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Published: January 25th 2008
I've gone over this blog in my head about a dozen times, but have generally not felt like sitting at a computer...or when I have felt like it, the internet isn't working. One day I started writing a sentence in an email to a friend that then turned into a long string of descriptive terms/statements. It kinda just felt like the right way to convey my thoughts on India so far...so here you go. All the comments have purpose & stories behind them...so feel free to ask me about them if you like. But there's just too much to tell in detail about this place and I don't feel like recounting it all here at this time, so enjoy my (verbal) incontinence...
India is...Dirty. Colorful. Forts. Hindus. Loud. Saris. Chai. Temples. Jains. Complete lack of queuing etiquette. Hmm...actually just a complete lack of queuing at all. Crowded. Tasty. Tata. Old. Trident-bearing sadhus. New. Bumpy. Behind schedule. Pee any(every)where you want. Defecate any(every)where you want. "You give me something for my study...". Fighting. Magh Mela. Tikka. 5hr bus ride somehow became 12hr. Cricket. Buddhists. Maybe I shouldn't have had those samosas. West suburban silver conference. Henna. The bus is never full.
Staring. "Yes sir, you come look my shop? Just looking, no buying". Rickshaws. Swastikas. Bargaining. "Rama-Sita-Rama-Sita-Rama-Sita..." Baksheesh. Spitting. "No spitting in the complex". No-spitting signs don't work...so more spitting. It's all in your attitude. Intermittent electricity. Bracelets. Paan. Muslims. Burning corpses. "Why not?". Super-nice people. Trains. Beggars. F'ed up caste systems that determines if you'll be OK in life or if you'll have your parents mess you up physically so you become a better beggar while you crawl around on your hands and belly for the rest of your life. Hash/weed/opium. "What country sir?". Real-time traffic court/justice where you (and your truck) get literally pulverized by a mob if your truck hits two school girls...I don't want to know what happens if you hit a cow. Shiva-Brahma-Vishnu. Bollywood movie debuts. Refuge at a Tibetan monastery. Ghandiji. Bollywood movie filming. Meditation. "What to do?" Kingfisher. Arrow of the blue skinned god. Spiritual purification in a river of sewage. Laundry purification in the same sewage. The world's most persistent merchants. "Hari-Krishna...Hari-Rama"...constantly on the radio. Gulab Jamun. Drying cow poop patted onto the wall/road/floor/ground/etc to be used as fuel for fire. Pilgrimage. Floating corpse. Ancient porn temple carvings. Immodium. Immodium isn't up to
the task?...then ciprofloxacin & norfloxacin. Thousands of monks praying/puja-ing for world peace. Shahi paneer with butter naan. Perfect winter weather & I'm so glad I'm not here in summer. And cows that are so holy they can do what they want but no one takes care of them so they eat garbage and are often skinny - for a cow, that is. Come and check it out. India rocks.
Ok, take a deep breath.
Mingyur Rinpoche writes about how our consciousness is like water tumbling over river rapids...or something like that. If you pause to be aware of your thoughts without either following or blocking these thoughts, you can notice how quickly they come and go and how randomly active your mind really is. I guess the above is my mind's Indian-waters tumbling along churning up all kinds of thought fragments. Like I said, there's a lot more that goes with each single word above, but I can't possibly write about it all. But here's an attempt to touch on some of it and to give my India story at least a bit of form.
Who's Mingyur Rinpoche? He's the brother of the Tsoknyi Rinpoche...the head of
Osel Ling. He's also the dude who was doing teachings at Tergar Monastery in Bodhgaya. I'll get to that in a bit.
To give you a general idea of where I've been...Delhi, Agra, Khajuraho, Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Allahabad, Goa, and Mumbai. I'll cover it all over the next 2 entries. Gung-Ho...Not So Much
I'll be brief about Delhi. After 3 months in Nepal of limited touring, I hit the ground running - thinking that I'd be ready to tour my brains out. Well...it took only a day and a half before I was mentally over Delhi and ready to move on to something else. But during that time I did see some cool things that Delhi offers. Hamayun's Tomb, India Gate, Ba'hai Temple, Jama Masjid, Raj Ghat, and a Ghandi museum. I don't have much historical information to give you about those places...just check out the photos.
I will say that I expected to be overwhelmed by India. People are always talking about how it's a complete assault on the senses, people are everywhere, etc. I suppose those observations are true, but I think that after 6 months in Asia I'm just used to it by now. So
More Ghandi Stuff
Considering the pervasive culture of fear that is popular these days...perhaps this isn't too bad of a thought to ponder.
yes...there are people everywhere...there are rickshaws out the wazoo...there are beggars...there are merchants...it's noisy...but for some reason I can roll with that fairly well by now. Racking Up Another UNESCO Site
Despite the warnings from everyone in Delhi, I showed up in Agra on New Year's Eve without a hotel booking. This plan hasn't failed me yet, so why let something like the holiday season & fuller hotels get in my way? I got off the train and swallowed up by the rickshaw-wallahs and hopped into one. He took me to the hotel closest to the Taj Mahal (which had told me on the phone the previous day that they were full) and they had one room left. I dumped my stuff and went to check my email. Oddly enough, the only other person in the cafe I chose was Karita - a Finnish girl I met twice in the internet cafes of Kathmandu in November. So 20 minutes after arriving in Agra with no plans, I had a room close to the Taj and folks to hang out with for NYE. Sweet.
I spent the day wandering around town and the outside of the Taj. I managed
The NYE Crew
Pippa (England), me, Karita (Finland), Eva (Germany), and Marco (Switzerland)
to find the funeral ghats along the river and saw several fires burning away. It felt rude hanging around there, so I moved on and paid a boat guy to take me to the other side of the river for some photos of the Taj. I planned to have been back to my room mid-afternoon, so I wasn't dressed for the cool that comes after sundown. But after drawing in the sand, sitting on a camel, chatting with some Indians (and by "chatting" I mean that I spoke English and they spoke Hindi...but we hung out for over an hour anyway), taking too many photos, watching sunset, and chatting with some other tourists - I found myself still there 3 hours later and shivering in the post-sunset chill. It was a great afternoon of exploring.
Note - I mentioned a camel above. There was a guy charging Rs100 to sit on the camel for some photos. At first I rejected his offer because that's just my normal response to anyone trying to sell me something here. But after thinking about it...$2.50 isn't a bad price to pay. I mean really, when's the next time I'll have my photo taken
on a camel with the Taj Mahal in the background? While a bunch of us took our turns on the camel, there was an Indian guy with a fancy camera taking photos. We joked that he was the media and we'd be in some travel brochure or something like that. Close...the next day there was a photo in the newspaper of two of the girls on the camel. He was a reporter after all. I narrowly missed my chance at Indian fame.
My $10 NYE party ticket got me a rooftop seat, a buffet, music, and one Kingfisher beer. There was a good mix of Indians and foreigners on the roof eating, dancing, and lighting fireworks. They tried to stop serving beer and playing music at 10pm...but we wouldn't let them. This game of "We can't"..."Yes you can" continued through the night...sometimes getting to the point where after they turned off the stereo we'd go take it over. Unfortunately, they kept playing the same CD over and over. I never need to hear Shakira again. The big sacrifice I had to make for the night was to keep dancing with all the backpacker girls in order to keep the
drunken Indian guys at bay. It's a tough job...but someone's got to do it.
In the morning I headed straight for the Taj at 5:30am to be the first in line for 2008. Good plan...bad execution. I went to the South Gate - the one closest to my hotel...only to realize at 6:03 that this was the only gate (of 3) that doesn't open early. I was further dismayed when they wouldn't let me in with my tripod. How can one take proper dawn photos sans tripod? Clearly they want to corner the market on the good shots of sunrise on the Taj. Anyway...I spent the next 3 hours with my finger glued to the shutter button on my camera and surrounded by zillions of others doing the same...all while fighting for the prime photo-taking locations.
The Taj is indeed cool. Really there's not much more to be said about Agra.
Actually...there is one more thing. Tourists pay Rs750 ($20-ish) and Indians pay Rs20. Nice mark-up. Sex Sells
If it wasn't for some 1000 year old Kama Sutra (various sexual positions) temple carvings, I'm pretty certain no one would have ever heard of Khajuraho - a
Lotus Temple At Dusk
Taken while continually trying to convince a guard that he should let us stay. "Us" being me and a dude from Indiana I had met there.
small town in the middle of nowhere. But some suggestions from other travelers was enough to draw me in. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by the carvings and temples, but had a good time there anyway.
I was walking down the street one day and a dude said "Are you from Australia?" Everyone here thinks I'm Australian...but I think it's only because there's currently a Test Cricket Series (Test Cricket is the type that lasts 5 days) going on between India and Australia. They love their cricket here...so they always want to talk about it. So we started to talk cricket. I asked if he ever plays...yes, every day...can I play...sure, let's go. So off we went to make my cricket debut.
I was the 2nd to last to bat...scored 8 runs on my first 3 balls (whiffed on ball 1, scored 4's on balls 2 and 3 - very impressive)...then whiffed on several balls before getting out on a tipped ball. Not such a great effort. But it was a fun debut anyway.
We hung out some more, he took me to some other temples...the local town (rather than the tourist town)...and his uncle's house
India Gate At Night
Saw this while cruising home on my rickshaw. Hopped out and snapped a quickie photo.
for dinner. Before dinner we went out to get some chicken. And by "get some chicken" I mean that we went to a farm and watched the guy slit the throats of 2 chickens and then gut, cut, and prepare them for us 5 minutes later after they had flopped around before dying. Another odd site for this suburban kid. But it definitely was pretty cool to hang out with him all day and get away from the tourist scene of the town and temples. He invited me to a family wedding the following week as well. I was sorta considering it - until at the end of the evening he put on his pathetic face an monotone voice to say "You give me something for my study..." Are you kidding me? Really? We hung out for 8 hours and he seemed totally legit...only to end it in the annoying "give me something" way. Oh well...I had a good day nonetheless. "You're Very Difficult To Figure Out"
I woke up early one morning to go to what I thought was a Yoga session with a dude named Yogi Sharma. I was expecting it to have at least a little
Happy New Year!
Apologies for the crookedness...but I think this was literally the first picture this guy ever took.
to do with exercise/stretching/anything physical. Instead 4 of us sat there and listened to this old guy ramble on about his philosophy on life. At the end he sequentially asked us our birthdays and would tell us about ourselves. I really don't remember it all, but mine was something like this...
Yogi - "You are an artist as a profession."
Me - "Engineer." (Started out cynical, but had an open/curious mind)
Y - "Engineering can be a form of art."
M - "Sorta."
Y - "Is there a form of art you like?"
M - "Sure...music & photography."
Y - "Yes, I knew this would be the case."
M - "Uh-huh." (right...because who doesn't like some form of art? Cynicism rising)
Y - "What happened 5 years ago? Something happened in your life."
M - "You mean something happened during a 365 day period of my life? I guess lots happened during that time." (Cynicism reaching 8 or 9 on the scale)
Y - "But maybe you moved or changed jobs?"
M - "I moved the year before and had been in the same job for 9 years."
Y - "Hmm...what is your girlfriend's name?"
M - "Don't have
Camel, Taj, and Sunset
Worth the $2.50 I paid to sit on this thing.
Y - "What was
your girlfriend's name?"
M - "There have been several, could you be more specific?"
Y - "I think you are not married yet because you are too attached to your mother."
M - "I just haven't found a woman who can make milkshakes like she can." (Cynicism is through the roof at this stage)
Y - "You're very difficult to figure out."
M - "Welcome to my world..."
He babbled on a bit more and was about to move on to the next person, but I had a final question. When talking about the girl before me, he had told her to not eat any more hamburgers...honestly...that is what he told her.
M - "Umm...I have a final question. I can still eat hamburgers, right?"
Y - "Ahh...no. You are a protector and must not eat meat." (This answer actually went on for another 5 minutes, but he lost me at "no")
All in all, it was an annoying experience...but just humorous to make it worth waking up early. "Neither 'Not Cup', Nor No 'Not Cup"
Before leaving Osel Ling, Khempo had told me that he'd be in Bodhgaya until Jan
8th and that I should meet him there. Bodhgaya is one of the primary places of pilgrimage for Buddhists as it is the place where Siddhartha Guatama (The Buddha) attained enlightenment...or Buddahood.
By the time I left Khajuraho, I wasn't exactly trying to attain enlightenment, but was indeed trying to attain a rested mind and a stable digestive system. So I set off to find Khempo in the midst of the thousands of other monks in Bodhgaya. I thought I'd stay for a couple of days to chill with Khempo, but I enjoyed it there so much I ended up staying for 5 days.
There are countless monasteries in Bodhgaya - generally one for each Buddhist country - and they're all in town near the main temple that honors the Bodhi Tree (the site of the enlightenment). The only one that's not in town is Tergar Monastery - the newly opened Tibetan joint 2km away from the insanity of monk-town. For $10 per day I got a room to myself and 3 tasty, filling, and digestive-system-friendly meals. Additionally I could attend twice a day teachings that were being given by Mingyur Rinpoche. Apparently the opportunity to hear his
teachings is a big deal for people as there were over 100 westerners in attendance every day. Many were there for just the 2 weeks of Mingyur and some were there for a 3 month course.
I tried to fit in and hide my non-Buddhist status, but it eventually came out when a nun asked me if there was a Dharma (Buddhist) center in Chicago. "Umm...well I'm not Buddhist, so I don't know." The conversation with this nun (who was Canadian) was humorous at times. At one point she firmly declared that I definitely look American - making her nearly the first person to think so (apparently I usually look Australian). More specifically, I look like a Marine. This turned the convo to explaining to her about the structure of the US military. I'm curious to know who else out there has had the experience of sitting in a Tibetan monastery in India talking to a Canadian Buddhist nun (who is by definition a pacifist) about the American military. Strange combo.
Another odd note...there was a dude there from Westmont who had gone to Hinsdale Central. For the non-Chicagoans out there...this means he grew up about 4 miles
from me. Small world.
I could go on about Tergar...but basically the weather was perfect, I ate a lot, relaxed a lot, chatted with the most North Americans I've seen since last March, and could have stayed for months. But my traveling duty called...and this wasn't possible.
Oh, I should explain the heading of this section. During one of Rinpoche's teachings he was talking about there being 4 boxes of states...or something like that. There is:
- Yes and no
- Neither yes nor no
To explain, he held up his cup and said "There can be cup
...there can be not cup
...there can be cup and not cup
...and finally there can be neither not cup nor no not cup
." He stumbled through the last one and started laughing because he realized he got it a bit hosed up. But regardless of how many double/triple negatives he threw in there...it didn't make sense to me. My Nobel Prize Audition
There was a world peace puja going on at the main temple during my time in Bodhgaya. Basically it consisted of thousands of monks sitting around the temple and doing their puja-thing...changing...drums...cymbals...etc. I was walking
over to have a look one day when a guy stopped me and asked if he could interview me for a documentary he was doing. He asked me questions such as:
"Do you think this puja has any impact on world peace?"
"How do you think we can further world peace?"
Stuff like that. It was a fairly interesting discussion I had with him. But the more interesting thing is that he was French. Wait...that's not interesting. But it was interesting that he didn't have any accent. I asked why...and it turns out that he's lived most of his life in the US...university in New York...and high school in...guess where? La Grange. He went to L.T....meaning that almost half of the West Suburban Silver Conference was represented in Bodhgaya. Certainly a small world. (again...if you're not from Chicago, never mind)
In case anyone is interested, the books I've read during my immersion in the monastic world include:
- A Very Basic Introduction to Buddhism (by Damian Keown...a nuts & bolts intro)
- A Policy of Kindness (collection of writings and speeches by/about HHDL...His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
- The Monk and The Philosopher (thick reading of a dialogue
between a monk and philosopher...who are also father-son)
- Mindfulness With Breathing (a meditation book)
- The Joy of Living (by Mingyur Rinpoche...very well written for a western reader...about meditation and some basic Buddhist stuff)
I think there have been a couple others...but those are what stick out in my mind.
It's interesting (though often confusing) stuff to read about. If nothing else, I suggest having a look at Rinpoche's book. The Untouchables
Sadly, Elliot Ness and Al Capone have nothing to do with the Untouchables in India. Rather it's the caste below the caste system...so low that they don't even get a caste. I'm not sure if all the beggars are untouchables...but my understanding is that many of them are. The beggars are everywhere. Young beggars. Old beggars. Women beggars. Men beggars. Beggars without hands...arms...feet...legs...dignity. There is no apparent solution to this situation, but I do my best to give them some piece of dignity by acknowledging them rather than ignoring their existence. I'm not sure it makes much difference. There was one kid I simply couldn't pass without giving some change to. He crawled on his belly despite having all 4 limbs, but one leg was
A Photo Of Something Non-Historical
This is a scene that is seen countless times while spending countless hours traveling on trains here.
bent backwards and draped over his right arm. The other toothpick leg was dangling off to one side. (see the photo) He flopped down the street jingling his bowl. Did I give to make him feel better, or myself? I don't know. I don't think it worked for either of us. It was sad to see. Pre-Packaged India - Just Add Money
If you come to India and are led around by a tour guide on nice chartered buses and A/C class trains that have all been arranged for you...I think you're missing out on a part of the Indian experience. It's a bit hard to explain...but India is not organized, sterile, and hassle-free. India is figuring out how to book a train ticket...and then figuring out how to keep people from cutting in front of you while in queue. India is rickshaw drivers dragging you around different hotels trying to get a commission. India is too many things to describe. I realize that there are those out there that don't want to deal with the hassles and the rest of the craziness...but just understand that India is more than a photo of the Taj and a week on
This kids was seriously messed up. One leg bent over his back and hung over his arm...and the other leg just dragged around behind him as he flopped down the road.
the beach in Goa. Don't get me wrong...I have over 200 photos of the Taj and have been dreaming of Goa for years. But it's like...well to use a local example...maybe it's like having your parents arrange your marriage instead of going through the emotional ups and downs of years of dating to find the one you love. (Being neither from an arranged marriage culture nor married at all...perhaps that's a bad example...but go with it). Then again, I haven't traveled India in the package tour way...so my comments may not be well-founded. I'm sure the tour approach is still fantastic, but if you're up for it...take the risk and figure it out on your own rather than being handed an itinerary when you get off the plane. Just my 2 cents...
OK...that's all for now. If this entry seems disjointed and varying in mood/style/whatever...that makes sense. It was written in bits over 3 weeks. Next time I'll share some more of India with you.
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