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.