Thursday, June 19, 2008

Better Late than Never!

So I have been back for a total of 9 days in the Great US of A... and although I missed water I can actually drink, people not staring at me, and "Western" style toilets actually stocked with toilet paper I have to say...I miss India.  Yea as much as the sketchy hotels and crazy rickshaw rides might have sucked, India was an experience of a lifetime. The people I went with also made the trip the best experience of my life and I hope that all the talk about helping and doing for Tong Lien wasn't just words. Life is almost back to normal and I have been eating meat everyday since I have been back! But also the problems that I left here are also back...So now what I have to look forward to is a summer school class and moving home to Va until I begin pre-deployment for Iraq. I want to thank everyone who went on the trip this year for the fun times and amazing memories that I will be taking with me, even to Iraq. I especially want to thank Dr. Maher and his AWESOME "Cha Cha in Training" Wes, because without them we wouldn't have had such a great time.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Ever since I have been back in the States, I have been waking up around four in the morning. Not to mention that i'm usually ready to go to sleep by seven each evening. I can't seem to shift my sleep schedule those few's rough. But, it was definately worth it!

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for making this trip so great! It was incredible, to say the least. We saw some pretty amazing things along the way! If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would leave for the airport this minute.
Hope to see you all again soon. :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Use Diper at Night"

I didn't get around to posting some of my last observations while there, but I'm still not fully in the United States. As I sit on the carpet of my room with my laptop, I am more in a state of limbo. It's a great place to be, because it almost feels like anything is possible. In some ways, it would be possible to slip back into my lifestyle before the trip. In other ways, I feel like I can completely turn into a different person (other than the growth that the trip automatically fertilized). It really hasn't been long enough to reflect though, and there are still specific experiences that are fun to talk about.
Possibly the most entertaining thing for me was the typos everywhere. To us who are used to the idea that the language our parents speak rules the world, it's hard to imagine having to learn a foreign one before ever planning on becoming successful in the world. Most of the Indians we came across served the example of intense focus and a strong work ethic, but there are bound to be mistakes sometimes. I am so used to being surrounded by English in everyday life and editing prose that the few chance mistakes stuck out everywhere. The menu of a restraunt in Varanasi had a section of snacks listed "Snakes." Our hotel room in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala had a laminated note about the water heater from the manager, signed "Manger."

All of the trucks here have decorative painting, with sayings in English and Hindi to "use dipper at night. This apparently refers to not using your brights when behind a truck, but I thought it was funny to see one truck painter had left out a "p." I wouldn't be suprised if another uneducated painter had actually added an "a" as well. Just by dropping a letter, he changed from making a polite request to giving blunt advice about how to deal with intestinal problems we've had with the food.

The bilingual artwork also says to "blow horn." Most of my experience with car horns has ingrained that honking, especially when close by, means either I or somebody else is about to die, or that I am doing something seriously wrong like driving on the wrong side of the road--both mean about the same thing. Here, just like how overpopulation changes everything else,
honking your horn is just a way of alerting people you are there. Honking on the road is as common as chatter in a crowded room. Every road, except a few parts of mountain roads, has only white dotted lines separating lanes, and overtaking is expected. In fact, speed limits are hardly ever posted and highways have different speeds listed for different types of vehicles. Some horns are piercing and irritating, used by people who like to hold it down for a long time. Others are dull and softer, more comforting to listen to but probably in that condition from overuse. Then alot of the trucks not only had colorful painting, but had multi-tone horns. A lot of them sounded like a little kid playing with a trumpet.
I didn't take pictures of any of them, but most things like that can be seen in a Google image search for photos taken by actual photographers. I mostly took pictures of large-scale views that were impressive, or shots of the cities from our hotel roofs. The one above is in Dharamsala. One of the first things I realized was that no picture will do justice to the actual experience. At best, it gives you a tenth of the idea of what it was like to be there. A still picture can only say so much, especially a digital one. It may have been different if I had an expensive camera to make a film documentary of our experiences, but even that suffers from the lack of scale. Anyway, I look forward to exchanging pictures online and seeing the different perspectives of everyone else, also for things I didn't take pictures of because I saw someone else staking the same one I would have. A Facebook group or something may be in order.

Going a little stir crazy...

It is definitely weird to be back home again after being away for so long. Like Megan said, it is as if the whole trip was a dream. After spending so much time in India constantly doing something or just engaged in the experience of the trip, it is weird to be at home with nothing to do. I have pretty much spent the whole day trying to occupy my time by cleaning, cooking, reading, or whatever productive thing I can find to do.

It has been cool telling everyone about my experiences but I did not realize how hard it would be to explain how India impacted me and what it was REALLY like. Like Rachel said, I can usually boil it down to telling people how lucky we are to live here. I see people in the grocery store or going about their daily routines and I can tell that they don't realize that they have so many extra comforts and luxuries that other people in the world have never even dreamed of. Even to the people who asked me "Why would you want to go to India???" I think that this trip would be an eye-opener. Visiting India really put my own life and culture into context for me, and it is something that I do not intend to forget.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I have been back in the states for about a day. India feels like a far and distant memory already. I am puzzled by people asking me how the trip was. Especially after working at Tong-len, what do you say? I am also shocked at the silence that surrounds me as I type this. I have not heard this little noise in, well i don't know if I remember it ever being this quiet now that I have had the chaos of Delhi ring through my ears. I am happy to be home, sad to be away from calm mountainous Dharmsala and His Holiness, and still trying to process my grand adventure. Oh one thing I wanted to ask everyone, did you see how freakin clean the airport bathroom was???? Anyway, a few things I have noticed since my return, North Carolina is hot but not as hot as Delhi, Agra, or Varnasi. It is abnormally quiet here and only cars are on the highway. Also there are no cows chilling in the street or calmly milling around town. I had grown fond of them. Oh and Americans have a pretty cushy life comparitively and would have many rupees if they were in India. India was not a place I thought I would ever go to but I am so glad that I did. I got to see and experience many strange and wonderful things that I never could have imagined. I never thought I would see the Taj Mahal,(Elliot I am still mad you rode an elephant in Agra without me.) the Ganges, the Dalai Lama, a leper, a slum with "homes" made of black plastic, children that begged for a living, but I did. And I think that I am a better person for it. I am very very grateful for all that I have, like a home, an education, and my health and wish these wonderful gifts I have been blessed with for my fellow human beings, like those amazing boys and girls in the slum and hostiles. I hope to keep discovering the ways that India has changed me and those who experienced it with me. Hope you are all safely home resting and recovering from the long plane ride. I can't wait to see you all again. Have a safe and happy summer.
PS Maher aka Cha-Cha, Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in India. Remember the no stupid rule, have safe travels and thank you for the amazing experience. One more thing, THIS IS A COW!!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

O Buddy System

Going into this trip no one really knew one another, we sat at our meetings in awkward silence. Thanks to the buddy system we are like a little dysfunctional family now.
Maher "Cha Cha"- is like the wise witty uncle who we all turn to to ask every possible question.
Wes "Mini Cha Cha"- is Mahers sidekick in action, a wise uncle in training with a little more razzle dazzle.
Britt and Tee are the best, we have decided we were sisters in a past life. We have laughed our asses off this entire trip. We have had more then just a good time we have had a stupendiously astronomically magnificent time here in India!
We would go on to mention everyone else but that would take a long time and many "Rupples" so we will sum it up by saying will see all our cousins on the other side of the orbe in August at the family reunion and many parties next semester to raise money for Tong Len!
Peace, love, unity, freedom for tibet, peace in the middle east, save darfur, and lots of money for Tong Len.
Tee and Britt


After visiting multiple hindu temples, buddhist monasteries, ancient religious sites, even The Beatles ashram, the most amazing day that this trip had to offer was our trip to Tong-Len. I didn't really know what to expect when we got there. All I knew was that we would be working with children, which initially made me dread what would take place that day. All I could picture in the days leading up to our visit was a field of screaming and crying children. (If you can't tell, I haven't had the best luck with babysitting.) Oy vey, was I wrong about what to expect.
Jamyang, who is one of the founders of Tong-Len, showed us around, spoke with us on various topics concerning different projects involving the organization and then led us out to the field where we would be having a picnic with the children. I can't believe the level of generosity that Jamyang shows to everyone around him, and the work that he is doing to help the people of Tong-Len. Once I complete my education, I want to be able to work for some sort of organization that can do the type of good work that he is doing to help people. He is a truly good human being!
Spending the day with those kids completely changed my mind about what this day would offer. These small children got the day off from begging so that they could spend time with us. We colored pictures, painted nails, and most of all, the children loved having their pictures taken. After a morning of playing, they sat down for lunch. These kids were quite skinny; it was nice to see them eat without having to have worked hard for their food.

At another location, there were children who had been sponsored by various individuals to live in a hostel and go to school. These children were completely different than those with whom we had a picnic. They all spoke English beautifully, and most of them wanted to become doctors "so that they could help those less fortunate than themselves."

Kudos to Jamyang and the amazing work that he does!

Monkeys are not cute... they bite ... ask Tee

After leaving Rishikesh we took a 6 hour jeep ride to Shimla up creepy mountain roads with death written all over them. When arriving in Shimla we quickly noticed this was unlike anyother place we had visited in India, it looked like something from the sound of music. Shimla turned into a not so glorious pit stop, when arriving everyone felt like crap and was in the mood for the crap "Shimla people" were ready to deal out. People in Shimla are shistie, we climed up what seemed like mt everest to the monkey temple. The monkey temple left a little to desire, it was kinda small, once we were all hanging out enjoying the view some monkes decided to come try and pick are pockets. At this time a mother monkey seemed to like Tee, which later turned into her biting Tee. Yes Tee was bit by a monkey and probably has Rabies, but its allright because Britt probably has malaria. The best part of Shimla was the Hindi movie we saw Janat, which was awesome ( Britt is planning to debut in Mumbai later this year as the token white girl in Hindi movies). We where happy to get out of Shimla and head on our way to Dharmsala.
Dharmsala aka a little piece of Indian heaven.
There is no way we can truly explain how different Dharmsala is from the rest of India, its not hot and the atmosphere is one of unity. While in Dharmsala we got to see the Dalai Lama in person twice, yeah thats right twice we have seen his holliness. In person he was just as you would imagine a genuinley happy person with a smile that went on for days. We have never truly seen a community so unified for the same cause, Tibetan Indepence. Throughout the area everyone rocked their Tibetan gear and hung their flag high. We also got to attend a prayer ceremony and a teaching lead by the Dalai Lama. We visited the Dalai Lamas Temple, the Norbulinka institute of cultural preservation, a progessive nunery, and the Tibetan library for Buddhist philosophy classes.
Tong Len is an organization we had the pleasure of working with while in Dharmsala. We got to interact and share some meaningful time with some of the poorest children I have ever seen. We played games, colored, took pictures lots of pictures, painted fingernails, and had a lunch cooked by soem local volunteers. Afterwards we got to visit the Tong Len hostile for children who use to be children of the same slums. These children were educated, healthy, happy, and well cared for. They all told us of their aspirations and favorite studies. They even did a few dances for us, which were well rehearsed and choreographed. The difference in these children was astounishing and will forever remain in my mind.
Peace Britt and Tee

I had an epiphany through chocolate cake...

Interesting things happen everyday on this trip...even if they take place accidentally sometimes. One morning when the group was supposed to meet to attend a lecture, several of us were misinformed about where the group ended up. It just so happened that on this same day the Dalai Lama was arriving back in Dharamshala. After learning that the group was waiting by the temple to see the Dalai Lama, we walked down to wait among the crowds. While we waited (the four lost students) to see His Holiness drive by, we saw Dr. Maher coming along the road looking for us. As we made our way down the curving streets to rejoin the group, the motorcade passed by; and there he was, the Dalai Lama smiling and waving to the crowds lining the streets.
Once we arrived at the library, the group hadn't gotten out quite yet so we went to look around the Temple of the Oracle of the Dalai Lama. This was one of my favorite temples that we walked through. It had an archaic and haunting feeling about it. In retrospect, I am happy we missed that particular morning's lecture.

Even though the majority of the group wasn't especially impressed by this stop, I especially enjoyed one particular event that took place there (in addition to the chocolate cake....of course). The climb that we all made to the monkey temple, although it was a bit of an effort, was a nice walk. It was fun to be around so many monkeys, even though there were some encounters that weren't too enjoyable for some people on the trip...
After the temple was the hike to the offlook. Some people went back down to the town, but a good chunk of the group of us continued up. The walk to see that priceless view wasn't nearly as tough as it was to get to the temple itself. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat!
The view was amazing. There were no honking cars, no trash, nobody trying to sell you things. There was just a cool breeze, a beautiful view, and peace and quiet.

Do it with Enjoyment!

Coming to you via the buddy system and low fundage of "rupples".
We now realize why the Beetles chilled in Rishikesh! The atmosphere is cool, it is cleaner, and the people are far less creepy, not to mention the fact that it is beautiful. While in Rishikesh we did many adventurous things. We hiked up a mountain, did some yoga at sunrise, met Swami Bodhichittinanda, we chilled in an amazing waterfall, jump off a cliff into the "cleaner" Ganges, and went rafting.

The Hike
The hike up the waterfall was long but fun because compared to Delhi the heat was bearable. We played under the waterfall while Elliot read inspirational passages from the Tao Te Ching.

Yoga at sunrise was beyond words. We are positive that Sunrise Salutation never ends it was definitely a work out, but a great way to start the day off.

Imagine going to someones tree house in which they take residence on the side of a mountain, illegally. After arriving the forest authority showed up trying to kick Swami out of his ashram/tree house. Swami is originally from Hickory, NC. We learned not only has he tried every drug but also every religion known to man. One thing he has learned is how to make some really good lemon grass tea.

Rafting was awesome! We rafted down the Ganges in groups of about 6. We got tossed out of our rafts by the tour guides and jumped off of a cliff. The water was "clean", cold, and refreshing like a Maaza.
Britt and Tee

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ahhh Dharmsala

So I have to say of all the place I have been in India...this place is the best. The people here are great and this place is so rich in Tibetan culture and the Buddhist way of life that it is probably the safest place on earth. So far I have seen the Dalai Lama twice and I swear it is so weird how star struck I am...I mean I am not even Buddhist, but no one can deny that he is a great man and to see him and be present at a prayer service he conducted (even if I couldn't understand it) was awesome. We are getting to the last few days of the trip and I have realized a few more things that I want to share...
1. The Chinese Government is torturing/killing the Tibetan people and the people here have witnessed or even experienced this horror
2. We as American SOMETIMES have no idea what is going on in the rest of the world and we should do more to be informed about world events.
3. I never realized how much I appreciate Ice until I got here
4. Being on the top of a mountain is beautiful, but any "walking" you do is more like HIKING!
5. India makes you forget your troubles and realize that there are people in the world that are worse off than you...much worse.
6. Never say you would never do something...I mean in 25 days I have Hiked up a mountain, white water rafted, cliff dived, met the Dalai Lama, slept in hotels that Frommer's doesn't even give one star, and gone without meat (well at least for 18 days)! NEVER SAY NEVER!
We said goodbye to one of our group members the other day because she had to get back for her sisters graduation...I have to say I miss her! Right about now she should be landing in the US and itching for a shower and some home cooked food! You really get close to the people you have this kind of experience with...I mean sleeping in a bed next to a girl for 25days kinda makes you closer! I will admit this though...I miss my friends and family...I can't wait to see them again...but then I think I will miss India too. Hey why don't all of you move here and then I will have the best of both worlds!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"The Dalai Lama looks like he'd be the nicest Grandpa ever!"

Since Heather and I are roomies and tend to be attached at the hip, we decided we put forth a joint effort in this blog. We are halfway through our time here in Dharamsala which is interesting because it feels as if we have been here for quite some time now. As Tony and Rachel have both said, Dharamsala is breathtaking with its views and it is so much more appealing with its atmosphere. There are just winding roads with little Tibetan shops and restaurants, and monks and nuns walking around everywhere. We have attended two different buddhist teachings and a prayer for the earthquake victims in China that was hosted by his holiness himself, the Dalai Lama. (Yes we got to see him...and he totally waved at us. Im pretty sure that is a bunch of blessings right there!) This prayer time consisted mostly of mantras that none of us could really understand. However it was really inspiring to sit and be able to take part in this religious act with the Tibetan people. We both really enjoy this culture and the people here, seeing as all of them seem to be so happy. We have walked up and down these streets many times now and are starting to become locals at certain restaurants. People are even recognizing us on the street! (Which I guess isn't that difficult since we are a bunch of Americans). One of the restaurants that we visit frequently, Khanna Nirvana, is not only a great vegetarian place but is also a community center, where they house everything from open mic nights to documentary films, to guest speakers. Since Dharamsala is the Tibetan exile this place offers a lot of information on the conflict between Tibet and China. It is very interesting being in a place where so many people have fled to. I know that I, Megan, did not know much about this conflict until we came here, and now want to do something to help. This topic has brought on many conversations between Heather and I, discussing the unjust that is going on in Tibet and we could do to help. As for now we're unsure, but we are trying to grasp any information about this situation we can and loving all these people as our time is winding down in India. On a side note...Heather and I are both ready for a HUGE HAMBURGER!!!!! See you all soon!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mountains, mountains, everywhere!

We have been making our way through the lesser Himalayas, going from Varanasi to Rishikesh to Shimla, and finally to Dharamsala. Not only did we leave behind the scorching heat but so many of the facets of India which were wearing on me so heavily. The lifestyle is so much more laid back in the mountain towns when compared to the huge metropolises that we have visited so far. Dharamsala is the Tibetan Buddhist capital-in-exile whilst China continues its ridiculous occupation of Tibet. The religious energy here is incredible and seems so much more inviting to tourists than the sacred Hindu places we have visited so far; a much larger portion of the population here seems genuinely happy with their lives and it certainly shows. Snow capped mountain peaks of the greater Himalayas rise up in clear view from our hotel roof and a large populated plateau sparkles at night on the other side. Although I wasn't sure what to expect of Dharamsala, I know now why I was looking forward so much to finally being here. It has been difficult to motivate myself to find internet and reconnect with the world we left behind in the states; there are certainly things I miss and look forward to being home but yet I don't want to leave this incredible place. With less than a week left in India I feel my time is running short; it will be difficult to leave this place behind.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I must agree with all the wonderful things everyone said about Rishikesh, but I love Dharmsala!!
There is just something about this place. I think it might be the Tibetan influence. Yesterday we visited a Buddhist temple, it was so beautiful and peaceful with lots of colorful artwork. People were circumambulating and quietly praying and spinnig prayer wheels. It was wonderful. I liked the Hindu temples but the Buddhist temples have a different atmosphere. I can't wait to see more. I wish that we had longer here. I feel like it is what I have been waiting for this whole trip. I am excited to attend more buddhist teachings and learn more about buddhism. I think that visiting this city will enable me to throughly enjoy the tibetan religion and culture class I am signed up for in the fall. I am so excited to be taking another Buddhism class. The first one converted me to a religious studies major, so it is so awesome to be here and try to learn more. On another note, I hope that we have a Dalai Lama sighting while we are here. I was thrilled to find out he returned to Dharmsala today and I will be keeping my eyes peeled. (Ew I hate it when people say that. How do you peel an eye?) Until next time!!!
PS Dylan I will try to get you a mini chess set:)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oh Ganga how I love thee...

I claimed earlier that Varanasi was my favorite place but I think I should stop saying that because it seems that the more places we visit the more I fall in love with the culture and lifestyle that is less chaotic and more laid back. Rishekesh is absolutely beautiful as we're stationed at the foothills of the himalayas and the ganges (the much cleaner ganges) river is winding around through the town. As I said this area is so much more laid back than the other places we have been. I think that all of us are enjoying the atmosphere much more. Yesterday we all took jeeps to go hiking up to this little waterfall. This hike turned a little rigorous but we all made it! As we came to this cave there was an entrance to this little pool area with a a little waterfall in it. Since we've all sweated off about 10 pounds being here in the heat, seeing cleanish, cold, water was amazing! Most of us got in and I swear as I stuck my head under the waterfall I could hear the hallelujah chorus! We all kind of hung out here for awhile and the peacefulness of the water and surroundings was so refreshing that it makes perfect sense that people come here to retreat.

learning yoga

Today was a first for me (as if pretty much everything in India hasn't been a first)...I learned some yoga. We started our session at 7 am on green mats in a grassy area of our hotel. The weather was perfect with a slight breeze to keep us cool as the sun got warmer by the minute. So, we began and...I learned that I am not very good at yoga. Yoga, as our instructor kept repeating, is about awareness. Apparently, I am not good at being aware of what I am doing. I'm not sure if it is my lack of gracefulness or my inability to concentrate on new moves when flies are landing on my nose, but I lacked the necessary skills to balance and/or create the same movements our instructor showed us. I continually lost my concentration and balance and often fell behind the group when transitioning positions (this may be why I never made it as a ballerina as a child). However, I heard rave reviews from the rest of the group and I am eager to try it again tomorrow and the next day. Hopefully I will get better or at least improve some. Our instructor was patient with me today and I look forward to working with him again tomorrow. I am looking forward to our next sessions since we will be in smaller groups, inside, and I will already have one day under my belt! Things already seem better for tomorrow...I will keep you updated on how I do.

"No bees, no honey. No risk, no funny"

All through the entire trip, I have had Beatles songs relating to Eastern religion and philosophy coursing through my mind. Now it's hard to get one of their anthology demo recordings to go away, which starts with "On the road to Rishikesh..." Dr. Maher pointing out the ashram where the four stayed hasn't helped the situation. It's great though. In our story of "There and Back Again," we have finally reached the Misty Mountains--well, they are called foothills, but they look like mountains from home. Not only do we have the Himalayas at our backs, but the Ganges winds its way between the hills and in front of our hotel. The view is incredible.
The first day, a few of us took a dip in the edge of the Ganges. The spot was right by an ashram that a swami had built himself. It sounds impressive by itself, but the guy also was an Appalachian State graduate in architecture, born in Hickory, NC. It was funny and surreal to be talking to a guy who looked like he could be your neighbor, but had moved all the way over here
to live a lifestyle most Americans would consider out of their reach. We were worthy of his presence after washing away our sins in the holy river. I think everyone has fully submersed themselves in the Ganga by now, especially after our white-water rafting trip this morning. Everyone seemed happy just cruising downstream, but our boat instructors instigated a lot of splashing and pushing/pulling people overboard. I liked how one of them had written on their life-vest, "No bees, no honey. No risk, no funny." It's still warm at this altitude, but the icy river water has kept us cold for a while.
The consensus seems to be that everything about the trip has been improving each day. We are getting more acclimated to the heat and atmosphere, but everything around us seems to have been improving as well. We will continue to move North and get cooler, there is more faithful representation of Western food here, and I am personally partial to the isolation in the mountains myself. Trying not to blow alot of money has been a priority for a while, but some of us are breaking down as shopping gets less crazy-market-based and we get better with the conversion of dollars to rupees. I may just stock up on a few things here that I might buy in the states, but it's less than half the cost here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


After being sick on Sunday, it is nice to be back in the group and enjoying Rishikesh with everyone. It kind of sucks being the sick ones in the group because you don't want to miss anything. Luckily (or unluckily) it was a day of travel, and even though I was dreading the train ride, I was thankful that I wasn't going to miss anything. The train ride turned out to be just what I needed to sleep off the bad feeling. Rishikesh is a nice break from the hot city streets of Delhi and Varanasi. Although I loved all of the different ghats and temples, it is nice to be somewhere where the temperature is more and the streets (slightly) less crowded. It is amazing to look up and see the beginnings of the Himalayan Mountains and look down and see the Ganges River. It is funny to see that Sharee said she had no plans of getting in the water at the waterfall, and neither did I because I am down to my last few items of clothing. But once we got up there it was too irresistable. The water was so cool and cleansing and it was nice to just sit there and cool off and be by ourselves for a little while. I love the water, so that has to be one of my favorite experiences on the trip so far.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It is beautiful up here...

So after another horrible sleeper train (Rachel prayed to Tara for an unhorrible trip, but Tara didn't answer her prayers) we finally made it to Reishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. This place is amazing, it is cooler, has breathtaking views and is less crowded than Delhi. On the train ride here we were stared at (and not just glances, but full on staring in our faces), people were rude and dirtied up our sleeping area on the train, and a drunk man decided to make us his new friends on the train. After coming up here I don't miss the more urban areas of India, this is the place to be. Tomorrow starts our adventures here and I can't, waterfalls, swimming in the Ganges (well I wont be swimming but I will at least put my feet in the water). I wish we could just catch our flights home from here...or better yet why even go back when you could have a relaxing massage and meet some crazy yogi from Hickory, NC staying in the foothills of India and talking to lizards! Liz is so excited to be where the Beatles once were that I think she might never leave this place. The group is getting pretty close I think...Sadaf got really sick and we all pitched in to take care of her and now she is holding down food and laughing with us at dinner. I realize that group will always have a bond with each other that no one will understand unless they were here with us. I mean these other 16 people and I have experienced things that most other people will never get to do and we did them together and I will always remember them because of this experience, without them this trip would probably be unbearable. I am missing home less and less the longer I am here and it seems odd, but I am kinda dreading going back. I mean don't get me wrong, I miss my friends and family, but life just seems different here, less stressful, less of the stuff that brings people down everyday. I know that as soon as I get home my life will be changing so much...going home to Va, possibly not being in school next semester, and deploying to Iraq in Nov...this place doesn't make me think of those things...and when I get on that plane it will all come back.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Sky Clad Jain

Before we left for India, the religion I was most interested in observing was the Jain. The Jains consist of two categories the Sky clad(monks) and lay-people. I am more interested in the Sky clad members. From what I understood these people are the most careful humans alive; among other things they brush away the bugs in the dirt before each step and won't wear any clothes because it could have been a home of an animal. My idea of these people were completely different before I actually saw a practitioner in action. As we were leaving the sunset ceremony in Assi ghat, Varanasi, he walked up behind us - walking is more like a pace of a slug. He was a person folded, he had spent so much time bent over sweeping bugs that he had locked himself in a bent position. His left arm used to be the limb holding the broom but it was so weak he could not continue to hold a broom. That arm was also locked in position between his legs just as he was stuck bent over. His right arm was dragging a begging bowl behind him. This arm had become longer than the other, just as my right arm has grown a couple inches longer than my left because of a life filled with tennis serves and football throwing, his had grown somewhere between 6 and 8 inches because of the weight of the bowl - that was maybe a pound. When I thought about the Sky clad Jainists I decided I would love to converse with one, but I figured had I talked with this man he might die off mid sentence, so I just watched and will forever have this image branded in my head.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Week

Today it has been one week since we arrived in India. If I thought 2 days seemed like a long time a week has been a lifetime. I feel that I am now acclimated to India. I have adjusted to the time difference and the heat(as much as humanly possible), and I know somewhat about the cost of things, at least how much for a bottle of water and a rickshaw ride. Varanasi has been my favorite city so far. A little less chaotic and a lot holier. One thing that I thought was pretty cool and I read some of the others mentioned it is that our clothes are washed in the Ganges. Hindus travel from all over the world to take a dip here and recieve it's blessings, so I feel a little blessed wearing clothes washed there. One of the most intereseting things that I have seen here is the burning ghat. In our society death is hidden and not talked. Here it is open and visible. Cremations are conducted daily on the riverbank. If someone had told me that we would see people being cremated here I'm not sure how I would have felt about it. But seeing it here in it's cultural context I do not find it morbid or gross or scary. It seems to be just a part of life. Moving onto other things, I have enjoyed Varanasi because we have visited many religious sites here, which was the point of our visit. My favorite one by far has been the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. It was like stepping into another world, so peaceful, quiet and beautiful. The artwork was amazing, partly because of the vibrant colors and partly because of the tremendous amount of it in the one temple. I still have not figured out how the make sculptures out of butter, which were also painted brightly and beautifully. I was thrilled to find out that we will be going to many more places like that. Tomorrow we are leaving Varanasi, I will be sad to leave but excited to move on to the other cities. Until then!!

When it pours

So, yesterday we spent all day at the market in Varanasi and when we got home we were tired so we rested awhile before going to dinner. Around 7:30 we all head to Bread of Life bakery about 10-15 minutes away from our hotel. Dinner was good, but like every other time we eat as a was long. We finally start heading back around 9:30 and it starts to drizzle a little bit. That's ok, no one minds that. Five seconds later, out of NO WHERE, a torrential downpour begins. That is bad, but it only gets worse as the lights illuminating the street also go out...wonderful. The only thing left to do now is get back as fast as possible trying to step in the least amount of cow poop as you can in the dark when the dirt in the streets and the cow poop are all starting to blend into one big pile of mud. We end up splitting into groups of two to three trying to stay together as much as possible and help each other avoid the cows or occasional bike that may come your way. I end up with Mike and Sadaf to begin with and we are doing fine...trying to make ourselves laugh by finding the positives of the situation. For instance: someone (apparently me) will have something to blog about, at least we can drink this water since we can't keep it out of our faces, and...well, I think that's about all we came up with. Anyways, I am walking along fine besides the occasional slip in the mud until my shoe gets stuck around my this happens I have no clue, but Sadaf and Mike wait for me to fix it. Now my only worry is the now 20 pound dress that is weighing me down because it is soaked completely through. Somewhere along the way, Mike goes up ahead to keep up with Brittany, our fearless leader in this downpour, and Rachel joins Sadaf and I. The three of us are almost home...seriously maybe 30 feet, and I see a HUGE puddle so I quickly veer to the right to avoid it and I am successful. Well every part of me is successful except my left side. Out of no where, I fall knee deep into a hole filled with water and who knows what else. I get myself up only to turn and find Sadaf waist deep in the same "puddle" of water. Somehow Rachel helps her out and the first thing I hear from Sadaf is, "I thought I was never coming out!" We laugh the rest of the way home ringing out our clothes as we walk. Finally home we all shower and hang our clothes out to dry and settle in for sleep. Today, Sadaf and I try to find the hole we fell into. It is no where to be found...we are guessing it must have been mud turned to quicksand because all we see is a small ditch about 6 inches deep where we are absolutely positive we fell...interesting. Oh well. It's just another adventure in this wonderfully chaotic place we call India.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mefloquin, Varanasi, and Group Dynamics

Friday: Mefloquin Day. I told you I would elaborate on this gem of a vaccination more in my last post and I know all my readers have been hanging from the edge of your seat, eagerly anticipating this weeks edition. For those who don't know, Mefloquin is a Malaria vaccination that I had to start taking a week before arrival in India, each week after arrival, and for four weeks after returning to America. This fine example of western medicine does have some odd effects: mainly lengthy, vivid dreams. It has been interesting every morning to trade stories with my comrades about where our Mefloquin influenced minds have taken us the previous night. On a more tangible note, we are in the holiest Hindu city of India, Varanasi. The big story from traditional Hindu myths is that if one dies in Varanasi, automatic moksha is given; this is a really big deal as one person may normally be reborn hundreds or thousands of times. In contrast to Delhi and Agra, there are many less tourist targeted market areas and far fewer and less accostive sales-people. Only in the largest tourist spots, such as Sarnath (just outside of Varanasi,) where Buddha gave his first sermon, do those hawking their wares completely ignore your personal space and a polite no thank you. Rishikesh and Ganges River swimming is next (which is likely to be a Mefloquin dream tonight,) which I am very excited about, especially considering the heat has only escalated since our arrival. Our group grows together every day and it seems to me as though we have all changed in our own ways; we encounter things we have not before and it makes us stronger, together, as a result. I look forward to seeing how this continues to progress almost as much as the actual places we are seeing on the remainder of the trip.

Market in Varanasi

Today was a free day in a market in Varanasi and I was thinking that maybe after days of tiring activities we'd have a little break. I was wrong. Shopping so far in India is one of the most intense and exhausting experiences. We took rickshaws to the market, which as other people have said is quite an experience in itself. I have learned to like it, as long as I don't pay too much attention to the road ahead of me.
Before our market activities we visited a Nepali temple and one of the burning ghats. We were followed around by children trying to sell us postcards (what else) and bindi stickers. It is so hard to say no when they continually ask you, and obviously their marketing strategy works because several of us have given into their insistent demands that we need yet another set of postcards. While the kids today were cute and charming, it made it very difficult to enjoy the experiences of the temple and the ghat. This seems to be a common theme in India. It is so easy to get distracted and miss something very important. There is just so much going on.
The market itself was just a narrow alley with a variety of shops and everyone trying to sell you something. It is even a chore just trying to pick out one thing you want, because you are usually being sold 5 things you don't want. When I think about some of the things I have bought, I can't help but be amazed at how easily these people are able to sell us things that we never had any intention of getting.
I think I am getting used to the heat. Sort of. If I were at home right now I would be so miserable, sweating all day and taking a lukewarm shower at night. But it is just all part of the experience, and I feel better at night when I am exhausted and know that we have spent the day well. It takes some getting used to.
Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying my Indian experience. There is so much to take in that my brain will probably be processing it forever. I am already wondering where I can go next and what other cultures are like. Since this is my first time in a foreign country, I think I expected to be constantly conscious of the fact that this was an exotic place. But as different as it is, in some ways it still feels like an extension of home. Weird.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interesting day in the neighborhood

Nemaste (hello) from India!

After our day of visiting the Hindu temple, the University, a Buddhist monestary and Sarnat Megan and I decided to walk around the neighborhood we were staying in before we went to a musical concert. I wanted to buy a Buddha replica for a friend who collects them so we stopped in a little shop we had passed on the way back from town. After we walked in, it wasn't long before we found ourselves being asked to follow the owner farther into the shop to see his "best work". We followed and found ourselves in this small room with a mat on the floor surrounded by shevles upon shelves of varying sizes of Hindu gods, buddhas, and animals.
I looked around asking prices and trying to convert in my head while he showed me Buddha after Buddha. Finally I chose one and paid. While I paid, we all turns out 21 people live in his house! He lives with all seven brothers and their wives and his mother, his sister, his wife and son, and lots of pets. He says that they all run the business together. He really is a wonderful craftsman and was fun to talk to.
After we finished talking he asked me if I liked the mark on his arm, I told him that I did and he said he would make me one...what? he was going to make me a tatoo?, he wanted to make me a necklace with the same symbol. A gift he of charge. Now that is something you don't hear too often in India. We are always trying to be sold something. He makes my gift explaining that the symbol is "ohm" (like what you say when you are meditating) and that is good luck and it is his blessing for me. He asks for nothing in return (at least not from me) and we go to leave...again. Before we can, he asks Megan if she would like one. She says she has no money and he, free of charge, my gift. She accepts and he makes another one just like mine. As he gives it to her, he asks what her gift to him is. cricket...we have no gifts...what have we just accepted and what will happen if we don't find some sort of gift...
Well, we obviously made it out of there because I am writing this so we must have found a gift right? Well, I gues we did if you call 52 cents American money and a small tube of paint Megan bought off a little boy today a gift, then we came up with one. So...lesson learned...don't take gifts if you don't have gifts to give in return. oh well...just another lesson learned in India! :)

p.s. you have all read how crazy the driving is EVERYWHERE...well, here is a quote directly from our driver today: "To drive in India you need three things: Good horn, good bag, and good luck." Where good luck is the most important one...haha. Oh yeah and by bag he means air bag!