It is impossible to fully describe to you in words what India does to the mind, body and soul. You would have to see it for yourself to really understand what this place is like. Katie has already done a bang up job of telling you what it was like through her eyes. I will basically just tell you they same thing she said; only difference would be basically my perspective.
Before I start, I will just say to you that India is not for the faint of heart. If this is you, then I suggest you seek others places to journey to and learn about. As Katie already said, this place will accost your senses at all levels all at the same time. There are so many gruesome sights that we witnessed that I don’t feel are necessary to go into detail about. I will just say that I would reserve those types of sights to the eye of the beholder for them to formulate their own opinions and conclusions about. I will say that it was definitely heart-wrenching to witness.
India is the land of temples and palaces and great history that goes way back, at least in the northern part. One of the most interesting parts in regards to the temples is that there a quadrillion temples all over the land that are dedicated to some God or Gods depending on whether you were Hindu, Buddhist or of the Jain religion. Each of them was equally magnificent but I must say that it was the Jain temples with their exquisite carvings and type of structure that I found to be the most interesting. We saw so many temples that in the end we were able to decipher what religion they belonged to just by looking at the structure from a far off. Not bad for a couple of rookies! But what struck me in the end as the most awe inspiring was that of all the magnificent temples that we saw that were built in the name of Allah, Krishna, Brahma or whomever, the grandest most beautiful one of them all was built in the name of love, the Taj Majal. Go figure, love rules everything! So in honor of this magnificent achievement of mankind (it is after all one of the 7 wonders of the world) I shall tell you the “real” love story as I came to know it. The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved second wife Mumtaz Mahal who was a Muslim Persian Princess. The story goes that she died while accompanying her husband to Burhanpur while giving birth to their 14th child on their way to silence a rebellion. The story further goes that as she lay dying she asked for four promises from the emperor. 1) That he build a monument in her name so that he would never forget her, 2) That he should marry again, 3) That he be kind to their children and 4) that he visit her tomb on her death anniversary until he himself passed away. He apparently made good on the first two but apparently did not seal the deal on the second two.
The name Taj Mahal is rumored to be an abbreviated version of her name which means “The exalted one of the Palace”. Construction began on the Taj in 1631 and took 22 years to complete. Over 20,000 people were deployed to work on it. The principle architect was an Iranian named Istad Usa. It took a fleet of over 1000 elephants to haul the material in from all over India and Asia. As a tomb, there is no match for it anywhere on earth. It was finally finished in 1653 at an overall cost at the time of 32 Million Rupees on the banks of the Yamuna river in Agra. Here is an interesting factoid that I think is worth sharing: According to history, the hands of some of the most masterful craftsmen that built the Taj were amputated to ensure that the perfection of the Taj could never be repeated ever again. “Ce la amore!”
India is a place of extremities. On one side of the scale you have magnificent buildings and landscapes. On the other side of the scale you have the most extreme poverty that is prevalent all over the land and is very hard to stomach. It is the only place I have ever been where on any given day a car, motorcycle, horse, elephant, donkey or camel may have the right of way all depending of what region you are in and what time of day it is. Talk about a major rush! This is not the kind of stuff you would consider as routine on interstate 101 or the 405 in LA. But in India, it’s all in a day’s work. It is a place where the idea of westernization has not fully caught on. I don’t know if that is good or bad, maybe both. It is a place where spirituality is highly exalted and more prevalent than any other country I have ever been to. It now makes sense to me why the Dali Lama is from this country. As Katie said, it is a place that is very conflicted and draws on all your senses for so many reasons. I too am not sure what to fully make of this place. I think it will take me a long to fully appreciate everything about this place and all of its grandeur.
India is a proud country and they should be despite whatever shortcomings they may or may not have. So much history to take in. I remember thinking at times that I wished that our country had this much elegant history. It makes visiting such a place quite fascinating. If I could summarize this place in terms of a ride I would have to say that India is a rollercoaster of Jurassic proportions!
Sunday, January 31, 2010
It is impossible to fully describe to you in words what India does to the mind, body and soul. You would have to see it for yourself to really understand what this place is like. Katie has already done a bang up job of telling you what it was like through her eyes. I will basically just tell you they same thing she said; only difference would be basically my perspective.
What can I say, the Taj Mahal. That's about it. But is was worth the transportation woes we had of geting to and from Agra just to see it.
Well, Chris may not think that the shopping in Jaipur isn't worth writing home about, but guess what? I do!!! :) Actually, shopping in Jaipur was the highlight for me. The Amber Fort was definitely impressive as Chris described and as you can see from the photos (don’t make fun of the posing!), but for me the best part of our short time in Jaipur was wandering around the streets in between where all the shops are in the city. What I really discovered in Jaipur and have noticed since is that sometimes the best way to learn about a city is to get lost. We were looking for the street that had all of the fabrics and textiles, but somehow ended up on the street that had only tricycles, paint and hoses. What a combination! That street was perpendicular to the "Home Depot" street. I wasn't looking for any tricycles or hoses, so we headed back in the direction of the textiles street. On the map, the streets looked like they were only a short city block away so we took a tiny side street. The streets ended up being massively far apart, but it was so fun just wandering down the less touristic streets, avoiding cattle, cattle poo and honking mopeds. For the first time, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of this hectic country.
As far as the actual shopping goes, we purchased some lovely textiles to make curtains out of back home including an aquamarine silk and white organza. Additionally, we got some pashmina scarves for our families. Which leads me to an observation about travelling in India. Sometimes people tell you stories about things and you I couldn't help but wonder whether or not it is even true. Not only because you hear other tour guides different things, but because the stories are so outlandish. Por ejemplo - one shop owner told me that the difference between pashmina and cashmere is that they are both from sheep, but that the pashmina comes from the neck wool of the sheep that gets caught on a certain type of tree that they eat from. No way - I'm not even that gullible. If anyone can confirm or deny this story for me, I would love it. I'd also love to hear if anyone else heard similarly outlandish stories when they were travelling in India.
After our 24 hour jaunt in Agra we ended up having to take a five hour cab ride to Delhi because the train was delayed by at least three hours. Note to self; don’t try to travel to the city you are flying out of the same day you are leaving. It leads to a nerve wracking time. On top of it, our cab driver didn’t know where the international airport was. Chris and I ended up having to show the cab driver where it was!
On the way out of Delhi after spending an excruciating eight hours in the hot airport, (so glad we were there in the winter) I still wasn’t sure how I felt about India. To be honest I still am not sure. It is one of the most emotional places I’ve been to. You can go from seeing one of the most beautiful mosques in the world to walking just down the street and seeing people literally crawling down the road with polio and deformities begging for money. Just thinking about it now I want to cry. India accosts all of your senses – sounds, smells, sights. Some are awe inspiring, like the Taj, while others are pitiful like two young girls playing in a makeshift landfill while all of the plastic bags have spread out and are hanging in the surrounding trees like ghosts. I’ll always remember watching the kites that people fly from the rooftops in all the cities and the times I wanted to run back to my room because the smells are overwhelming. In the end I’m glad we came here and I’m sure my most vivid and memorable images will come from this conflicting land.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Jaipur is known as the Pink City. Most of the buildings were painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876. It doesn't look as if it has been touched up since then although we were told that the buildings do get a fresh coat annually. Jaipur is famous for two reasons. 1) The biggest and baddest bazaars in the region and 2) The Amber Fort (A Rajput masterpiece) which Bill Clinton is said to have roamed when he was in Office. Leave it to slick willy to make his mark everywhere while he served as prez. Jaipur is considered the capital of the state(region) of Rajasthan. Jaipur achieved independence in 1947, not so long ago. In 1949, Jaipur merged with the Rajput states of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikamer to become the Greater Rajasthan Union with Jaipur being honored the Head of State status. There were over 2M people living in Jaipur at the time. Not sure what it is today. My guess is that it must be well over 3M people.
Jaipur is the chosen location for various festivals and fairs for two reasons. 1) it is the biggest city in the northern Rajasthan region other than Delhi and 2) because of its geographical location as it is situated right smack in the middle of the northern part of India. We were lucky enough to attend a literary festival/fair which was in full gear in the couple of days that we were there. It was a lot of fun! Basically, all of the best known authors in and outside of the region come every year to promote books and to just get touchy, feely with their fans. It is a very lavish fair that they put on. Music, dancing, great speakers and lots of good food. It was a refreshing alternative to the usual stuff we were experiencing.
Jaipur is named after its founder, the great warrior-astronomer Jai Singh II(1688-1744) who came to power at the age of 11 after the death of his father, Maharaja Bishan. Jai Singh's lineage traces back to the Rajput clan of Kachhwahas who came into power in the 12th century. Their capital way back then was in Amber, just down the road around 6 miles up in the hills where the great Amber Fort is. They had a talent for war and alliances of convenience so the dominion of the Kachhwahas spread, eventually reaching out to the outer regions of Udaipur and Jophpur.
I thought that the bazaars were ok. Nothing really to write home about. In my opinion the market in Pushkar had just as good if not better quality linens and goods. It is the Amber Fort that really catches your eye. Just riding in from the road tells you the whole story. The Fort itself is perched up on a high hill just like most of the forts we saw along the way in other towns. What made this one so special was the sheer size of it. It is massive! There is an outer wall that resembles a small version of the Great Wall of China that spans a gazillion miles. Hopefully Katie will be nice enough again and post some pictures for all of us to see when she makes her post. It’s about 50 feet tall and seemed to go forever. There were three kings that actually lived in the Amber fort over the years that it actually ruled the kingdom back in day. Two of the kings had twelve wives each and one of them had only two wives. Here’s the funny thing: There was a secret passage that each king had that only the king could go through to visit each of his wives. We were able to go through these secret passages. It provided a living quarters that was synchronized by the secret passages so that the king could spend equal time with each of his 12 wives. Must be nice to be the king! The fort is very well built considering when it was actually constructed. It took 15 years to finish building it. I guess they just don’t make them like they used to. They had elephants that you could rent that would take you all along the fort if you wanted. We opted not to as the word is that the elephants are mistreated a lot so we did not want to contribute to that. Overall, Jaipur was a good time.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
What can I say about Pushkar other than it felt like an oasis in the desert. After galavanting around in Jaisalmer and the dreaded bus rides from hell (i love katie i love katie i love katie... as she proof reads my post) we both realized that it was time for a much needed rest and Pushkar provided us with the perfect setting to do so. It was almost as if the gods were watching us and said "Because you have both endured such long treks and journeys with great strides I hereby allow you 5 days of rest. Be happy and relish them all for soon you shall both be on a treacherous journey once again and there is no knowing when you the gods will show you favor again." So we bunked up in a white palacial type of haveli and did nothing but enjoy the sun, sand and eachother until we had our fill! It was splendid!
A little history for you all. Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage small village. It has a cluster of pale onion type domes in the middle of town. There are actually 400 temples in all of Pushkar. Seems like a lot for such a small place. The town curls around a holy lake said to have appeared when the almighty Brahma dropped a lotus flower. Presto! It has one of the world's fewest Brahma temples. Time slips by very fast in this place. There is a magnetism about the village that is hard to describe. It just kinda sticks on you. The main street is one long bazaar and they sell anything you could possibly want here from hippy-chick minidresses to didgeridoos whatever that is. So ofcourse Katie and I decide to splurge a little here. So many quality linens and other household items line the streets. It's hard not to get caught looking at the goods. I must say that I got a kick out of watching Katie utilize her new found negotiation skills with the vendors. Her mojo was really on here. I remember once instance in particular where a guy selling a bed cover that she was very keen to buy pretty much thought he could take her for all she was worth. In the end as she threatened to go shop for the same item in one of his competitors shops across the street should he not lower his price to a reasonable one he immediately asked her how much she would be willing to pay. After much training in negotiation in the previous towns she knew very well what the right price was and proceeded instantly to let him know she knew what the going market price was. I dare say that her negotiation skills could have rivaled half of the brokers that I have done deals with in the past. The guy made one last effort t convince her she knew nothing about what she was talking about. Perhaps her information was faulty. Had she not done her due diligence properly? As she gave the man a quick blank stare she stood steadfast on her decision and said "I stand by my offer!" The man still not sure if she was certain says" I'm sorry, not good price". To my amazement, she gives the man a smile says thank you very much and have a nice day. As soon as she proceeds to leave his store he immediately says to her "ok, I will give you at your price". And so this is how the rest of the day played out. I walked around with a smile on my face watching her make purchase after purchase haggling these guys down the whole way.
Pushkar is famous for its spectacular camel fair that takes place in October. It must be of gigantic proportion because right on the outskirts of town there is a big fairplex that rivals any fairplex in the US. As the Lonely Planet puts it, "You would be crazy to miss it if you had the chance". All kinds of tribal people show up from all over Rajasthan, pilgrims from all over India and ofcourse all the filmakers show up as well. One big happenin' party 24/7.
The only other thing I can remember about this place other than what Katie has already mentioned were the weddings. There was a wedding almost every night during our stay and if you don't already know, Indians don't mess around when it comes to throwing a wedding party. They spare no change. You are invited to the wedding whether you want to be or not. The music is soooo loud and the partying goes on through the night. Very disturbing at first, but you get used to it after a while.
Puskar was definitely one of my favorite places.
For five nights and six days Chris and I holed up in the small town of Pushkar. It is in Rajasthan, but more off the beaten path than other spots that we went to including Udaipur and Jaisalmer. It is known as a spiritual town and there are signs posted everywhere, on the road, at hotels, that warn against drinking, eating meat - including eggs, and public displays of affection - including holding hands.
We rolled into town, literally, at about 3 in the morning. Well, it actually wasn't Pushkar, as we were promised by the not so friendly bus person at the cardtable roadside stand, it was Ajmer, about 30 minutes away from Pushkar by car. "Luckily" there were autorickshaw drivers and cabbies waiting to take suckers like us to Pushkar. We arrived at the hotel we had arranged for at 4 am. With some actual luck, Chris charmed the sleeping doormen into letting us crash in a small room until our actual room was ready. We ended up staying in a beautiful white haveli (mansion in India) for the next five nights. It had a large, clean room, with a western style bathroom, lovely decorations and far from all the ruckus of the touristic area.
With Pushkar's main claim to fame being that it is a spiritual town, there wasn't a huge night life, but there was good shopping and good food. One of the main things to purchase in Pushkar is music. Chris and I picked up a few CDs. We were only able to listen to a bit of the music in the stores because we don't have CD players with us, but here's what we got so others (YES YOU LAURA!!! :p) can check them out. Let us know what you think. Apparently, traditional Indian music iscreated to be played at certain times of the day to illicit moods and emotions, so I've included that as well.
Hariprasad Chourasta, Flute, Evening
Nikhil Banerjee, Sitar, Morning
Actually, the first day we left our hotel in Pushkar we didn't hang around Pushkar, but actually took a day trip to Ajmer to find a new charger for my computer. With luck and help from the people at our guesthouse we found a new one so that I could charge my computer and blog for you all! While we were in Ajmer, we decided to check out a few of the local sights. This included a few mosques, one of which is very famous Muslim pilgrimage. We also saw another Jain temple that had an intricate and large golden replica of their beliefs on how the world was formed.
After the visit to Ajmer, we spent some more time in Pushkar, just relaxing and reading, so there isn't too much to write about. The one highlight was an evening camel ride to watch the sunset. Our one hump camels picked us up right at our hotel and took us out for a few hours. My camel was named Jimmy. Not sure if he was named after Carter, Page, Hendrix or someone else. My vote is for either Page or Hendrix because there are a ton of new age hippies in this town, for instance, there was a Pink Floyd restaurant and hotel.
Anyway, each camel was led by a camel jockey for lack of a better term. They would either lead the camel on foot by reins that were attached to the camel's nose or get on the camel with us and lead from up top. For some reason, my camel jockey decided that it was ok for me to take the reins all alone and for him to walk behind the camel and I. I like to think that it was because he could tell that I was a veteran horse rider (thanks for those lessons in eighth grade, Mom!), but the realist inside of me tends to believe it was because he needed to prod my camel on from behind because the camel was a slacker. I was a little nervous about the whole thing because I realized that if this camel took off that I had no idea how to stop it! This was especially worrisome when the camel and I had to maneuver between a stopped bus and a huge carrier truck going the other way. I looked behind and my camel jockey was more than eight feet behind us! What was I going to do?!? Luckily, Duds, I mean Jimmy, never took off on me and we made it up to the top of a sand dune where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and watched local children fly kites and play some version of dodge ball.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Here are a few quick picks from our time in Jaisalmer as Chris described in his posting. The group photo is of the two Croats, Tony and Morana, we met on the hellacious ride from Udaipur. Notice the lovely camel leather purse Morana bought. Well, actually not camel leather. They learned that although many people claim they are selling you camel leather it is usually just bull, buffalo, or goat leather. Don't be fooled if you end up in Jaisalmer.
The shots of the stone carvings are in the Jain temples and the others are just various shots around Jaisalmer.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Well I wont tell you about the ordeal we had to go through just to get here as Katie has already done a very good job of describing that for you all. Let's just say that our India learning curve is very steep and I believe we have pretty much reached the apex of it by now. Jaisalmer is described in the Lonely Planet as " a giant gleaming sand castle rising some 80M high above Trikuta(three-peaked) Hill. I'm not so sure I would use the same adjectives to describe this place but it does nonetheless look like someone built a giant sand castle perched on a hill out in the middle of nowhere. It is known as the Golden City. Uh, not so golden. 99 huge bastions encircle the narrow streets of the fort(castle) which is still being inhabited by the locals to this day. In the old times the inhabitants worked for the maharajas(kings), but today they just run the guesthouses or shops and stalls swaddled along the way. One interesting thing about this place is that you can find an Italian restaurant on every street corner. Huh? I guess they must love Italian food. Jaisalmer is a camel-safari culture due the mass of sand dunes between the city and other far away places. It used to be a huge trading depot back in the day for travelers. So as you might expect there are hundreds of camel-safari companies that line the outer fort walls and they haggle you to death to go on a safari ride every time you pass them by. They are relentless here! It's pretty cool though. You can go on a half day up to a 4 week camel safari run all the way to Puskar if you like roughing it that much. We opted not to take one as it is the winter here and it gets very cold at night. I did not see the romance of sleeping next a drooling, smelly camel in the middle of the desert night freezing my tush off! Thx, but no thx. I will say that if it were warmer I might do a 2 to 3 day safari run because the desert nights here are so clear and beautiful. You can see Orion as if you were looking through a telescope. Pretty cool.
Jaisalmer was founded in 1156. The succesion of maharajas of Jaisalmer trace their lineage back to a ruler of the Bhatti Rajput clan, Jaitasimha. The Bhatti Rajputs trace their lineage back to Krishna. The 13th and 14th Centuries were a tempestous time. Rulers relied on looting for income and the city was repeatedly attacked as the ones looted sought their revenge. The early Jaisalmer rulers continued to fill their piggy banks with illicit gains won through cattle rustling as well as imposing levies on caravans that passed on their way to Delhi. They were renouned for their valour and treachery as they fought to expand and secure their kingdom.
Although professing to Hinduism, they were tolerant of Jainism which is why the Jain temples(see Katie's future post for a quick pic) that still stand as perfect as they did in the 13th and 14th century in the middle of the castle today. I have to say the the artistry and carving of the sandstones is quite remarkable and very much so a sight to behold. There are droves of Indians that still today come to these temples every day around noon to worship the statues inside. They are not very tolerant of foreigners near the temple as this is considered very holy ground. I think they actually frown on foreigners going in the temple altogether with good reason I might add. But I think they tolerate it because they need the $$$$ . Basically the temples here are considered the place where Jesus might have lived and worked while he was on this earth. So it is the Indian version of Jerusalem if you will. Indian people from all over the country come here on pilgrimages just to get in front of these Gods to pray to them. We finally got a chance to go inside and see the main temples. There are five of them. There were over 900 small and very large idol gods inside the temple if that gives you any idea how spiritual these people are. Each idol god has a different power. One might be prosperity, another healing, etc. There were a lot of hillsmen that come from the villages outside the city here to worship and then head back home on their camels. They have no wealth, only their faith and smarts about how to survive by using the land wisely. I saw one hillsman kneel down to a massive idol, say a long prayer and then put a pearl he must have been saving for just this occasion in the offering basket. Heart-wrenching kind of stuff to witness.
I thought I hated this place when I arrived because of how disgusting it is. But in the end all you have to do is get a glimpse of the temples that are hidden away in the castle and the people that come here to worship and you begin to understand why this is such a special place. Quite a sight.
Friday, January 15, 2010
So, maybe love wasn't quite the right word to describe how I feel about India. It's more of a roller coaster ride that goes from excited, curious and amazed at the peaks and disgusted, deeply disturbed and shocked in the valleys. Basically, travelling in India is not for the faint of heart.
When the train finally came, we schlepped our stuff on as best we could and tried to find our sleepers in the dark with everyone else from our station. It took us about five minutes to realize that there were people sleeping in our beds! The insanity! After waiting for five hours, we just wanted to pass out and try to get some rest. We basically had to kick a man and his son out of the bottom bunks while his two daughters stayed in the upper bunks and his wife was across the way. Another valley of India. The amazing thing is what happened in the morning. When we woke up the entire family was there and they offered us breakfast food and cookies, chatted with us and in the end invited us to their home outside of Agra. I think this is an experience unique to India where you can kick people out of their beds and then they offer you food a few hours later.
Luckily, once we got to Delhi we had a flight to Udaipur, no more trains or buses for the moment. The city is beautiful, despite the lack of water in the lake from the weak monsoons. We had a great guest house to stay in and thoroughly enjoyed their rooftop restaurant with great food and nightly showings of Octopussy (see Chris' blog). The best part was a romantical (romantic and magical) dinner overlooking the lake and a trip out to one of the islands.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Udaipur was founded in 1568 by Maharaja(King) Udai Singh II. Legend has it that Udai found the site after coming across a holy man meditating on a hill near Pichola Lake which sits in the middle of Udaipur. The old man advised the maharaja to establish his capital on that very spot. Turns out the old mans advise was good. Udaipur is surrounded by lush forests, lakes and the protective Aravalli Range. Perfect place for a city. In the middle of the lake is what they call the Lake Palace. It is a very white creamy stone color and the prettiest palace of them all in the city. There is a royal palace that is perched on top of the city that we visited. It was quite extensively long and full of many rooms. We were told that there are still 12 to 13 members of the royal family that are alive today and still live there. Pretty cool site to see. The doorways were all very small. There were pictures of some of the early tribesmen that founded this city all along the royal palace walls. They were very small in stature but supposedly some of the fiercest warriors back in the day. The lake is very beautiful at night. The city lights up with all kinds of colors. Udaipur is considered the most romantic city in all of Rajhastan and it certainly did appear that way to us as well. Something about the way the various lights of the city were displayed over the water. Very nice! We stayed in a guesthouse that was perched on a hill above the lake. The guesthouse had a rooftop restaurant that served great food 24/7 that Katie and I frequented more often than we might should have. Maybe it was because the sunsets every night were so gorgeous from the panoramic birdseye viewpoint. The most hilarious thing about Udaipur was that almost all the guesthouses would show the movie Octopussy every night at around 7:30pm. Hilarious!! For those of you who don't know, Udaipur is a site that they frequently filmed that movie at and the locals are quite proud of it! I think Katie and I must have seen that movie atleast 3 times during our stay there. Hehe! On our last day there we got a special treat. A hillsman from a village outside the city came into town on his two elephants to let them bath and drink from the lake. Quite the spectacle. Even the locals stopped what they were doing to take a gander at these graceful animals. On our last day we also took a boat ride to an island just outside the city that Katie suggested which I am now so glad I agreed to. This island had buildings that were buttery creamy in nature and looked absolutely marvelous in the night lights. We decided to stay a while and have a couple of beers, which did not come cheap I might add, while we waited for our train to depart for Jaisalmer. But it was totally worth it in the end.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
greetings everyone. So, we are in Dali land and I thought I would write a bit about it. for those who don't know we are in the very nothern part of india, Dharamsala/Mcleodganj to be precise. It is a very magical place. Based in the snowcapped mountains of the Himalayas it is quite a sight to witness. Tibet is not far away and as you might imagine there are a lot of bald guys in red dresses and orange sashes running around talking to themselves and others like them. It is a very spiritual kind of place. There is a sense of purity here, one that I have never experienced before. Just this morning I was having coffee and tibetan bread at a nearby cafe and overheard a spiritual man telling another spiritual man at the table next to me how he might better be able to reach the inner sanctoms of the soul. I must admit, I was a bit touched by the whole thing. If there were ever a place where one can practice binding the mind, body and soul into one, this must be that place. There is no sense of materialism here at all. These people have nothing yet they seem to be the happiest people on earth and they seem to have discovered the meaning of life at a far more complex level than we know it. There is a peacefulness here that just permeates the air. It is very hard not to fall in love with this place. And being based in the Himilayas ofcourse only makes it even more special. I will not soon forget this place, infact I am quite sure it will stay with me the rest of my life. I am convinced that there is much that these people can teach us about life. I think what I will take from here is the following: there is a spectrum of the life we live. On one extreme endpoint is complete selflessness which is what you see here amongst the monks, on the other is a complete materialistic endpoint which I am sad to say is the world we live in back home. I believe that the perfect balance to life is actually somewhere in the middle. The key to life is actually trying to place yourself right in the middle so that you get the best of both worlds. The trick is actually trying to find that midpoint. In summary, I know I will miss this place greatly and will be very sad to leave it. I could probably stay here forever, but I must go on. There is much more to see.
So, it's taken me a few days to post anything about India because I needed some time to absorb everything. And the verdict is - so far, I love India. Go figure. As Chris mentioned in his post, I had some shortcomings at first. I think it had to do with the fact that we had to wait on the tarmac for about an hour when we first landed because it was drizzling outside. In the safe confines of the plane, I was a little afraid that I could already smell the city. Luckily, Chris had arranged for a hotel that picked us at the airport so we arrived unscathed. The hotel was nice, except that the hot water promised was freezing cold.
I don't know what got into us, but instead of resting our first day in India, after 20 hours of flying, we decided to take the one day steroid tour of Delhi in a cab. Just being a passenger in a cab in Delhi is an adventure. At every turn you are avoiding a rickshaw, bus that says "Please Honk" or cow! I guess I know now why everyone honks, because the bumpers ask them to, also because if they don't they will all crash into each other. The lines for lanes of traffic are a mere suggestion, not something to be followed.
The best part about our drive around Delhi was that after about five hours and many near misses of running into anything you can imagine, we noticed signs that read "Road Safety Week." If everyone was really trying their best to drive safely, then all I have to say is I can't wait to be in Delhi when it isn't road safety week!
RED FORT and GANDHI'S MEMORIAL
Around Delhi we saw the sights including the Red Fort, Jama Masjid (mosque), Chandni Chowk (market), Gandhi's memorial, and other various ruins. Needless to say we were exhausted before we saw all of the sites and politely asked our driver to take us for some chai and not go to the Lotus Temple, our next stop. We really thought that our communication skills were working and that we would soon be in a safe chai haven, alas, our driver proceeded to the Lotus Temple anyway and took us to a chai truck. Think taco truck with grade "D." We were troopers though, drank the chai up and finally communicated that we just wanted to go back to the hotel.
At this point, you might be thinking, but Katie, you said that you loved India. What is there to love? Delhi, with all of its smells that I can't even begin to describe on this page, and wouldn't want to, amazed me because it is so alive. Even walking through the market my senses were overcome, some good and some bad. In the midst of the chaos, there were some of the most beautiful cloth being sold. People were a little pushy, but for the most part would leave you alone. One funny note here is that I learned that Chris and I have a TOTALLY different view on how to walk through a crowd. I walk through on a mission not to make eye contact, to check things out and get to a destination. I consider myself successful if all the unsavory characters avoid me. Chris, on the other hand, likes the people to approach him and talk to him, even if just so he can say "No, I don't want anything you have to offer. Why do you keep asking me when I say no?" He likes to mingle with everyone and get the flavor of the place that way.
I don't want to write too much more because my mother warned me against having too high of a word to picture ratio. I just want to say that now we've made the trek up to McLeod Ganj, Indian home of the Dali Lama. It is so beautiful up here as you hopefully can see from some of the pictures. It is the complete opposite of Delhi - quite, small, clean and very friendly. I already enjoyed a wonderful two hour yoga class with meditation this morning. This town truly is the reason that I love India so far. We are only here for a few days, but already I feel like its a place I could come back to. One thing that continues to crack me up here and in Delhi is the American music everywhere. We were greeted by Christmas carols and at a great coffee shop here the first two things songs I heard were J Lo and Justin Timberlake. Good to know everyone around the world can bring sexy back. Also, as my friend Ryan pointed out the English translations can be hilarious. The Buddhist temple by the Dali Lama compound instructs you to "circumambulate" the correct way. I'm not quite sure that we did what we were supposed to do, but we followed the arrows.
Until next time... lots of love!
PS - Chris is doing a post right now too. We'll see how they compare.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Well we made it to Delhi and we have already experienced alot in one day. The first thing that tells you that you have arrived are the smells that come from the city that are so strong and pungent that you can smell them while still sitting on the tarmac. It is a very distinct smell that I will not soon forget.
It was also the first time that I witnessed Katie not be so eager to deplane. I, ofcourse, could not wait to see what this place is like, but she was not so sure. It was a complete role reversal for her as she is usually so eager to greet life, no matter what the occasion is. It was quite hilarious to watch her change modes. I thought for a brief moment that the flight attendant and I might have to pry her claws from the seat she was sitting in. But in the end, she relented and embraced the unknown with much courage, just as she does with the rest of her life.
Delhi is a very large, very poor, very old city. It is the capital of India. 17 million people live within the city limits and believe you me, it was very obvious just from the airport to the hotel. We saw baboons and peacocks along the highway to the hotel, a very interesting, unexpected site. Well, we are off the visit this great city today and then off to Dharamsala tonite, what I call Dali Land as it is where His Holiness resides. Stay tuned for more.
Friday, January 1, 2010
We're on our way! We closed out 2009 with a great party at Marci and Eric's, put the last of the clothes in storage and are at the airport.
For our first flight from LAX to Taipei, Taiwan we are on the huge China Air airplane that seats over 300 people. We lucked out (or are just extra charming) and got the exit row!
More to come. Hope you all had a great New Year's Eve!