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.

Allison and Indian Woman : Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Short and Sweet

Posted by Sarah Remington
Hello everyone.
India is great! We are just buzzing around the country learning as much as we can. Today we got up at 4:00am to go down to the river to see people performing their daily prayers. After that we went into the city to check out some other temples.
We are all having a great time.
Sarah Remington

Smiling Faces: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Colorful Saree : Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Students on Observatory Structure: Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Footnote: Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Hello Friends and Family-
Hopefully, in the near future the other students will be sending me photos and little stories to post. Until then, you'll have to deal with me. :)
You can click on any of these photos to enlarge them if you like.

Warmtone Reflection: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Ebony & Ivory: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Delhi Streets: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Mosque Light: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just One Smile

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay

14 hours on a train can do a lot to someone. I personally love trains, but this one was different. It travelled across a desert space, without air conditioning, and it went rather slowly with frequent stops from Agra to Varanasi. Its the kind of travel situation that makes you cringe inside - its 120 degrees outside, possibly hotter inside and inside is sweaty, and just downright grimy.
I sat across from an Indian family: Parents, Grandmother, Aunt/Uncle and four children. Grandmother and I had a rough start. She would return my smile with only a glare at first, and then when my water bottle accidentally rolled out from the top bunk and hit her arm...well, then she really hated me. But I was determined to get her to smile at me by the end of the 8 hours. Oh yes, did I mention that the ride was supposed to take 8 hours and ended up taking 14? Left that out did I? Shucks.

Anywho, I was fascinated by her wrinkled hands and decorated bare feet. Sitting across from one another, our eyes would often meet, each time with her giving me dirty looks, and I continued to smile.
When she tried to get her tattered canvas suitcase down from the top bunk, I attempted to help and she yelled so sharply in Hindi, I thought that she assumed I was trying to steal her bag instead.
Then her grand daughter sat down and she and I quickly exhausted all of her English and my Hindi and were left with nothing but warm smiles to exchange. But Sarah taught the entire family how to play GO Fish ( Grandmother refused, and looked dispassionately out the window) and we played again and again. Later, I offered the granddaughter a chocolate cookie. Her grandmother, who was sitting next to her, slapped the girl's leg and scolded her in Hindi immediately after the girl ate my cookie. (Oh no, I though, she assumes that I am now trying to poison them all) But then, Grandmother did a funny thing. She held out her patterned hand and made eye contact with me. I hesitated, and handed her a chocolate cookie too. She threw it into her toothless mouth and something happened. It started in her eyes, with srinkly lines- a warm smile that moved over her face to the cookie crumbs on the sides of her cheeks.
I looked out the window, drenched in sweat, and realized - I am in a beautiful place, and I am so lucky to be here. I woke up inside and finally I could see the beauty. I got beyond obsessing about my discomfort and opened my heart to the strange and new territory moving past my humid window space.

"We live in a beautiful world.
All that I know
Is there's nothing here to run from." -Coldplay

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"113 but feels like 129"

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
'113 but feels like 129' is a direct quote from our weather forcast today!
I think that heatstroke becomes me...just kidding. I'll post photos later and you'll see what I mean!
Today, the group bussed around New Delhi to see various temples and historic buildings. I learned and saw so much that my mind is still spinning to keep up! I liked the Buddhist temple built in the shape of a gigantic Lotus made out of white granite. It looked like a giant geodesic dome frame with petals opening out from the center. Inside was beautiful and quiet: with only the occational bird chirping in the rafters. A peaceful place to rest your eyes and meditate.
We also went to a new buddhist temple built about five years ago. It was also made of marble - red and white, with fortyfour stairs leading to the top and several arched doorways and bulbous towers. It took five years to build, and it is easy to see why! The interior is ALL carvings. No flat surfaces - the walls and ceilings are made of carved figurines, buddhas, rows and rows of birds and ornate flowers. The seilings were gorgeous! My favorite was the scene of the buddha under the boddhi tree. The tree was larger than lifesize and carved from white marble - in a circular shape of twisting branches and vines that I could not attempt to recreate even with a pencil on paper - it was so balanced and intricate but so very complicated!
This temple also had a room with a ceiling of rows and rows of different sized brass bells in an inlay circle. Amazing.
The people, well, we've all been to an Indian resturaunt. Yes, they pretty much dress just like that. For some reason, it is okay for women to show thier middrift but not thir shoulders or anything from the knees down. I think they are gorgeous and seem to float on by. Many people will smile at you if you smile back, and they all pretty much speak English, as it is taught inthe schools here. I have picked up a few phrases in Hindi - enough to express myself. It is an interesting language with many eh and ah sounds. I have learned how to ask if I can take a photo, and some people will ask to take mine as well. Actually, people will walk up and start shooting photos, or come over and put thier arm around me to have thier friend snap a shot. I think it is the hair? Meredith (the other redhead) and I had a group photo at the temple today with 16 or more Indian women. They were all laughing like it was the funniest thing. We are stared at by groups wherever we go, but everyone I have met has been friendly.
Child marriage here in India has almost completely been erased, except for in the poor castes. Women can even date if they'd like... and get this- a woman has been in a government position more than once here! But they still do very hard labor. Today, our bus passed by two women who were digging out rocks - claring a space for a canal pipe. They were loading the rocks onto platters and carrying them on thier heads out of the site and back again to continue digging with thier bare hands. It looked like heavy, dirty work. One of thier tiny new babies lay on a dish towel in the shade - he was covered in dust and sweat - did I mention it was 113 today?
I am ready to leave the big citys with thier noise and clutter. But first, we must head to Angra to view the Taj Mahal. Tomorrow we will journey by train early in the morning to see a temple built for the love of a woman.

First day in India, New Delhi, 113 degrees (in the shade)

Posted By: Sara Bartlemay

Hello Everyone, Greetings from New Delhi, India! When we landed, it was 10 at night and 113 degrees. Here, the heat is like a heavy snake coiling around you. There is no escape from it. This morning, I had to stand in awe off the white marble balcony and let my senses adjust. There was so much to take in at once: It is so very different here. The streets are tiny and narrow and lined with merchants selling colorful fruits or silk saris. People hurry in all directions going somewhere. Tiny rickshaw ( 3 wheeled) cars zip around as the taxi service. The most important driving tool here is the horn, and they know how to use it! I finally saw a traffic light, but evidently, none of the drivers saw it, for they all just kept driving through in a steady when other cars tried to cross lanes of trafic, an incredibly tight traffic jam began- with homeless beggars weaving in the small spaces between vehicles holding out empty palms and staring at us with hollow eyes. The roads are lined with trash, and occationally a cow will wander through, right down the middle of the road with his pelvic bones jutting out under his skin. People stop to feed these cows, tie on colorful beaded necklaces, pet them or pray to them as they mozie through traffic.
Last night, there was a loud bang against the door, followed by the scraping of nails...and then silence. Lauren and her roomate were both terrified, but had to see what was out there. Couldn't sleep with all that adrenaline and raquet outside anyhow. They cracked the door only to peer into the thick darkness. the hall was quiet. someone was breathing loudly. She looked behind the door to see our bell boy, a hotel employee, with his fists clenched tightly around a baseball bat. He looked armed and ready to attack. "No problem!" He exclaimed in broken english, "Noh"
Well, we are fighing off the heat and doging monkeys here but so far everyone is healthy!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Introduction to the 2007 ECU Study Abroad in India program

I am a professor of Religious Studies at East Carolina University. See our website here: For the second year in a row, I am leading a study abroad program to India. You can see the blog from 2006: and a photo gallery from 2006 here:

We invite you to follow the progress of our journey as 14 students, my assistant Wes Borton, my assistant in India Jampa, and I visit some of my favorite sacred places in India. Wes and I will arrive in India on May 10th and the students will follow several days later.

Derek F. Maher, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Religious Studies Program
Office 252-328-5332

Religious Studies Program
Brewster A-327
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858-4353