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