Thursday, June 18, 2009

Endgame

It's incredible how long a week can seem. It's been just over a week since we've all been back, and the adjustments have come slowly and steadily. Amazing how quickly you become attached to people, and how different it is to not be around them every day like you once were. I miss all of you to death, and I've no idea how long it'll take before I'm used to not waking up and seeing everyone in the morning. I can honestly say India was a life-changing experience. Somewhere in between the screeching streets of Delhi, the serene and abandoned Mughal temples in Agra, and the incredible natural beauty of Rishikesh, you find something in India that stays and comes back home with you. I really felt like we were moving up in levels of consciousness every step of our trip, from the crowded mess of Delhi where it's hard to hear yourself think, to the almost complete quiet of places like Dharamsala. I was surprised to find Delhi was far calmer, far quieter than I remembered when we returned at the end of the trip, but I assume that had more to do with my mindset than Delhi itself. Everyone's demeanor and attitude was entirely different our second round through Delhi, compared to our first. It was amazing seeing that transformation firsthand as we came full-circle. While I'm happy to be home (and around tap water I can drink without panic attacks), I can't help but regret that we didn't have more time in that wonderful country. This is a journey I know I'll take with me for the rest of my life, and has provided me with enough stories to fill an entire book (or two).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

so weirrrrrd...

it's so strange being back in the good ol' u.s. of a.  i never really experienced the "culture shock" when first arriving in india, but now that i'm back in the states i think i am experiencing it.  it's funny... the silly things you take for granted.  like regular sized rolls of toilet paper, normal straws, "western" toilets, shorts and tank tops being acceptable almost anywhere anytime, ice, other things that are cold, etc etc.  i loved india, and i plan on going back fo sho, but right now, it's so good to be home.  it was a wild and crazy adventure and i'm so lucky i got to be a part of it, and get to meet a bunch of really cool, different kinds of people.  looooooved iiiiiit!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hailstorm.

हेललो, I'll try to make this my last blog entry. I've uploaded some pictures of our trek up Triund. वे हद अ (I'm sorry it keeps typing in hindi). umm, as we hiked up the trail a Golden Eagle launched off of it's nest a few feet from our heads and then floated around us for the rest of the day, sometimes with a couple of others. At the "top" (there really isn't a top it all seems to keep going up and up and up into space) we were greeted by a some huts serving dal and rice and chai. We chilled up there for a while, literally, as it got right cold and we were all sweaty and wet. Just as we were sipping our hot Chai a thunder storm upon us and hailed like I've never seen before. We huddled under the awning of the shack, Tibetans, Indians, Brits, and us. I got this cool picture of the pack mule eating the hail with Monsignor Seth in the background. We started to head down the other side of the mountian and this way we gazed upon all of Dharamsala, we could see the new cricket stadium close to where the Rajastani Slums were, and we could see the Dalai Lama's home in exile.
Then we got hailed on with no where to hide. Hail doesn't really hurt all that bad. Hail no.
Now that I'm back to Greenville everything seems so slow and empty. I guess because everyone's away for summer. I got real sick my first day back from something I ate at the Dehli airport and had a high fever. It sucked.
Seeing India is essential to any world traveler. I think I may have to put new people I meet into two categories: been to india or not been to india.
Namaskar, g.

India, you've changed my view on life, permanantly and for the better.

All I can say is thank God/Buddha/Vishnu/Ganesh/His Holiness the XIVth, etc for good ol' American wifi! India has definitely changed my views of the world in general. It's amazing to realize the beauty of the things we take for granted, yet at the same time how useless it is that we take them for granted in the first place. I'd give up wifi for a view of the beautiful Himalayas and the clean fresh air each morning as I wake up. I've been to Canada briefly, but never really outside of the states in my life (definitely not this far!) The world is incredible. India is part of the proof for that claim. The people in this world are incredible. The people on this trip also apply to that. I had some great fun with you guys and really enjoyed the trip. Delhi has made the smell of a bowel movement almost reminiscent of good times. Agra has made me realize that I can get ripped off by an 8 year old and not even realize it for weeks. Rishikesh has made me realize that a prepubescent teen could row a raft better than I and green Indian peppers are something that should be avoided if one likes his or her own taste buds. Dharmsala has made me realize a variety of things; one that we take so much for granted, two that we have so much more that we could do for others less fortunate, and three the uselessness of the things that we actually take for granted. All in all, this trip has changed my life. I love everyone on the trip (the plane post might have been a little over the top and I apologize; sleep deprivation and utter confusion can do that, I just didn't expect such vulgar replies) and I've found all of you to be completely unique and interesting individuals. Just the fact that you were all willing to pack up a few bags and head off to India to explore in itself assures me that you all have the mentality and gusto to go and do anything you want. It's people that venture out to see things like that that end up going along and pursuing big dreams. I hope to hear from most of you in the future, and I wish you all the best of luck. P.S. Sorry if my jokes weren't of your taste; just trying to lighten the mood while we were in such an insane environment, I didn't realize it was taken as badly as it was.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

THANK YOU INDIA

Thank you for all the deep breaths and feelings of freedom. Thank you for all your amazing colors painted on the building walls and womens clothes. Thank you for breakfest, lunch and dinner with incredible people that have now become more like family. Thank you for letting your rooftops be our "living" room and the stars and moon our light. Thank you for being my place of wonder and adventure. I've truly enjoyed exploring and figuring you out. Unveiling and rediscovering myself in the process, thank you for the beautiful dance. Thank you for challenging me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Thank you for really showing me what's important. And most of all thank you India for letting me fall in love with you...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

So what was actually learned?

I'm editing this post out, since it's only caused controversy and I really didn't intend to. I really like you guys and I enjoyed every second of the trip. I'm sorry to have caused any problems and really didn't mean to attack anyone in any sort of way. - Blair

Warning: Our Final Leave

So, I need an extra two blog entries as I’m told, and I’ll go ahead and use this one as a warning for the next one. If you can’t handle having your issues in group membership and compassion for others (which if ANYTHING, this trip should have had some effect on that) then avoid the next blog entry; because as much as I enjoyed the trip with you people and the close bond I got with everyone during the trip, something really disappointed me today and I’m going to rail hard on it. I mean no offense to anyone, and no personal insults will be made, but the mentality of the group needs to finally take it’s toll and be reviewed in a blunt matter, and that is what I’ll be doing. I sit on the plane to Raleigh right now typing this blog, just prepping for the correct thing to say without trying to offend anyone, but to call out faults that I believe need to be brought up to everyone’s attention. I am not the perfect person; I do not claim to be anywhere near even what I would consider a good person. There are people in the Peace Corps and non-profit organizations trying to make the world a better place that are good people; I’m not one of them at this stage in my life, and I don’t know if I ever will be. Honestly, I believe I’m a pretty crappy person, when I consider myself in general; but I do hold ethical standards to benefit human beings in general, and when it comes to putting people in a bad/terrifying situation by themselves without any remorse for the action of it crosses the line for me. So if you don’t want to hear these statements, then keep your distance from the next post by myself.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Trekking up the Triund Mt. with 6 others through rain, hail, and God knows how many partial slip-ups, was an incredible experience. When it hurts just to walk up a flight of stairs the next day, you know you did something your body wont soon forget. Our stay in Dharamsala was very eventful, and while I wish we had been able to spend more time in Rishikesh (my favorite place in India by far), being able to experience the Tibetan community in-exile is something I don't think I can easily gloss over. It is incredible to see a people that have been cast out of their homeland by an oppressive foreign government, who then moved as refugees to foreign land, and yet still throughout that have remained not only vibrant, but absolutely charitable in their actions and intentions. India took in these people and yet the Tibetans have looked after not only themselves but have become very active in the slums and poorer areas in India that have often gone overlooked. Such a selfless attitude in the face of losing not only their homeland but spiritual leaders (the Pachen Lama, etc) as well should serve as an example to be emulated, if nothing else. It really is amazing, having moved through the burning humid climates of Delhi and Agra, to the milder climates of Varanasi and Rishikesh, on to cold and rainy Dharamsala, and then back to Delhi again. Not only that, but it is amazing to see how much all of us have changed, how less intimidating Delhi is now, how easy it is to spot westerners who are new here (newer than us at least) and spot the same mistakes in them that we made when we first arrived. It's hard to quantify all of it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

back in dehli [WHAT WHAT]

so after a lengthy, twisty, descending car ride down a mountain, and numerous vomitous explosions of the mouth, we finally arrived back in dehli. it's strange being back here and thinking about our first day in india. we walked around like we owned da skreets, and didn't take nuffin from nobody. we went to this delicious restaurant called united coffee house, which was beautifully adorned with crystals and gold and fancy shmancy paint and table cloths. we all ate a delicious meal and said goodbye to j.t. i was very sad to see him go, i think he is a very cool mang and i plan on visiting him in l.a... fo sho. i'm sad to leave india, but excited to see my family, unwind, lay on the beach, and tell them all about my adventures. we have one final group activity tomorrow and then the rest of the day is free until we leave for the airport. this has been a crazy journey.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

2 more days...

After staying in Dharamsala for 9 days, I feel like I have lived here for months. When we first walked into our 2 dollar a night hotel room, I was nervous that I would be scared about what was to come. Bugs in the bathroom, paper thin walls, watching out for monkeys stealing things, be inside the gates by 11:30 pm, and having to turn the water heater on 30 minutes before it was needed was not what I was use to. But, one week later, I find that I really love that little hotel room and all those problems have turned into an amazing journey. Just after one week I've changed my living standards and have found that people adapt to their surroundings a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. Twice we have visited the slums in Dharamsala and it has been one of the roughest and dirtiest looking places I have ever seen. No one should ever have to live under such circumstances and it's appalling that this compassionate city, home of the Dalai Lama, would allow such slums to exist. With that being said, upon entering the slums, the children's faces still light up with the biggest smiles ever. They run up to hug us and ask us our names, then we walk hand in hand full of happiness. Their surroundings are rocks and tarp tents for houses, but they don't know it any other way. They arn't consumed with material things but rather find fun in the simple things in life. You would have already made their day if you had only given them a little bit of attention and a hug. Their simple, pure love has helped me know how to better live and love in return. I've realized how lucky I am to live in a country where the basic immenties that I take for granted are what these people live day to day searching for. For example, in this slum of 700 people, there is only one water well that is available for only one hour a day. This is only possible with connections through Tong Len, or no water would ever be accessible. Even if the government is not taking steps to help, the directors of Tong Len are showing compassion to the less fortunate. India has opportunities knocking everywhere and I have stories to share for the rest of my life. Yay India! P.S.-I never thought I would say this, but I'm excited about going back and spending a day in Delhi. :)

the india effect

Over the past few days, I've been trying to recognize the ways in which India has affected me. This trip has been filled with crazy transportation situations, amazing religious and historical sites, great friendships, and tons of other experiences that go along with traveling abroad. Going through all of this has made me want to explore more. Not necessarily overseas, but even just within the US or NC. I've lived there my whole life, yet I could give you list after list of major locations I have never visited. I think I am finally at an age where I can truly appreciate different places and/or ways of life, and I can't wait to begin even more trips in the future. More importantly, visiting India has forced me to appreciate the opportunities I've been given while growing up. I've always thought of myself as someone who goes after their goals, but now I realize that the reason I am where I am today has a lot to do with luck. I am so lucky to be a US citizen, to have an education basically handed to me, to know that I have the potential to do whatever I want to do with my life. A lot of the people I've met here, especially those in Charan Ghat, have worked a million times harder than I have, yet they will probably never have a life as easy as mine. It's a difficult realization, but one that has absolutely made me appreciative for what I have. So, though I am sad to be leaving India soon, I look forward to the wonderful life I have waiting for me back home. Namaste!

Friday, June 5, 2009

See you later India..

This is probably one of the cutest girls ever. She was so sweet, energetic, and that adorable smile never left her face. She is one of the many kids where the slum is called home. We visited the slum two days during our visit in Dharmasala. The first day we put on a picnic and the second day we repaired some of the tents that got destroyed during a recent storm. Despite all of the families and childrens conditions they were all so excited to see us and were so polite. It broke my heart to leave all of the children. The other picture is one of the many views we have from our hotel of the Himalayas. We are surrounded by them and every view is breath taking. It is unfortunate and hard to believe that our journey only has three days left :( I have learned so much on our trip. The friends that I've made, bonds I've shared and knowledge I've gained along the way will never be forgotten. I know I will be back to India one day, hopefully it will be sooner than later. Namaste.

late blogger

so... i know i am a late blogger. i've been trying to avoid the interweb as much as possible. needless to say, India is quite amazing, and our trip has almost come to an end. we are currently in Dharamshala, and i think this town is my favurite of the ones we've been to. today, we were able to help out a slum with repairs and whatnot. i learned this really cool way to sew and really enjoyed it. the children there are so adorable, sweet, polite and happy dispite their surroundings. i wanted to take so many home with me. i'm going to try and convinve my family to become a host family. we've been eating so much delicious food here, it's ridiculous. i've had some fried momos tonight, along with cheese macaronni and some fig ice cream. i will miss the fig ice cream fo sho. i think i probably ate it about 12 times a day whilst in Varanasi. one of my favurite places we've eaten is called KarnaNirvana, this lovely vegan restaurant. i sang at an open mic night there a couple nights ago, and it was really cool to watch all the people perform. i really love Dharmshala and India, and hope to return with my family sometime soon.

Final Thoughts. . .

As we near the end of our trip I'd figure I would make one last post summerizeing my past thoughts on India. After visiting the slums the other day and putting on a pic-nic for them it really helps to put life in perspective. These kids and families have next to nothing but still find ways to stay positive and up beat. Just when you think you have the worst situation in life you don't have to worry about your home being torn down or whether you are going to beg or collect bottles for less than an American dollar for the day. These kids are amazing and it feels amazing to put smiles on their faces and do all I can to brighten their day. As far as India the country goes this places is crazy and booming. The developements that are going on here and slowing starting to creep up on the west, but they still find ways to keep their culture and religious values in tact. The people here are also amazing, besides being bugged by people trying to sell you stuff I have never felt unsafe or in danger the whole time I've been here. I've been led down some back allies and into some random persons apartment, but never felt like any one wanted to hurt me. Granted there are exceptions but this is my perception. Also being here in Dharmsala has opened my eyes to the Tibetan cause. I always knew a little bit about it but this places puts it right in your face. It's completely messed up what China has done to these people and their land. The touture that still goes on in Tibet is unbelieveable, and it's unfortunate that the US is too tied up with business and debt to China to do anything about it. I hope one day the Tibetan people get their land and culture back from the ugly hand of China. Anyway off the soap box, India is an awesome place to visit, but it's not for everyone. You have to be able to be patient and deal with alot. From poverty extremes to the unbelieveable spice of the food, its way different than anything you will experience back home. If you do come here bring an open mind and heart and be ready for an adventure, don't stay locked up in your hotel fearing the crazyness thats around you jump right in and be apart of it because thats how you are going to get the most out of it. I have had an amazing time here and can't wait to get back and share all my stories, until then have compassion for all beings.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Necessities

As Andy described in his post, today we visited Charan Ghat which is home to numerous
displaced families primarily from Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The conditions we witness are difficult to describe in the sense that any description I could render would not do it justice. The work Tong-Len does quite literally saves lives and provides hope for these people. For example, Guru-ji, the founder of Tong-Len has worked for four years trying to establish a reliable water source for the people of Charan Ghat. In those four years he has traveled to Delhi, navigated bureaucracy, and paid bribes to get one pump to be supplied with water for one hour a day. Did I mention that the sole water pump serves the entire Charan Ghat community, which is comprised of over 700 people? Adding to the absurdity of the situation is that the people of Charan Ghat are essentially disenfranchised due to their status as citizens of other states and therefore the local government has little political incentive to provide such basic needs. In light of these hurdles the people of Charan Ghat can find glimmers of hope in the services Tong-Len provides. I spoke to a father from Rajasthan who described himself as a lucky man because his nine-year-old daughter, Pinkie, is able to attend Tong-Len's youth hostel. Such a strark admission regarding accessiblity to education, something that seems so universal back home, has since left me speechless.
Thanks to Brittany for the picture.

The Rajastani Refugees.

Our group visited the slums today. About 700 some diplaced people are living in this dried-up river bed with no running water. The living conditions in that famous movie Slum-dog Millionare were better then these. Tong-len is a Buddhist NGO that is helping these folks with education, medicines, and being advocates for them. It's was pretty tremendous to hang out with these malnourished kids and brighten their days smiles, toys, fingernail paint, picking them up and letting them kiss you, feeding them, flying kites, soccer. Wow. I was feeling weak all day do to a fever in the night and bathroom trips, but I managed to stay strong enought to play with these impoverished peoples. They were fed on these really neat indigenous plates made of leaves sewn together. The food was really good. On the way out of the slums I ran into this really cool old guy, but really I began to see how they could live like this at least on some level. I mean as strange of a life it is to live in plastic sheet-tents in total begging poverty with no running water I could almost picture myself in their shoes. I guess that's the first step in understanding people and helping them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rotten Eggs

So, I feel like a total Debbie Downer for writing about this after Nicole's really awesome post, but I just couldn't let this interesting story of India go untold. Anyways, here it goes. Yesterday was a pretty busy day, so I was definitely tired last night and ready to get some good sleep before we met the Karmapa Lama this morning (which was really cool, by the way). So, my roommate Kristen and I are just laying in bed a little before 1am, talking over the day's events. All of a sudden, we catch a whiff of the strongest and most awful smell of sulfur (rotten eggs). By the time we rule out the presence of a dead animal/stink bomb/exploding water heater as the source of the stench, the smell has completely filled our room. Kristen and I both run outside to get some fresh air, where we see Andy, Mac, and Becca. Even though they had already gotten a taste of the smell, they still confirmed that our room was the culprit. The possibility of Kristen and I actually sleeping in our room wasn't looking so good (unless we preferred to suffocate), so we ran around for a good 10 minutes debating on whether or not to wake up the hotel owners at 1 in the morning. Along the way, we happen to see Chelsea talking to this white dude dressed as a monk. As we tell her about the horrible odor in our room, the monk says he knows a few things about plumbing (go figure), so we let him check out our room. I honestly didn't want him to go in there because I just knew he would pass out from the smell, and putting a monk in that sort of danger didn't seem to be the best way to gain good karma. Anyways, he spends maybe two minutes messing around our bathroom, waves a bunch of incense everywhere, and the rotten egg smell was completely gone. Just like that. It was a miracle. By the way, the "monk" turned out to actually not be a monk. However, the long red robes he was wearing definitely gave me and Kristen the impression he was a holy man, and to be honest, it made the effect of the disappearing odor that much more impressive.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm going to live here one day

We're in Dharmsala and I feel amazing. As soon as we arrived I felt the energy here was different. There's something in the air that surrounds you in peace. There's snow capped mountains that frame the skyline and tiny cute shops that line the streets. I feel so much like i'm in Ashville or Boone N.C but ten times better. Monks in red robs walk along side us in the streets, all with smiling faces greeting us as we pass. Its also not uncommon to see 90 year old men and women walking up the same huge hills as us. With their walking canes in one hand and prayer beads in the other, you can sense the quality of life here is strong. I said from the moment I arrived "I know I'm going to live here one day." We havn't visited Tong Len yet but i know we when do I'm going to be completly sold. Today however we walked around the Dalai Lama's compound which over looks all of Dharmsala. It was absolutly gorgeous. Thousands of prayer flags are strung beneath the branches of the tree's. Its was explained to me that when the wind blows the prayers on the flags are ment to bless you as you walk by. I'm just so in love. Last night at dinner I was feeling a little bittersweet. Because as excited as I am to be in this amazing town with this amazing group of people I know its almost over. I'm just trying to take it all in and embrace every moment. I can honestly say I'm having the time of my life. I feel so greatful for this experience.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Happy Hrishikesh Song

It's very hard to top class four rapids and cliff jumping in the Ganges; however, exploring the city of Rishikesh certainly has its own appeal. This afternoon we set out to see the temples and ashrams that comprise the landscape of this holy city. One particularly interesting temple, the Trayambakeshwar Temple, stands 13 stories tall at one end of the Lakshman Jhula bridge. If only this computer had a built in memory card reader I could share my own pictures of the amazing sight. But alas, everyone will have to settle for a picture taken by a professional photographer (thank you google image search). Unfortunately we did not make our way to the famous "Beatles" ashram, where 'The Happy Hrishikesh Song' was written by John Lennon. Next time.
It's a shame our time in Rishikesh is coming to an end. The cool weather and friendly, accomodating atmosphere will surely be missed. This is certainly one place I will be coming back to the next time I'm in India (hopefully soon).

A Perfect Day

Today was the day many of use had been looking forward to. Considering Rishikesh is the yoga capital of India we woke up at 6:45 am for yoga on the lawn at 7. I am still the most non-flexible person ever so trying to bend certain ways, maintain my balance and focus on my breathing is challenging for me. I embraced the moment though considering we are in India!
We then had breakfast on the roof of our hotel which over looks the Ganga River as it snakes inbetween the Himalaya Mountains. Such a gorgeous view. A 45 minute Jeep ride up the river was a terrifying experience because we got WAY too close to the edge of the mountain for comfort. The destinatioon was worth the trip! We were going rafting down the Ganga all day. The rapids were big but fun as well. I wasn't much help during the rapids with my lack of paddling and constant screaming. The water was freezing but felt great in the hot sun. We ate lunch on the river and there was a place where we could jump off a cliff in to the river. I conquered my fear of heights and jumped off which I am so glad that I did.
After the long day of rafting I got my first massage which was interesting to say the least. After about 15 minutes I relaxed enough to really enjoy the massage. I think I may just have to get another one tomorrow sometime :)
I can honestly say that I am falling in love with India and know that I will visit this place in years to come. Thanks to everyone who is following me. Love and miss you all. Namaste!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rishikesh Rapids

Below is the "trash" on the banks of the Ganges right next to the Taj Mahal. It looks like garbage but if you look closer you can see it's all religious icons. Crushed Ganeshas, ceramic pots, and thos circular plaster things representing male and female (real short explanation). Here we are on a boat in Varanasi. No we haven't converted to Hinduism, it's just a blessing we all recieved from this real nice Brahman priest. I really hate to sit here in beautiful Rishikesh on a computer, but I know ya'll are wondering about how we're all doing. After some gruelling travelling situations, which remind me of some of my early family vacations, we ended up in Rishikesh. It's like a Swiss Alps version of India. It's finally cooler and the people are generally more truthful and nicer. We had 7am yoga this morning, then breakfast on the roof overlooking the Himalyan foothills, and then we went rafting on the Ganges Rapids. Yeah! That jsut happened. Old bearded Yogis were looking down from their mountain retreats as we paddled through class 4 rapids, urged on by our softly singing Nepalese riverguide Karin. Rishikesh is like a yoga mecca. I haven't seen so many westerner-hippies since (insert pop-culture reference). I don't mind hippies though, we're all a little hippy these days, come on, people. You'll probably get some more postings about the rafting tomorrow. On and the jeep ride to the rafting is crazy. The road is right next to a deadly cliff that would kill us all and the driving is very uncautious. Its right outta some adventure movie. I thought it was exciting and fun. These drivers have been doing this for years and ain't no ECU students gonna tell him to slow down. I gotta get to some poker. Later dudes.

India's beauty

Traveling from Delhi to Agra and Varanassi, my journal entries soon had a common theme. The people here are tough. They are brought to their thinnest because some are living only on what they absolutely need. Their occupation defines them and they become a part of what they do everyday. Some are musicans and start learning an instrument like the sitar when they are child, grow up learning techniques under a teacher and end up playing professionally or owning a music shop and giving lessons. Some only see thier life by waking up every morning at 4 am to open their store on the side of the street until 10 at night. When you walk into their doors, you take off your shoes and drink their chai and chat for a while before getting down to business and buying some silk. Some beg-whether it's because they are missing an arm and a leg or if they just decide it's the best option. Some drive rigshaws every single day. It's all they do because the rigshaw drivers in India are the scariest but safest drivers I have ever met-that takes skill to mix the two. Taking a rigshaw reminds me of riding a rollar coaster, without a seatbelt. The workers at the hotels we have been to only do things related to the hotel. They sleep, eat, and hang out at the hotel. It's their life. The impressive strength these Indians have to continue living their lives with a smile on their face blows my mind. It's real life here and India's beauty is really being known to me more and more every day. So to leave Varanassi we were suppose to take a train to Delhi leaving at 3:30 pm. But alas, the train was delayed. While waiting, we became surrounded by a circle of around 75-150 Indians starring at us and our mountain of luggage in the train station. Needing a break, we went to a bar for a couple hours and came back where we saw the train to Delhi starting to roll out of the station. Needless to say, 16 people jumped onto a moving train and with this adrenaline we found out we were on the wrong train, going to the same destination with different tickets. We got off at the next stop and took 5 rigshaws back to Varanassi train station, praying that our train hadn't come and gone while we were on our other adventure. Racing back really wasn't needed though, because we didn't board our train till 2 am. We finally arrived in Rishikesh at 5:15 am on Tuesday, only about 17 hours later than planned. Word for the day-patience. But now to the amazing part! Rishikesh! Aaaaahhhhhhh, the most amazing place ever! Dr. Maher planned this trip perfectly because he knew we would need a break for a while. It's quite a contrast from the previous paragraphs. Yesterday we went on a waterfall trek. Everything is so lush and green and tropical here. Water flowing and birds chirping! None of us were expecting this. The hike up to the waterfall was intense and the water was freezing but refreshing. Dinner was served at a huge hut restraunt by the water and it seems like the scene was taken right from a movie. The shops here are the best yet, I can't wait to buy stuff that would be triple the price in America. This morning we had a yoga class out on the lawn. Wowwwww. What a workout-everyone should try it at least once. We also went rafting through the himalayas! It was basically an all day adventure, and we went through one or two class 4 rapids. All I have to say is, if you want to take a vacation and arn't sure where to go, just think about Rishikesh. This place is wonderful, and I wish we had more than just one day left here. Until nex time!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

!?!?! 36 hour Adventure ?!?!

Ok... So I'm about ready to go jump into the Ganges just to get over the past two day trip! Well it started out in Varanasi trying to leave on the train.... our train was to leave at May 24th at 345pm, but due to Varanasi delays it was 11 hours late!! But not all was lost--> We picked up a lonely traveller who was from Canada named Keith who took the extra seat we possessed. He had arrived at the train station hoping to buy a ticket, but for some reason the foreign ticket sales counter was closed... ((and it was still closed when we left)). Therefore, we waited around and at the train station for eleven hours till May 25th 2am for the train to come. Once the train arrived we had a 12 hour trip, or at least we thought it was going to be a 12 hour trip to New Delhi! It turned out our train AGAIN was delayed till 6:30pm arriving! We immediately got onto a AC bus to head to dinner and up north! We were all Famished as all extremes could be! Our blood sugar levels were low and we were all at wits end with each other and probably India itself! I myself am still sick, and I was feeling VERY faint at this moment. Before even reaching the restaurant (Pizza Hut) and before even getting out of the train station our bus had to literally side swipe a billboard sign which at the moment we all thought could have very well fell onto our bus! It was a much needed comic relief as we were all joking about it on the way to Pizza Hut. I think we can all agree that this was one of the BEST meals of our entire time here in India so far... maybe it was the fact that it was comfort food or the fact that any one of us could have agreed that even the food on the street looked appetizing! Well after replenishing our stomachs and me feeling a bit better, we all jumped onto the bus for our 5 hour trip to the North. Again... we presumed it was a 5 hour trip, but as we found out leaving at 9:30pm we arrived at our hotel and it was 5am! So it is now May 26th and I must say this was the worst travelling experience I have had in all of my adventures throughout Asia! Not for the reason I am sick, but for the reason it was so drawn out over a 3 day period and we have had very little rest! So for all of the students on this trip and to all of you reading this at home, please give them a hug and a pat on the back for making this trip! This was a journey in itself and I must say I think even our wonderful professor needs a hug! Today in talking with Professor Maher I found out that our Bus Driver probably had no idea what he was doing.... So I'm glad to know that now since I'm on solid ground and not as we were driving up the Himalayan slopes! LoL But it wouldn't be far to say that a bad journey turns into a good story... Our view here is incredible and it is much cooler than the places we have been, so I'm pretty happy I just now need to get better! Thanks as always-- Kathryn

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A look into India

This is the best picture to show you how Varanasi looks like from the boat tours which we have taken. I have been sick mostly while I have been in Varanasi with an upper respiratory infection, thus I have not been able to get out as much as everyone else. I'm hopeful with my new medication though I'll be back on my feet by the time we reach the North! But let me tell you a bit about India so far... Imagine an India street for instance: take one suborn neighborhood and have all the neighbors dump their trashbens over in the street. Now take all of the neighborhood dogs and switch them out for cows, water buffalos, ox, etc.... Once you have trash and cows walking down the street you pretty much have a mixture for an India street or walkway.. Just watchout for the cow patties! :D But to futher the expereiment our neighborhood would need to buy some ricksaws and everyone must posses at least a bike to get around on! This helps exemplify the controled chaos which one experiences as we all may be riding along in a ricksaw. In India it is a huge game of Chicken, who will be the first car, bike, or ricksaw to get out of the way of the other. However for some reason it works here! We are heading to the train today which is going to be a long trip! So wish us all luck! Thanks for following our blog~
Kathryn

some small observations

So i've been making mental notes of small things I discover each day so I thought i'd share... -Theres millions of little children and everyone here has either got a baby on their hip or a holding a little hand in theirs. But I can't seem to find any pregnant women? -The lines in the street mean absolutly nothing. Cars, bikes, ricksaws, motorcycles all share the same street and go where ever they want on the road. Its like an amusment park ride, if you will, except only in real life. We were all joking the other day, if only our mothers could experience a ricksaw ride, I think they'd all have heartattacks. -Religious life is huge in India which Im absolulty in love with. But the people are mostly, I wouldn't say poor, but not wealthly. So I've come to the realization that because they don't have much, they fill their lives instead with family and religious ritual. Which to me seems like a blessing in disquise because instead on being constantly stressed over money their lives are simple and joyfull. (I believe the love from your family and close friends is all you ever really need) And they deffinatly have that here. -Even the hotel water must been checked. But how crazy is that no one up untill this point has gotten really sick? (knock on wood) I was a little under the weather yesterday, I believe from lack of water, sleep, and the 107 degree heat. A quick nap perked me up and reminding myself that IM IN INDIA always makes me feel better! Love to all that are following me. -Nicole

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Whos your friend?

I have to say so far Varanasi is the best place I've been in India. Being right on the Ganges river helps you atleast think your cooler. I would love to take a dip bit kind of afraid of getting about a million infections, I don't know how the locals do it here and come out alive. This town just screams Hinduism, every where you go there are images of Shiva or the Om symbol, its pretty amazing to see how involved these people are with their religion on an everyday basis. The other day I took Sitar and Tabla lessons. Tabla are 2 drums that are mostly played with your fingers. It was harder for me to grasp because I'm use to being quick when it comes to instruments, but these drums provided a challenge for me that I'm more than willing to accept. Sitar was a little with easier than I though but the sounds you can make with that thing are crazy. My guitar experience help me alot in understanding guitar, as the scale structures are the same and so are some other things. I would love to take one home with me but I don't think there are any Sitar lessons in Greenville. One thing that messes with your mind here in India is who to trust. You have plenty of kids and other people coming up to you and telling you they are your friend, they give you best price, or let me take you to my family shop. It's hard to tell who is looking out for your best interest or who just wants to get the most money from you. For example the other day I agreed to follow this boy I met to his 'uncles' shop to look at pants. He said his uncle was a whole saler and could give me best price. After walking down some winding alleys we made our way up to an apartment and into a room with a bunch of cloth. After some small talk he started showing me all his stuff. Immediately I knew it was one of those situations where your not getting out with out buying something. Some I bought some pants that I probably paid a little much for and agreed to pick them up later on. When I picked him up he asked me where all my friends were and why I didnt bring any, and told me if I brought people he would give me a cut. Either way pretty sketchy. Also all the kids around here talk so much trash about each other saying how the other ones are ripping you off and cheating you. So many minds games it makes your head spin. All in all you just have to use your street smarts and best judgement when it comes to doing anything in this country, and always be on high alert. But from chaos comes clarity.

Yay India :)

Hello from India! This place is so amazing, but so different from home! So far, we’ve visited three very different cites. First was Delhi, which was so full of life and great markets and interesting smells. The people there were pretty nice, but it was our first stop, so I was still really self conscious about all the staring and awkward waves. Now I’m just used to it, and I might actually miss the attention when I get back home. And, of course, the whole wave of culture shock hit me while shopping in Delhi. No one could have prepared me for all the sellers who just won’t take no for an answer! I feel like the Delhi markets were just practice for the touts we met in Agra. These kids will do anything to guilt you into going to their shop! I tried to get out of there without getting ripped off too horribly, but the tout Big Vicky, with the help of our own Blair, sold me a marble paperweight for way too much. Oh well, it’s still cute. Despite the touts, the Agra Fort and of course the Taj Mahal have definitely been two of my favorite sites thus far. The architecture is so beautiful, even better than my expectations. After Agra, we arrived to our present location – Varanasi. This has been the most relaxing destination, by far. We’re located right on the Gages River, and the sunrises here are awesome. I feel like what makes this city really special is how open people are with practicing their religious beliefs. It is definitely a lot different from how religion is usually expressed back home. Overall, I’m having a great time here. I’m usually exhausted by the end of the day, but each morning I wake up refreshed and ready to jump into something new.

Friday, May 22, 2009

India = Amazing

Namaste from India!! ( it means hello in Varanasi where I am right now, but please to meet you in Agra, weird) India is...AMAZING! Amazingly beautiful, interesting, HOT and dirty all wrapped in one. When we first got to Delhi I didn't know what to expect. There were cows/bulls everywhere and the roads consist of a dirt path. Everyone has their family owned shop along the streets where they immediately bombard you for your business when you walk by. I am learning a lot about their culture and religious practices as well. The Taj Mahal was breath-taking. The structure is so massive with such intricate detail. OH! there are these things which take place as our taxis called Rickshaws. They are such an interesting ride. They go so fast and I find myself holding on for dear life praying I will make it to my destination alive. I have met so many Indian people so far. They are all so friendly and helpful, but you have to be cautious about them so they won't take advantage of you, for your money that is. We are in Varanasi right now and it is HOT! It only gets up to be 106 which is good compared to Agra and Delhi. The norm temperature in those cities is 115. Varanasi is cooler because it is on the river. Our hotel overlooks the Ganges River and we took a boat ride yesterday at dawn to watch the sunrise. We saw people doing Yoga on the river side and people washing their clothes and bathing as well. They bath in the Ganges to wash away their sins and they consider it their holy water. We also came up close and personal to the cremation ghat where over 200 people are cremated a day. We saw a cremation ceremony in progress which was, interesting to say the least. Oh yea, and I got blessed by a Brahman! No bad karma for me! It is amazing to see there lifestyle because it is a drastic difference from the one we have become accustomed to. I know I will experience so many more memorable moments in the cities to come.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Randomness

I think the first picture is Agra Fort. I tried to upload a video, but ran outta time.

IM IN LOVE WITH INDIA

I've fallen in love with India and anticipate that coming home to the U.S will be bittersweet. The culture is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I feel like I've gone back in time but in the most amazing way possible. The people here submerse themselves in daily religious ritual which becomes visable everywhere you go. Varanasi has been my favorite city thus far. The city itself is outlined by the Ganges river. I've always said I feel like my soul belongs by the water. Theres something very magical about this place. Our hotel over looks the river which gave rise for the perfect oppurtunity to have breakfest on the balcony yesterday. HEAVEN! Right down the street theres an open market where holymen sit and women sell jewelery. Around 7pm the sun sets a beautiful glow on the entire city. It's site is literally like something straight from a movie. I've taken lots of pictures but none can do justice to actually being here in person. There's a simplicity to life in India. It's a place of peace and very jeweled in spiritual undertone. I wish so much it was more like this in the U.S. However I am greatful for all that I have. I can't wait to expereince more. I can't believe its only day 7. I'll write soon. Untill then NAMASTE

The steps to the Ganges

It is my time to write and it is our second day here in Varanasi..... The train ride was incredibly long, and I was surprised that we had very few chances to buy food along the train route. I'm currently am sitting in our hotel in the fan cooled lobby which is an attempted at providing cool air. Readers from America may think were crazy but thank goodness even for a fan when its 120 outside, and I do not think I'm exaggerating the heat. Varanasi has a lot of marble, so the heat is even more exemplified, but let me tell you not so much of the heat but rather our trip. We woke up early this morning to take a boat trip along the Ganges River to see all of Varanasi. We saw many Ghats which means "the steps to the river", these Ghats (which literally are steps) is where thousands of Hindus come to bathe in the Holy Ganges and I must say it is pretty amazing to see people bathing and washing themselves in the river as they do! The water could be comparable to the Tar River of Greenville... so imagine that! However, the heat has taken its toll on me today, so I'm currently inside due to heat exhaustion. I'm going to take it easy for the remainder of the day, but here in Varanasi we will be exposed the the classical music scene of India... and I'm pretty sure someone will soon be reporting on that! One last note... so far compared to Agra and Delhi.... the people here have not hassled me as much to buy things as they did in those two cities! When I say hassle I mean literally following you till you give them cash! LoL :) Oh note from the local Indian... it is 43C outside right now, he says it is even too hot for him, so do the math conversion to give you the true temperature. Good bye for now! Kathryn

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A tale of two cities?

Being two cities away, it is a bit easier to talk about New Delhi and the contrast between what I've seen between there and Varanasi. One can prepare themselves for certain levels of poverty and unrest, but my first day out in Delhi was filled with encounters with people with missing limbs and open wounds and sores, not to mention others with fabricated stories designed to pilfer money right out from under you. It gets to the point where you're unsure who really needs help and who is just orchestrating a scam. Even with that said, Delhi would have been managable for me before the incident that Kristen already mentione in her blog happened - having a beggar come up to me with pen sores on an arm covered in a sheet, plead with me to help him (and offer no other response in English when I asked him what he wanted), and then to grab my ankle and touch my foot and his forehead (which Dr. Maher later explained was an act of submission and supplication)... well that was just too much for me. It's one thing to have a woman randomly ask you for rupees, but one cannot help but flinch when someone prostrates themselves in front of you as if they're a lesser being. That one event shook up my entire day, and pehaps I shouldn't have let it, but it is difficult to know how to react to that level of suffering.

Agra was a different story altogether. Agra didn't have the vibrant markets, sceeching horns or massive levels of poverty that Delhi did, but instead it had a bunch of piranha-like children trying to con you out of your money every second. they learn your name, where you're from, and they practicall stalk you. I think everyone in the group ended up buying something especially overpriced (except perhaps Karen due to her excessive bargaining skills) and most seem to be happy to be away. On the other side of things, the food in Agra was nothing short of fantastic, the restaurant owners were incredibly amiable, and the main attraction - the Taj Mahal - was nothing short of fantastic. Pictures cannot due that monument justice. Arabic is scrawled along almost every archway in tribute to the Quran, and there is such perfect symmetry shown in all the different areas and pieces. I couldn't help but be in awe of the entire thing.

We arrived in Varanasi after a 12 hour train ride, and we'll begin exploring tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how this town compares to the previous two.

I miss wifi.

I can't make posts from my netbook? Not cool. So, it's not like I didn't expect it, but rather didnt' think about it not being here. Typing on some stranger's keyboard on a Windows 2000 machine, in a room that's about 100 degrees. I've tried to call people I miss, and no one answers at 5:30am, so oh well. I spent all of yesterday hanging out with the guys at a shop up the street from the hotel we stayed at in Agra very cool guys, but we're late to meet the group so we're about to run to the hotel! Bye!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taj Day

I was going to upload a bunch of photos to flickr, but I left the battery in the hotel across the street and I have this place for an hour. As you've read from the others, it's kinda warm here. It's the kinda day that would shut down Greenville, people would just say, oh heck no I'm not going out in this,...its everyday here. We had breakfast on a rooftop hotel overlooking the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful and big. As the sun rose we watched childrens' kites battle each other with glass-lined strings and ate pancake-wrapped bananas. Today is Taj day. There were alot of visitors there in flowing flowery saris, kids bumbling about, and... it was very overwhelming. I was able to sneak in my little Moleskin and colored pencils and did some colored rubbings from the inlay of precious gems that make up flower patterns all all all all all over this soo white of a building...I wish I had bigger paper and a plan. We sat in the shade of the Mosque (not in use) building and just gazed at the thing for a while. It's so bright its hard to look at. After Taj, Sarah and I ate pizza (so good), Raita (a cool onioney dish), with naan. We then rode with Vickey on the back of his scooter to a place that sells head scarves for men. These things are very handy here and I wish I could get away with wearing in the states. I'll try to find more. Mine was 44 Rupees. Dirt cheap. Tonight we are spending the night on a train. I think I can't tell you where for security reasons. I'm sorry I don't have a photo to upload. I'll try later.

Agra: Day 2

Reporting live from Agra, India! Today we visited India's prime jewel, the Taj Mahal. Pictures and descriptions can't do this place justice, it something you have to see in order to truly understand. The detail that is in that place is amazing, there are so many small intricate things that go into to making that place truly astanishing. On other notes, I enjoy being in Agra so much better than Delhi. The air is clearer, its easier to get around, and every where you go you have a view of one of the 7 wonders of the world. One of the hard parts about being in India in general though is seeing these small kids trying their hardest to sell you things. It's hard to imgine being 7 or so and having to be on the street in the hot sun selling things. These kids should be out playing and enjoying their youth, it's one of the many things we take advantage of in the west. Don't believe what you hre about India being hot it's not true. . . alright i'm kiding, like alot, no seriously this is the hottest place I've ever been in my life, but it's beauty and charm out weigh any heat. The heat usually strats to build around 9 and after that plan on having perma-sweat until the sun goes down. I really don't mind the heat though it's just being wet in your own sweat all day that gets to me. This place really opens your eyes to how millions of others live in the world. These people are so friendly and accepting. One thing I find quite funny here in India is tons of people want to have their pictures taken with us. I don't understand, I'm not famous or important I'm just a college student! For example at the Taj Mahal today me and a couple others were just sittting down beside it and then one person asked to get their picture taken with us, then another, then another, and another. Before we know it we must have taken 50 pictures, so much we had to tell the people sorry we can't take any more and walk away. Its people from all walks of life too, kids, parents, old folks, they all wanted a picture. But it really warms my heart to see people so open to us. Next stop Varanasi!

aap ka naam ka hai?

So I've heard it is 115 degrees today. Its a little scary how such a temperature does not surprise or alarm as much as it would have one week ago. Air conditioning, wherever it can be found, is pure bliss in this environment. Today we officially went to the Taj Mahal. After spending a good portion of yesterday taking pictures from surrounding rooftops, the adjacent river, and Agra fort. The structure was simply astonishing. See Mac's post for the pictures. Afterwards we employed a bicycle ricksaw to return to our hotel. The ricksaw driver's (or cyclist's) exhausting effort in such tremendous heat quickly had me feeling sorry for him. Despite the heat and energy, several bicycle ricksaws approached us later this afternoon as we set out to the Taj Cafe. Overall, I think I'm more fond of Agra than I was of Delhi. The vendors here are equally, if not more, aggressive for our business, which can be annoying at times. Nevertheless, we have met and had the opportunity to practice our limited Hindi with some very interesting young salesmen (many of them children). I'm not sure how many of these children are under the impression that I'm going to shop at their store (the only store that doesn't charge commission, of course), but I'm sure they will be more than happy to remind me on the trek back to the hotel. phir milenge

Sunday, May 17, 2009

beggers and sellers

India has made me: - bathe in my sweat - wake up at 5 every day - OCD about food and germs - realize delhi is smelly So culture shock was yesterday. And it wasn't the necessarily the fun experience I was hoping it to be. While Dr. Maher was making lunch reservations, Seth and I were waiting in the rig-shaw. A begger comes up to the cart and he has this box of ointment and hands it to Seth. He points to his arm covered in a blanket and is obviously asking for help and money. He shows us his arm underneath the blanket and the entire lower half of his arm is covered in a huge, bubbily, horrible infection. I just turned away when I saw this. With him being very persistant and sad, it was really hard for me to take this. After a while, he goes down to Seth's feet and puts his hands on them, showing that he was below him. The next time I looked over he was crying; my mind and heart were so torn. Along with this man, begger children were all around the group throughout the rest of the day. It was easy for me to brush them off and ignore them, which you have to do to an extent to most people here. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire have shown me examples of all the many scams that take place in India regarding beggars and the poor. But these are human beings, and they live a life I can't even imagine surviving in. It's hard to put into words the feelings that race through your mind once you walk the streets of Delhi. The opposite side of the spectrum is the markets. Sellers are coming up to you, and you HAVE to ignore some of them or you will be there all day. I've been to places like Mexico and Southern Europe were markets are popular like this, and all of those combined did not wear me out like the markets here. It's rough. And that was just Day 1. But now it's the end of Day 2, and life is good. I think I'm about to go buy an Indian skirt for 3 dollars. -Kristen VanDeusen

Saturday, May 16, 2009

smells

I realized that I wasn't going to get any more sleep, so about 7am dehli-time, i got up. the bed just a futon on a board, so i'm pretty used to that. i asked the bellboy for some change and bought some bananas from a white haired man sitting next to piles of them. the bananas were good. its a dusty city. i went to the roof and did some yoga as the sun rose and the sound of hindu hymnals sung through load speakers. i watched some ants devour a larger bug. Later, we टूक 3wheeled रिक्क्षव्स (rickshaws) through the bustling city. it reminds me a little of mexico city, old cars, crazy driving, dust, people walking infront of everyvehicle. we visited the lotus flower shaped B'hai temple. it is awesome. of course everything is awesome here, but how this was constructed and just perfect it is. inside, we weren't allowed to speak or wear shoes, which really seemed natural. the rest of our group left and i found myself being invited to the prayer. i sat down and listened as a man sang a song, and then switched with four different readers and four differnt holy books, and then another song. it was very nice. after some chinese food(much much different than the stuff in US) we went to an underground bazaar, which was mostly annoying, but good in that it kept us awake, due to jetlag. we also visited shan jahan's observatory, a magnifecent place of stairs, angles, graduted lines on walls, astonomy, and generally cool looking buildings that are basically gigantic tools. people here have a sense of humor and have no trouble with my stupid antics. Jason, it smells pretty good here. walking down one street it can run the gambot from cow-poo to fresh herbs, beatie cigarettes to human BO, bad breath to the most delicious-smelling wafts coming from street vendors. people are waiting for me. Talk to ya'll later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prepping for the longest day of my life...literally.

So, I call first dibs on a blog entry! After squeezing about half ton of Dr Maher's supplies for Tong-Len, a dozen or so kites and toys for the kids, and whatever stuff I couldn't bring on the plane into an old cloth Indian bag of Dr Mahers (whose zipper decided to break as soon as we tried to close it, go figure) and then tying up the whole thing in twine just to keep it closed (yeah, I'm getting searched), I'm prepping for the longest day of my life tomorrow, literally. All I have equipped myself for the trip is 4 white tee-shirts, a pair of linen pants, my camera, and my handy-dandy netbook. I figured if you're going to India, indulge and bring as little as possible. Some might see the laptop as overdoing it, but I don't want to lose my mind before I even make it off the plane. I've become a bit too reliant, but hopefully this trip will help with that as well. I've got great expectations, and I'm ready to go nuts with my camera (All of my pictures will be uploaded on my DeviantArt account here), and hopefully post some great pictures for everyone, until then, I'll have fun watching this view for 22 hours or so. (Yeah, I took it in the Rockies; close enough. I'll hope for a better version of the real thing soon.) In the words of the Great Derek Maher himself; see you on the other side. :P

Friday, April 10, 2009

Introduction to the Fourth ECU in India program

I am a professor of Religious Studies at East Carolina University. See our website here: www.ecu.edu/religionprogram and also here: http://www.ecu.edu/religionprogram/india/ For the fourth year in a row, I am leading a study abroad program to India. You can see the blog from 2006: http://ecu-in-india.blogspot.com/ and a photo gallery from 2006 here: http://www.ecu.edu/religionprogram/india/slides/ Our blog from 2007 is here: http://ecuinindia2007.blogspot.com/ and our blog from 2008 is here: http://ecuinindia2008.blogspot.com/ We invite you to follow the progress of our journey as 15 students, my assistant JT Pitt, and I visit some of my favorite sacred places in India. JT and I will arrive in India in early May and the students will follow several days later.

We hope you enjoy our journey.

Derek F. Maher, Ph.D. Director, Religious Studies Program maherd@ecu.edu Office 252-328-5332 Mail:Religious Studies Program Brewster A-327 East Carolina University Greenville, NC 27858-4353