but we found
our real little heaven at Seventh Heaven Guesthouse's Sixth Sense
restaurant, up on the top floor, *beautifully* laid out, white
pillars, the view, cool music playing (Beck in India, anyone? A first
for us) and really good, clean food. We met a lovely group of
Australians there who we enjoyed talking with for a couple hours our
first night, and a little the next day too. We hired a guide named Mr.
Sharma who took Carson and I on a three hour tour of Pushkar. We
visited several temples, only two that we as non-Hindus could enter….a
Shiva/Parvati/Ganesh temple that was 1000 years old (!!!) and the very
special Brahma temple, where we gave offerings of rose petals to the
priest inside and he gave some back to us for good luck. We had the
typical Pushkar experience of meeting a Brahmin priest down by the
"lake" (they've erected 5 large cement pools for pilgrims to bathe in
since the lake is dried up)….they put rose petals in your hand, and
then have you come to the water and do a prayer with the water and the
petals, blessing everyone in your life, and then they ask for a large
amount of money to donate to them, and then you are in the middle of
what should be a sacred prayer haggling over how much money to give
them, then you agree on a (still too high) price and throw the petals
in and then they tie a piece of red string around your wrist….not our
favorite experience actually, but hopefully the prayers were good luck
and will benefit our families J We really enjoyed having Mr. Sharma
as a guide; for one, he had a sparkle and light in his eyes, and a
real gift for sharing about all of the Hindu stories of the gods. He
has studied the stories for most of his life, as his father and
father's father etc. were all in the similar priestly caste. We
circled the holy lake with him in the (hot) sun, stood aside as he
took a moment for worship of his favorite god Hanuman, and enjoyed how
having a guide already helped to deter other guides and touts from
entering our space. Plus we learned a lot about Pushkar and the
temples we visited.

Before Pushkar was Udaipur, where we spent 3 ½ days. While there,
Carson got violently ill one night and needed extra time to recover.
It seemed a similar illness that I had, but worse in it's intensity,
though it passed in the same amount of time. We were both really
scared the night it hit though, and I found myself praying out into
the world to all of our friends and family, and then to the whole
pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, and then even to Jesus (hey, it
was actually Easter on that day!) to come into our sweet little
Panorama Guesthouse room and help Carson get better. (Thanks friends
and families and deities and Jesus, for that was a miraculous and
swift recovery to a very frightening night!) In Udaipur we had many
near disastrous encounters with our feet and a speeding motorbike or
rickshaw (the streets are quite narrow and haphazard). We also smelled
perhaps the most strong and unpleasant smells that we've experienced
anywhere in India so far. Maybe it was the intense heat exacerbating
the condition, but never before have I been so utterly repulsed by
scents back to back to back to back! Urine, cow dung, trash, stagnant
greywater in canals, I don't even know what else, so thick that you
almost gag….lovely! Interspersed with sweet incense, or food cooking,
the pleasantness is nebulous and hard to grasp on such walks through
exhaust laden streets. But it's India, and there's a thousand other
things to catch your eye, like all the shops selling things that you
don't need, and the vendors that spotted you yesterday that you are
trying to avoid today, or the women selling fruit and vegetables, or
the temples interspersed, flames burning and incense wafting, or the
roof top restaurants beckoning. Our favorite thing to do in Udaipur
was sit on the top floor of our aptly named Panorama Guesthouse and
watch the sun set as a large orange ball into the distant mountains,
casting light across the city and the grand palace across the (water
receding) lake, and listen to the sounds of the night emerge. A myriad
of birds flocked to one particular tree near the "lake," and created a
cacophony of sounds. Bells began to ring as families did pujas in
their home; the milkman arrived downstairs in the little square
outside our guest house with his distinctive horn call, dispensing
milk out of a large metal cylindrical container strapped to his bike
to the bowls of women in the neighborhood….chanting flowing up from
nearby temples, children playing…Really gorgeous moments, those
panorama sunsets!

There is also sitting on this train now, eating a Snickers bar with
Carson as a treat.
Typing on this simple but deluxe-feeling-for-the-moment laptop as a
young street kid crawls on the floor of the train, sweeping up
everyone else's garbage in hopes of some rupees from all of us. I
think every train we've been on so far has at least one of these
children coming through, at whatever station they are inhabiting
during a stopover, and sweeping the ground, crawling around on their
knees. This morning as we approached Delhi, the tracks took us right
by many slums huddled on the edge of the railway, small haphazard
dwellings made out of whatever materials available; children playing
on an abandoned couch, a man scrubbing his face with so much soap all
his skin was white, women washing pots and pans, colorful worn laundry
hanging from a clothesline, garbage (always garbage, and always most
of that garbage is plastic). Our four hours in Delhi today were
actually enjoyable and diverse and easy, something that I had not
anticipated whatsoever! We pulled into the Old Delhi train station,
checked our bags in the cloakroom (what a good deal for 40 cents, for
them to watch our bags as we walk around, thanks for the tip Eric!)
and got a cycle rickshaw to a restaurant recommended by our trusty
Lonely Planet. Yum was it good! Haldiram's on Chadni Chawk in Old
Delhi, a bright and clean place with rows and rows of Indian sweets on
the ground floor and a pleasant air conditioned eatery up above. We
had a South Indian plate and the best masala dosa we've had yet in
India, and remembered how much we love south Indian food! YUM!! (Last
night's pleasant enough tasting meal was definitely a low light on our
north Indian meal experience, as we poured literally an entire dishful
of excess cooking oil off of both our entrees.) We took the sleek
shiny efficient underground New Delhi Metro between train stations in
Delhi, and felt like we'd left India for a minute!

India. Yes, forever a constant reflection, lesson learned,
contradiction, pleasant surprise. I realize I'm getting used to being
constantly stared out; it's almost like I don't even notice it
sometimes, and am more able to function normally at all times instead
of being distracted by it. Smiles come easier. I'm still learning the
balance of being open and receptive, and also taking care to not
invite unwanted touts of whatever kind: rickshaws, tailor made
clothing, haircuts, chai, books, jewelry, everything! It's a
difficult balance to strike at times, because I don't always want to
be closed to opportunity, but I also can't stop to talk to every
single person that wants to offer something! The henna is fading on my
hands and arms; I have more freckles and sun on my face. The sun is
sitting on the plains and fields of the Punjab state as we head to
Amritsar, the Sikh religion's holiest city and home to their
splendorous Golden Temple, which we will visit tomorrow. My body moves
with the train's rhythm. I digest MacVittie's Digestive Crackers (our
new favorite snack, imported from the UK, they taste just like graham
crackers and it's somehow comforting to eat something that is not made
in India!) While we were in Udaipur, AirAsia.com worked for us
miraculously (we'd been trying to buy tickets through them for weeks
but they have been having problems with accepting US credit cards) and
we finally purchased our tickets out of India, as well as an
end-of-trip treat of some tickets to Bali for 12 days. Paradise! Both
Carson and I are looking forward to revisiting Bali, and to the
lushness and greenness of that island land, and to the plethora of
good healthy organic food that we can eat there. And to the kind
people, and their rituals, and flower alters everywhere, and
temples….oh yes.

And so India, we are in your motherland for three more weeks, and have
a few more ideas of where to visit. After the Golden Temple, we are
going to head north to the coolness of the mountains and McLeod
Ganj/Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and so many thousands of
Tibetan refugees. We want to do some volunteering with the Tibetans
there, as well as take some hikes and maybe some yoga or Tibetan
Massage classes. Carson and I both agree that next time we come to
India, we will come at a different season than this, which is the
hottest time of the year everywhere we've been so far! In fact, I
don't think we've been below 90 degrees since our one day in Ooty
three weeks ago! After McLeod Ganj (where we might stay for a week or
so if we like it!) we want to stop by Rishikesh/Haridwar (Haridwar is
where the Ganga river begins to flow, a very holy site in India and
where the Kumbh Mela is happening now) and Rishikesh was made famous
by the Beatles in the 60's….a very holy site as well, with the Ganga
flowing through, several ashrams, and yoga yoga everywhere. We also
want to visit Vrindaven, which is Krishna's home, and Agra of course
for the Taj Mahal. Beyond that, we already booked our train tickets
east, from Agra to Varanasi, and then we will visit Bodhgaya for a
couple of days (one of the Buddha's sacred sites) before heading all
the way east to Kolkata, where we fly out of to Kuala Lumpur and Bali.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

some cows have their horns painted in pretty colors...I wonder who does this?

part of the palace in Udaipur

the view down the stairs from Jagdish temple in Udaipur

as soon as Melissa walked into this entryway in Chittorgarh, she had about 10 photos taken of her with all of the people inside! Perhaps it was the bridal henna once again...

colorful Indian people at Chittor fort

a blessed silver Ganesh, Chittorgarh

incredible marble temples in Chittorgarh--look at that detail!

the inside of the Shiva temple at Chittorgarh

an amazing 9-story tower at Chittorgarh...unfortunately we didn't climb to the top because, a) it was very hot, b) we were tired, and c) it was our second stop of the tour and we were still a *little* worried our rickshaw driver might drive off with our bags, and we wanted to keep an eye on him to make sure (the real reason) :)

colorful women boarding the train, somewhere between Bundi and Chittor

Carson with Mickey the pretty green parrot at the family's guesthouse, Bundi

the incredible view from the rooftop of our hotel, Bundi

Melissa's henna hands and the pink-dressed artist behind her

amazing old intricate well-preserved Krishna paintings near the palace and fort, Bundi

our yummy meal at the sweet family's house in Bundi

a cow walks by a Durga temple in Bundi

being an electrician here might be just a *little* bit complicated!

the colorfully painted alley to our Hotel Taragarh Palace, Bundi

the crumbling palace overlooking Bundi

a cow enjoys a leisurely afternoon in the blue-walled streets of Bundi

Melissa in a colorful doorway in Bundi

nets and ropes in a boat, and Carson in the background. Goa

Carson walking up the steep cobblestone path up to Bundi fort

Goan fish tikka curry, a veg Thali plate....good food after a long travel day to the beach!

a gorgeous floating flower arrangement in Bundi

Carson and the orange-haired necklace seller from Tamil Nadu on the beach in Goa

there are so many necklaces...so many things to buy always...and most of them that you don't want, and some of them that you get talkedd/tricked into buying anyways!

a Hampi dog checks out my cool pink bicycle

Lakshmi has a bath in the river in Hampi on the morning of Carson's 29th birthday!

the Queen's bath, Hampi