A beautiful entity in the form of a computer cord came into my possession. Life is so perfect right now. India has become home. I don’t want to leave Pune. I just want my American family and friends to come here. I have come to love my Ai and Baba so much, it almost hurts me thinking I have to leave them in a month. Also my sitar teacher, Jaya says I’ll be ready to perform the raag I’m working on (Bhoopali) in about two weeks. I’m also getting a sitar made especially for me and Jaya says it’s the best place to buy it. Did I say I’m now cooking with my Ai everyday and learning how to make yummy Maharashtran food? So chhan.
Now I’ll continue writing about my amazing voyage through India in October.
(I will copy/paste the whole trip here just to make it easier to read, even though it is entered in some other spots on this journal. Here it is all together so far.........)
Ok now my trip:
"excuse me, your entertainment compartment is exposed." this line, spoken by one of my travel companions, amanda, gave a great start to the trip...
On the plane to delhi, listening to "bollywood hits". alex had bought a lot of hindi cds to make this trip even more indian, apparently. on the plane , they are playing the worst of the BAD kind of smooth jazz(which is why i am now listening to a cd). it does make me miss the grocery stores back home, though i enjoy this kind of jazz in neither place.
"life is like cherry pie. i liked it a lot more when i was a kid." ~alex, making fun of karla in the book, shantaram (this is really funny if you've read the book...read it.)
we arrived in delhi, there was a 3 hour lay over. there were so many mosquitos. maybe i was too paranoid about dengue but i loaded on deet for a good portion of that time. we are on the bus to autright now (our final destination is a small village called jibhi) . the air has so much weight caused by the smell of blatantly staring men, smog, and heat. i was beginning to feel rather cranky, but then i caught a glimpse of the himalayan foothills' sillohettes only just noticeable and consumed by pollution.
i am reading this book right now called the unbearable lightness of being. surprisingly enough, i had first started the life of pi at the beginning of today (hence the start of our trip), but i accidentally grabbed the wrong book from alex, when i took my unassigned seat on the plane to chandigarh (we couldn't sit by eachother). i found so many amazing quotes from this book, so i am writing them so i won't forget:
"metaphors are dangerous. they are not to be trifled with. a single metaphor can give birth to love."
"we can never know what to want, because living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."
This book (by Milan Kundera), as i have understood so far (i'm only on page 200) is about jumbled up relationships and all the pain and happiness that comes with each conncection. yet, this is just the surface level of the book. it is actually using relationships to exemplify each extreme of a comparison and the fact that the polarities are seen as either positive or negative. more specifically when he compares weight to lightness. he stresses the point that lightness is not necessarily the positive, hence weight is not definitely a negative quality. something to think about. i highly recommend this book (well...i love it so far).
"and what he yearned for at that moment, vaguely but with all his might was unbounded music, absolute sound, a pleasant and happy all-encompassing, overpowering, window rattling din to engulf, once and for all, the pain, the futility, the unity of words. music was the negation of sentences, music was the anti word!"
i suppose what jives with me most about the unbearable lightness of being could even be revealed in the title. unattachment or lightness. i have really found "unbearable". so i have discovered that i have chosen weight with my time here in india and lived with the impact of that decision. and living with the reaction of everything instead of rising above it all. after all, you cannot find "pure bliss" by avoiding life.
after arriving in aut, we desparately tried to find a guest house. unfortunately, there were no vacancies anywhere in aut. luckily, the guy who had been trying to find us a room, had rented a room himself and he let us stay with him. because he was smoking cigarette after cigarette, i had terrible allergies so i took benadryl (my life saver) and conked out almost immediatly. unfortunately for alex, the guy kept waking him up throughout the night, asking him if he wanted to smoke, and when he was asking this question, he was snuggling up next to alex, which is socially acceptable in india. poor alex.
we took a jeep the next morning at the crack of dawn up the mountain to jibhi. this is the place anjali pai recommended (the woman who takes us on crazy treks). little did we know that the place we were to stay was a yoga ashram. so alex and i, as a dedicated yoga team, are going to try do some yoga while we're here.
the rooms are very nice in a log cabin sort of way, perched comfortably in a valley. the rushing of the river below us can be heard at all times.
ok i'll tell you the rest of my first day in jibhi... where did i leave off? oh yes, arrival at the ashram.
we were greeted with not only delicious banana porridge and toast with aloo, but by danielle, sarah lee and sara wexler. they had beat us! after tea, we all decided to go on a hike up a mountain.
after my first few steps, i realized i was suffering from altitude sickness. my body wasn't tired (thanks to months of yoga and power walking everyday) but i wasn't getting any air. my chest felt on fire and my face looked like fire. i was feeling so dizzy climbing, i slipped a few times. just my luck, i fell into a thorn bush. so i was expected to continue, hands bleeding (and there are still thorns in my hands) and no air. the trek was gorgeous though, and every so often, i noticed a rich smell of some sort of lemon citris and evergreens combined.
PRESENT TIME: enough typing for today, i'll finish this hiking story later. sooo much has happened since then. that was just the first 2 days of my travels.
The power went off so I could not finish last night. Here’s where I left off…
As we trekked, the path became more even as was my breathing. Yet, the path was just as dangerous. The skinny trail dropped off at approximately 95 degree angle and if one took a wrong step, one would fall about a mile down the mountain. I thought about what it would be like to fall. I wanted to fall. Not in the suicidal sense, but in a more ultimate freedom and lightness sort of way. That thought scared me. The book I’m reading describes this phenomenon as vertigo, but in much more figurative terms. It is not the fear of falling, but the desire to fall and the fear of that longing. This is vertigo.
Once we were closer to our destination (a tiny village), it became much safer. My chest’s fire was diminished and I was taking advantage of my new ability to breath properly. I spent the last hour trekking to the village learning Hindi from our guides beautiful sister, Kanta. She told me that “Kanta” means wife and if the “t” in her name was retroflex, it’d mean thorn and there were still many of them in my hands (and even a month later, tweezers don’t do the trick). As Kanta (with a dental “t”) taught me Hindi words and phrases, I realized that Hindi was much easier for me than Marathi. It is possible that it’s because I have an aversion to Marathi as class is a bit dry. Hindi was new and exciting to me. Kanta did not speak English very well, but we managed to understand each other to some extent.
Once we got to the village, I felt more comfortable speaking in Hindi than Marathi, possibly because if I said something incorrect I have the excuse that I only started learning that afternoon. The villagers were very patient with me and my inadequate speaking ability. I managed to find out that one village woman had the name “Ganga” after the famous and holy (and dirty) Ganga River, I told her that my name meant “precious gem”. She laughed at the long porcupine quill I had put in my hair. I can’t remember the Hindi name for porcupine quill right now.
We headed back down the mountain. I was feeling very lightheaded with my acclimation problem, so I had to switch off hold Alex’s and Danielle’s hand. I felt so weak. It made me so frustrated that no one else was having such difficulty. My body is in great shape as I take fast hour walks and yoga everyday, but I just couldn’t breathe.
We got back to the ashram after 7 hours of trekking. It was supposed to take 4, probably my fault it took so long. Once back, I realized even more strongly how amazing this little town is. It made me miss my mom so much. This place, minus the hike, is her heaven and I wish she could have been here experiencing it with me.
I woke up at 6 this morning, took a walk, listened to the birds singing and the river running below. I did a little yoga with Alex, then ate breakfast.
Alex, Danielle, and Wex (and by Wex I mean Sara Wexler) went trekking on their own and the others went elsewhere. Maybe if I would have brought my inhaler i would have been able to do another hike…so, I get a me-day. It is a challenge to be with the same people all the time. It’s nice to have time to go inward once in a while. So here I am, snuggled up under down blankets in a wooden cottage, listening to “Because” by the Beatles. And is so sundar (Hindi word for beautiful). And the sky is so blue it makes me cry, the wind blows my mind and so on.
I love the people here. I wanted to call my mom and Alex needed water. Alex is sick right now because he was too impatient to wait and let me sterilize the water we drank from the village well. I’ve been making him eat tumeric and honey and drink peppermint tea. So I headed up to the village while walking up the stone steps to the main road, a primary school was having recess. One boy came up to me, held out his hand and said, “Hi!” I shook his hand and all the children laughed.
I walked a little further and two very young children were standing there, with brilliant smiles spread across their faces. They were expecting me, almost. Each took me by the hand in a completely synchronized art. They escorted me, both still beaming, all the way to the little shop. This just might have been my favorite Indian moment.
People are so friendly here. It is so much different from Pune. When I walk in public in Pune, I am emitting constant hatred for the men staring at me. And that is exhausting and I feel the unhealthiness of my attitude. In Jibhi, however, there are curious, friendly stares, not at all threatening. My defense mechanism was deactivated for the time being and I am finally at ease.
Manali was chhan. I could realistically see myself living there for a year or so. A laid-back mountain town. We arrived after an extremely dirty (even for India standards) bus ride where I was on the verge of vomiting with my altitiude sickness and all. I just went right to bed at our clean (and by clean I mean CLEAN) hotel called “The Meridien” while everyone else went out for dinner. I was feeling very feverish at that point so I was asleep almost immediately. Alex, Amanda, Wex, Sarah Lee, Danielle and I woke at dawn as usual and aimed to feast our eyes on both Manali and on breakfast. We went to a seemingly normal looking Indian restaurant in which I later discovered was much more extraordinary. Two words: Banana Pancake. I STILL can’t stop thinking about how purely blissful my pancake was.
…Alex wouldn’t let me bring a jar of peanut butter on the trip. My supply had been running low, and I finally found some natural nonskippy REAL peanut butter in the camp part of Pune. But Alex said, “I just think peanut butter complicates things.” He thought it was ridiculous that I wanted to carry so much extra weight. But it’s peanut butter. Come ON…
After our heavenly breakfast we hiked up to the Manali Mandir (Temple). It was one of my favorite temples I had seen in India, but the tree next to it was what I found divine.
After viewing the temple, we headed back down the mountain. We noticed that there were Marijuana plants growing everywhere along the side of the road. Every time we saw one, Alex would just stand there, gazing at it for a few seconds, shaking his head in silence. We did a lot of gift buying and bargaining during our day in Manali and then it was time for Alex, Amanda and I to say goodbye to Wex, Sarah Lee and Danielle and catch our bus.
The bus looked nice. We thought we had lucked out with having the entire backrow. Looks are deceiving. If that’s not clear enough, I could also say, how very VERY WRONG we were. I was starting to notice that the bus must not have shocks as the bus filled up completely and my allergies went haywire. On top of being on very bumpy, winding country roads, I found that the back seats were the worst seats in the history of mankind. They did not recline and I had to make a conscious effort to make sure my head was pressed against the back of my seat as I could easily hit my chin on the recline seat in front of me. 12 hours to go. I used me excellent problem solving skills to find a comfortable-ish way to sleep without any support for my head. I had a brilliant idea: use the back curtain pole to tie the new stole I got to create a sling to hold my head. It was moderately comfortable, but the new problem was controlling my own laughter. I must look hilarious! I couldn’t stop imagining what someone would think if they looked back and saw my head completely surrounded by a shawl, suspended in the air, delicately bobbing and swaying to the bumpiness. So I surrendered to tying my head to the back of the seat (which was safer anyway). It looked only slightly less ridiculous. I could at least control my own amusement. I managed to sleep most of the night like this, only waking to the bumps that lifted us (minus my head) off our seats more than a foot and when the two kids in front of me weren’t having tantrums.
We arrived in Chandigarh at 4 am or so and we didn’t really know what to do. Rickshaws were available, but there was nowhere to go at this time of morning. The Lonely Planet guidebook saved us as usual. We noticed a fancy hotel with a 24 hour café. It was there we had really bad omelets and watched Punjabi music videos, mostly about getting married to That Girl.
Once the sun appeared, we went to the Punjab government buildings that were known for their abstract architecture. It was a perfect picture to see a Hemp plant growing in the parking lot with the police headquarters noticeable in the background of the shot.
We wandered into this village just outside of Chandigarh and met a man who spoke no english, but invited us into his home to meet his family and have sweet, hot milk. We spoke very little Hindi so there was a lot of uncomfortable silence. We thanked him and left after a quarter of an hour. We were down a block when Alex realized he left his Lonely Planet at the man’s house. 5 minutes later, he yelled to Amanda and I, “I don’t know why, but we’re supposed to go with him somewhere.” So we followed the man, for what was beyond our comprehension. There was a bright red building. He beckoned us to come with him and we followed him up many staircases to a room we were supposed to sit down a hang out in.
The only other person in this room besides the man who had brought us was a very elderly man in just his underwear. We all sat there, trying to distract ourselves from him dressing shamelessly. Once his checkered blue and white turban was neatly wrapped around the top of his head, we discovered why were there. He spoke English! He was Sikh and he talked philosophy about language, religion, foreign policy, and asked about George Dubya, of course. The problem was, when he got really excited about telling us about something, he would ramble off in Hindi. We asked him about Sikhism and he served us chai and biscuits (we could not refuse…we did try). We took pictures but only after he changed his turban to a pure white one.
I still find that I am unaccustomed to the way females are expected to behave. Everything he said was directed only to Alex. Amanda and I was expected to keep our heads down in silence. He wouldn’t shake my hand after he shook Alex’s.
After we got away, we took a rickshaw to this phenomenal rock garden. I’ll try to put up pictures. Then we wandered around town braved the post office to send the things we bought in Manali back to Pune. Chandigarh is so organized and clean, it almost reminded me of Colorado or rural Minnesota with mountains.
After buying some Punjabi pop music, we took a plane to Delhi that afternoon. I had always been afraid of the place. We had a familiar battle with a rickshaw walla and he eventually found the hotel we wanted to stay at. It was a beautiful place, but they had raised their prices and so we had to go to another hotel. Once we arrived at the much sketchier hotel, I was really stressed and frustrated with my reaction to Delhi. All I wanted to do was cry to my mom. How mature! I would have done just that, but my roaming capabilities that were supposed to be activated during my travels were not (oh, India) and I didn’t want to waste Alex’s minutes on his phone.
We took a taxi to meet Tyler, Meghan, and Alyson at their hotel as Amanda was leaving Alex and I to travel around the north some more. We went in search of a restaurant called Kaki Dada’s Alex’s host Baba had recommended. He told Alex that this place had the best chicken in Northern India.
As we walked to the restaurant, I could not help noticing the poverty was so much more extreme than Pune. Not only that, but I was still terrified of the idea of Delhi. I was in a huge city that wasn’t Pune and I didn’t know how to overcome this fear.
We found the restaurant an it was exactly how one would imagine a dirty restaurant in India. I hadn’t gotten traveler’s sickness yet, but I had a feeling that this ordeal would be the ultimate test for my stomach. The food was SO good. We walked back to the guest house our friends were staying at, said goodbye to everyone and took the taxi back to the hotel.
It was really late but I took a shower anyway. My feet were so clean, they had become almost black from walking the streets of Delhi in my hiking chapels. Cleanliness might just be next to godliness.
Right now, I’m on a plane heading to Bangalore. Airline King Fisher. It is the nicest plane and has the best airplane food, by far, that I have ever experienced. That includes the U.S. and British Airways. On top of that, the stewardesses have the most amazing flight attendant uniforms. My new goal is to get one before I leave India.
Well, the plane is about to land. I am so excited for the south, wildlife sanctuary and clean laundry very soon!
I’m on the bus to Mysore right now. We met this nice lady at the airport. We shared a rickshaw with her and now the bus. She’s going to help us get to Tholpetty, where Wyanad Wildlife Reserve is. I like nice people.
There’s someone in chains behind me. He’s chained to another someone who must be an officer in the seat behind us. I wonder what he did…
That’s all for now! That took so long and that only covers my first week of travel. I really should have been working on my paper. They want us for a movie shoot for the fourth time tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll go. 30 pages! Ai ga. Thik. Acha!