Monday, June 4, 2007

Oh Baby!

Posted by: Taylor Van Ness Converse
So yesterday we headed down the winding hills to go visit Tong-Len. After composing myself from the car ride (winding roads makes most of us want to toss our cookies) I looked at all the tents before me. The community the people live in is basically a small piece of land for 700 people. It's such a culture shock to walk through the tents and see all these families living in them. There were a few children that followed us through as we went on a tour, they were just so excited that we were there. At one point we sat down and listened to a woman talk about begging on the streets for a living. Of course, I couldn't pay attention, I have the attention span of a 5 year old. As I turned away from the group I saw a little girl, probably around two years old, crying her eyes out and walking around alone. I can't stand to see kids cry like that, so I went over to her and stood close with my arms out. She came right to me with open arms and hugged me around the neck. I just swooped her up and held her until she stopped crying, and a few minutes later fell asleep, cradled in my arms. It was just so amazing that this child, who had never seen me before in her life, could find such comfort in my arms. It was really an amazing experience for me, even though it only lasted but a few short minutes.

Dharamsala and Questions for Monks

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
And now I am loving India. What a change a little altitude will do for the attitude! It was a 14 hour drive in the back of an uncomfortable jeep to get here but all that seems so unimportant because now that I am here, I am more in the moment than ever. Dharamsala, and McCleod Ganj are two tiny mountain towns nestled up near the snowy peaks of the Himalaya. This is the home of the Dali Lama and we are going to hear him speak tomorrow. There are only tens of thousands of people here, and I'd say 25 percent of them are monks. In the busy three streets of the city, a market is ongoing with chenille scarves, sweaters, silk skirts, turqouise jewlery and intricate tapestries. People are rushing around and yet when I pass by the monks they seem still and calm - like little eyes in the storm of activity. People are friendly, they don't stare as much and their features are different, more Asian. Dharamsala has a high population of Tibetan people.
This morning we walked 2 kilometers through the forest under prayer flags strung through the fir trees to the Tibetan Library to hear a monk speak about Buddhism. Most of it was lost in translation, and half of that was above my head but the tidbits I did catch were intriguing. To help the train and jeep rides pass, I am currently reading three books on Buddhism, and taking notes. So of course, when the talk was over and the monk asked (through his translator) if there were any questions....I had a few. I chose just one, because everyone else in the room was silent without questions. The answer he had for me was perhaps more perplexing than the question itself. But for a brief moment, the monk made eye contact with me. This was unusual because he hadn't looked up the entire class. I am inspired to look deeper and wrap my mind around this religion attempting to understand it better.
I think I had better go back tomorrow so I can ask the three questions that sprung from the answer to my original befuzzlement. :)
There are drumming classes, massage courses, healing arts and reiki classes, Tibetan Medicine talks, the list goes on and on but it gives you an idea of the mindset of the community. I will be taking advantage of this environment and have signed up for three classes for this week. The more information and experience the better.
One student from our group was saying today, "I think I could loose myself here."
Nonsense. I think I could find myself here.

Himalaya & How to Hold Beauty

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
From Rishikesh, we took jeeps for 7 hours up a one lane road into the mountains, beyond row after row of green hillsides. Boaters will know what I am referring to when I say it was a class IV shuttle... We arrived around sunset, and I woke up in the Himalayas.
Our first mountain we climbed was 12,500 feet high. We could see it from camp - a double peak that extended far above the tree line. Its name was Chundesheilla, and it was not a climb for everyone. Everyone attempted to reach the summit, but it was a steep climb, using hands to scramble up in some places. After 4 hours of climbing, my lungs ached from the altitude and my legs decided I was too cruel to ever speak to again. (they still haven't forgiven me). But my heart so longed to reach the summit. At some points, it was so steep that I could not even see the top and yet my heart kept running up ahead, and then back to check on me like an eager puppy. Body and spirit separated here - my body wanted to sit and grow roots and my heart wanted to float on up with wings.
I found my own summit, sometime after seven hours of climbing. I took a side trail to the left and wound around to an incredible view point. The far horizon line rose in peaks and fell in cliffs - ranging from 15 to 21 thousand feet high. Before them, the earth wrinkled in dark green folds - heavily forested with deciduous trees and a few sharp firs pointing out. To my surprise, I heard copper bells. I followed my "personal summit" trail and found a temple built of rocks. People were singing inside and I did not disturb them. Instead I sat by the altar and watched a mountain hare eat the remains of a rice offering. The mountains around me seemed to resonate - each a giant holy bell ringing out into the crisp afternoon air. I tried to distinguish mountains from clouds for one was not necessarily higher than the other.
On the way down Chundesheilla, a shadow passed swiftly over the ground and for a split second it fully covered my body. I looked up and saw three huge vultures (of such a size they could easily be mistaken for condors) circle overhead. These birds who dwarfed me in their shadows looked as though they had bodies too dense for their 7 foot wingspan to support. I watched in mingled awe and fear. I think I have met five year olds who could ride these giant birds! They flew on, free falling out over the green valley below - rudder feathers stretched out like fingers feeling the wind.
It is hard to explain the effect that skyline had over me. Sometimes we are moved when we see beauty and desire to have it near to us, to keep it close because it brings us such joy. But in truth, often we are moved by beauty in its context. It radiates out such gorgeousness because of where it is and trying to remove it would be selfish and its luster would quickly fade. To really appreciate beauty, you must come to terms with the fact that you cannot remove it, possess it or change it. So all I could do was love them while I was there - interact with these mountains by climbing them, by sitting in camp on monolithic granite boulders and sketch them in the morning or sit staring sipping Chai before them at night - burning their rise and fall like the hospital heartbeat line into my own heart until it was time to leave.

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Posted By Sara Bartlemay
Hello everyone,
It was only later, after the train ride when I was finishing off the last of those chocolate cookies that I realized each cookie is imprinted with the Buddhist symbol for change.
The train ride took us to Varanasi, a city of just over one million people, built on the banks of the Ganges River. It is a pilgrimage site for many Hindus and Muslims alike. Their temples are side by side here in the narrow winding streets. People are bathing during the morning when they believe their sins will be washed clean. Some are praying, others are doing laundry, and some women are gathering water to carry on their heads back into the city. It is a dirty place, with many cows in the streets - so one must be very careful and watch your step!
We went to a market yesterday in streets so busy we were afraid to cross them. The little alleyways that make up Varanasi are so tiny only three people can walk side by side down them. The market is a complete maze! And any (Indian) thing you ever wanted to buy is here. I found spices and curries and dresses and beads. We met a man named Raj who is putting himself through school for business by selling bindis to the tourists. Three of our group members started talking to him and he led us through the market to his sisters house where she would draw henna tattoos on our wrists and palms. Her name is Indu, which means moon in Hindi. (Tarra means stars) There were books and books of designs and I chose two that she later told me were the symbols for man and wife - though they look more like paisleys. I am learning, via temporary tattoos that choice in artist is very important. Luckily, these will only be with me for 5 months. It was a great experience, though, to sit up on the third floor courtyard and talk with them as our body art dried. They gave us gifts of post cards and bindis.
Back in the market, people would approach us trying to sell us this that or the other thing we didn't need. Men will walk up to you selling Post cards and run along side of you to flip through them. They will take your hand and persistently tell you that you need these and try to bargain with you - not for seconds, for ten minutes or so! It gets overwhelming, never being able to walk alone without someone trying to sell you something. They will even go into stores with you, still trying.
The beggar children also follow us. They are so tiny and they beg and beg in a mono tone that seems to be shared for they all speak in the same voice. I gave some children one coin each but they they only wanted more and followed us for about 45 minutes with open palms, sometimes hanging on our arms or holding on to our skirts. I went in to a candy store where a man was handing out anise samples and I kept filling the little brown palms with red and white candy until they went away.
And then I realized, that the men selling things and the beggar children use the same tone of voice. They are both asking for money, in different ways. Terribly poor, most of them are homeless but some choose to sell things for money and some choose to sit and beg for it. Either way, I am certain all of them are hungry. I have been hungry for two hours. They have gone hungry for a lifetime.

Lucknow, Haridwar, Rishikesh: Massacres, Caves and Chocolate Croissants

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
We took another hot train to Lucknow, to see the fort the British built here in 1757. It was a beautiful place - several brick buildings with sections of plaster still intact. The roofs, windows and doors were missing but the walls and columns were still intact. Fading paint still shows teal and red in the carved archways, and the marble columns still have faint flowers carved around them. It is a lovely little ghost town - with very British architecture - fountains and statues of Celtic crosses. The trees are reclaiming the earth here - growing up from the foundations and pushing out walls. Many of them are well established fig trees that tower above the structures. Light streaming through the leaves make the shadows dance. But the shadows are darker here, tinted with the weight of history.
This fort once housed thousands of people. Many Indian people worked within it, and several of them were converted into soldiers for the British to keep their own people under control. One night, there was a bloody massacre when mutiny turned the Indian soldiers and several other Indian people into an angry mob that stormed this fort and killed close to three thousand people. But change is slow, and not always as bloody. It was over ninety years later that the country was handed back to the Indian people, and the British left. This land has been fought over, reclaimed by the Indian people by force and now taken back by the forest in a slow gradual growth as the trees reclaim the soil and reach for the sky.
An over night train took us to Haridwar, where jeeps picked us up, and with our bags tied to the roof we journeyed up into Rishikesh. Rishi means sage or mystic, and Rishikesh is there fore the place of the mystics. It is nestled into the foothills of the Himalaya, where the Ganges is more narrow, swifter, cleaner and colder. The city has two steel suspension walking bridges over the river, with monkeys swinging from the ropes and occasionally attacking tourists. :) It is a smaller city, of perhaps 30 thousand people, set on the banks of the sacred chalk grey river, still busy but not crowded like Delhi. The air is also cooler, about 90 degrees, and I am so excited to be able to relax and enjoy this place without being overwhelmed by the heat. Our hotel is up above the city, secluded in a little compound, surrounded by Yoga ashrams, with one bookstore and a German Bakery.(Hooray for croissants!!!!)
We went hiking five miles up above the city, along a brush hidden path to a little spring. It was so quiet up there, under the overhanging rock cave. Nearby, the little brook falls over the rock face to form a waterfall flowing into a cold pool. We swam and splashed in the refreshing water and I took far too many photos of colored leaves and reflections. The entire area feels balanced and echoes with peace. It is easy to see the history here - the mystics have come to camp and meditate in the cave and enjoy this secluded waterfall for hundreds of years.
Tomorrow we will take jeeps for six hours or more, beyond this row of hills to the mountains. It is several hours of hiking up to the lake where we will camp, and continue hiking until we reach the snow covered Himalaya. We will be within 75 miles of Tibet and Nepal during our three day trek. We will camp and explore this remote area for three days. I will write more after we return, and of course, send photos to illustrate.


Posted by: Meredith Fathauer

Yesterday afternoon, Friday the 25th, the girls went to do Yoga. The room was surrounded by glass giving us a perfect and beautiful view of the Ganges river and the mountains. I had never done Yoga before so I didn't know exactly what to expect. We did breathing exercises, meditation, stretches and different movements. At one point I was standing on my head with my feet straight up in the air. During the entire session monkeys where playing outside of the room. One tried to get in and started jumping on the glass right beside me. We all had a really great time and it was a memorable experience for me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Love that Lives in India

Posted by Tricia Ben-Davies

I awoke early to say "See you later" to Delhi. As I look down from the second floor balcony, I am reassured that she will be the same when we return. Cows are roaming the streets. The men set up their goods for the day. Children carrying disgarded potato sacks continue to rummage through the streets for rubbish to call their own. Delhi is unapologetically real, a realness that is both impressive and unfortunate. I am facinated that in 2007 donkeys pulling carts and Indian Techno ringtones exist in the same space!
India has welcomed us with open arms. Indians are intrigued by foreigners. Sometimes it seems that they only see us as an opportunity to sell something. Other times it is our varying skin tones and hair color that often result in stares and photo ops. Our experience at the Red Fort in Delhi is something that will never leave me.
The Mugal emperor Shah Jahan built the fort in the 17th century. The Red Fort is a great expression on Mugal art. The structures are made of red sand stone and marble decorated with semi precious stones. As we moved throughout the compound, we began to draw a crowd.
At one point I was sitting on top of a ledge and a family walked by. Their slow pace and eager smiles made me smile as well. In India, all it takes is a smile and eye contact for someone to aproach you.
I was expecting for us to simply exchange greetings maybe even take a picture or two, but I was wildly mistaken. The father took his daughter from his wife and held her out to me. I was shocked, amazed and elated. I was amost brought to tears but then I quickly thought of how confused the family would be if I started crying tears of joy. The little girl could not have been more than a year old. She had the most gorgeous little brown eyes!
I do not know what makes a person hand a stranger their baby. Maybe it meant nothing. Maybe her father just wanted her to be photographed with a real live African. Or maybe just by holding her, he wanted me to experience even an ounce of happiness that she brings to his family.
Delhi has introduced me to the genuine love that lives in India.