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Posts tagged ‘India’

Choosing all the figs

I woke up this morning to a chill in the air, the feeling of fall. One of those beautiful early fall days, crisp, sunny, blue skies. It's not yet fall, with hopes for more summery days over the next few weeks, but the feeling of transitions, of seasons changing.

September 1st. Tonight, I was scheduled to be on a flight to India; first to Delhi, and then onto Ladakh, for 3 weeks of trekking and climbing in the Himalayas.

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These moments (or, how I fell in love with soccer)

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau

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Solo travel in India

I spent two months traveling alone in India. This fact is not groundbreaking. No one is writing a book about me. I am not the first to have done this, and nor will I be the last.

But lately, I have been thinking of it a lot due to all the news coming out of India of sexual harassment (here is a good synopsis of some of the reports). But, like a lot of women, my experience in India was overwhelmingly positive.

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Gratitude. part dos

Last week when I wrote about making a list of what I am grateful for in this past year, a few folks asked about that list. So -- here is a portion of that list, in no particular order (the numbers are there just because I like lists, not because of priority).

38 things I am grateful for:

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What I miss….

I have been back in the states for a little over a month now. In some ways, my life has slowed down a lot. I go to the same place for work every day, I see my old friends. I just got my car back. I do 'normal' life things -- like get my car inspected. But at the same time, I am still in flux. Still very much in transition - sleeping on an air mattress with my sleeping bag as a blanket. Still unsure of where I will go beyond July 27th. Still unsure of what I want.

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8 months in review….

8 months in review.....

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So fun!

I have been staying with a family since I arrived in Gurgaon on Wednesday. Meenu is the mom and she works for Disha, which is the organization that runs that Outward Bound courses for The Heritage School that I visited. Disha and Heritage partner closely, are next door to one another and staff are very connected.

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Outward Bound

Outward Bound seems to be such a bit influence in my life this year.  From Katherine, my dearest friend from when I first trained for Outward Bound, joining me in Nepal to Mike and Beth meeting me for climbing and trekking in South America — OB seems to keep playing a big role in my adventures.  But — my latest connection has been pretty inspiring!

I am in Gurgaon, a city outside of Delhi, visiting The Heritage School, a pre-K-12 school that focuses on expeditionary learning and has a strong OB connection. The school draws from a variety of progressive educational philosophies, but most importantly, they all connect and make sense. For instance, they draw from the Gandhi idea [paraphrased here, hopefully correctly] that students can/should learn from working in their communities — for example, that if you study with a master carpenter in your village and learn that trade, then you have learned all that content (which sounds a lot like Ron Berger’s classroom, to me). They also use EL practices in their classroom — today I met with 20-25 teachers and talked about how we use expeditions a Renaissance and how we organize our curriculum. We laughed over shared frustrations and challenges of being an EL teacher and shared some good ideas. It was fun to feel so connected to teachers half way around the world.

And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, the SUPER cool thing about the school is that they have a very strong outward bound program. From grade 4 up (to 12) the students go out on an expedition — it might be bird watching or going to the desert — or trekking in the mountains or a river expedition. Each expedition has a case study — so not only are they learning the really cool things like team work and importance of persevering, but they are also learning science and social studies and math and language arts while out there. SO COOL!!!! it is like my dream job — right there! 🙂

They have rolled out the red carpet for me — organizing three days of visits to classrooms, sitting in on meetings, meeting with directors, taking me out for fancy dinners — it is amazing. I feel so blessed. I am staying at the home of one of the coordinators – she is AWESOME! She has two teenage kids — one 18 year old, senior who does open school — meaning she studies on her own. And one 15 year old who goes to the heritage school. They are both so fun and warm and friendly. It is great to get a glimpse of Indian culture this way. The first night I got here — Meenu and I sat around eating snacks and have some drinks until 9 when she realized that we should go eat — and off to a restaurant we went — and did not go to sleep until mid-night! It was so fun! And i cannot believe the hospitality and generosity they are showing me… i told them they have to come the US and visit Renaissance.

Tomorrow my schedule is full, as is Saturday. And then Meenu is going to take me shopping! 🙂 Love it.

I will have more to write and say — I am just so excited and inspired about the work they are doing here. My brain is full — lots of good thoughts! I am off to sleep now, as tomorrow will be busy.

Take care friends — much love — aurora

From coconut trees to camels

Pushkar is a whole ‘nother world from Hampi or Varkala.  I have spent the past two days lounging, wandering around and climbing up to two temples that overlook the small city.  There is not a whole lot to do here, so I have been getting ready for my transition and making plans for my remaining days.  But, here are some of the differences and observations:

  • well, there are the camels.  Not wild camels – but today I saw a guy riding one through town.  It was elaborately painted and with bells on it (like the women wear around their ankles)
  • Pushkar is a temple town — there seem to be hundreds of temples around every corner.  there is a small lake in the middle of town – and ghats leading into it where people bath – similar to Varanasi – however you cannot wear shoes down there or take pictures (two mistakes I made my first day)

Pushkar lake

early morning bathers

  • The land is arrid, cacti line the cliffs, and it is cold at night.  People are going to the temple early in the morning (earlier than I wake up – which is pretty early) – and they are all bundled up in scarves and blankets
  • Rajasthan is poor.  I read that it has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country – and that seems evident – from how foreigners are treated to dental hygiene to people’s homes
  • there are the usual holy men trying to get money to snake charmers on the streets to tons of shops with clothes that many of the tourists are buying up (speaking of which – what is up with the pants that foeigners are buying that look like they took a crap in them (not color, but saggy-ness) – but no Indian wears…  let me just ask the question – why?  why would you wear those?)
  • I have been offered special lassis on several occassions.  My guess is those are not just yogurt….
  • I have seen two cows that are seriously messed up….  and by messed up – let me try to describe the bizarre-ness…. Ok – so these two cows, seen on separate occassions — both were painted various colors, though predominantly red.  Both were being lead around by a holy man of sorts (dressed in long flowing garments – white or orange in color, wearing a turban, long beard).  But had a hoof (swear to god) growing out of it’s rear – either near its tail or on its back.  And the holy man was waving around said hoof.  which was painted red.  yes, bizaare.
  • people seem to come here from all over — well, yes – foreigners – but i meant Indians.  I have seen NRIs (or what I assume are NRIs – non-resident indians – as they are speaking english).  I have seen Indian women dressed in such elegant saris with the most stylish sunglasses on (think Julia St. Martin if she were Indian in a sari).

overlooking pushkar

  • Young men are flying through the streets on their motorcycles – which the streets are not wide and full of pilgrims and cows and dogs and foreigners.  But these guys are swerving through traffic – all wearing sunglasses, trying to look as cool as possible.  Makes me laugh that men (and women) no matter what culture will do similar things to look cool and show off.
  • Pushkar is a popular place for weddings.  As I was wandering the streets the other day, outside of town a bit, I cam across a wedding procession with a band – like a marching band.  It was great.  I stopped to watch – but could not tell which was the bride — many of the women were dressed in elegant, fancy saris with their hands henna’d.  On that same walk I was invited in by two teenagers into their house for a cup of tea — our mutual language skills were limited – but lots of smiles were exchanged.  And every time we found some common language, we repeated those facts over and over “yes, i am a teacher”, “i am in grade 10”.

you might know this girl

All in all, I have to say that I do not love it here.  Maybe I am just comparing it to the south too much.  Maybe my headspace has moved on.  Maybe I am just tired of being seen as a dollar sign — whatever the reason, I am glad to be leaving tomorrow.  I enjoy the smiles exchanged between myself and some of the women, I enjoy seeing the kids look at me and then catching them off guard with a smile from me – and then they break into their own smile.  I enjoy the different look of the people here — people are tan – not dark like in Tamil Nadu – but more weathered – and with the green eyes and the turbans and all…  they are quite remarkable looking.  But, all in all – i am good to go.

Kite flying just before sunset

Train Travel

So much of my recent time has been spent on trains and traveling – i thought i would share some of what i have been experiencing…

It seems that traveling by train in India is one of those adventures that everyone should have before they die.  For being a massive country with a massive population, train travel here is amazingly easy, efficient and cheap.  I have not had any problems getting tickets – once I discovered the foreign ticket office found at almost every railway station.  The agents have been super helpful, even when I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head (I had a moment the other day when I _almost_ went south again!).  And here is the most amazing thing — it is all done on computer, but each train has a print out of all it’s passengers.  So – I can walk up to the train I am about to take and taped to the compartment is a list of all the passengers.  And the conductors walk around with their lists of passengers when they check the tickets  I know that does not sound that impressive, but I just think that for every train that is traveling through India at all times has a print out of every passenger – which is thousands of passengers daily.  I mean – that is a whole other level of organization (and I cannot help but think that if they have this figured out why a) we can’t have it in America and b) there is such disfunction in other areas – like why I get ripped off every time i get in a taxi….)

As I have said, I _prefer_ traveling in AC — it is cleaner, you get sheets and a blanket, you have a curtain that you can close around your compartment (though not around your particular berth) and just all around nicer.  But – my last couple of trains have been in sleeper — which is a bit more ‘real’, I guess you could say.  Or another way to say it would be that they are noiser, dirtier and not a whole lot of privacy (not that you are going to sleep nekkid in AC – but at least you don’t have people staring at you while you are sleeping!).  But, the price!  I just took a sleeper from Mumbai to Ajmer – it took 20 hours and cost me just under 400 rupees — which means it costs all of 8$ to travel that distance.  Yes, I agree, pretty unbelievable!

Before I took a train in India, all I could picture was scenes from Darjeeling Express or people crammed into trains – hanging off the sides, but it is not quite like that.  I think what is most incredible, besides the whole train-travel-as-a-way-of-transportation (as America hasn’t done so well with that one is):

  • people coming through selling everything from books to playing cards to locks/chains for your bags to repair materials for shoes
  • getting a piping hot cuppa chai for 5 rupees (and this can be replenished every 15 minutes or so as the guys come through)
  • being able to be well fed – with everything from the meal you can get on board (you order it and costs no more than a buck fifty) or what they sell up and down the aisles – samosas, chips, and a whole plethora of other things that I have no idea what they are — and depend on the region you are in

Almost every train i have been on has been predominantly men and mostly all Indian.  yesterday was the first train that I was on that had another tourist sitting in the same compartment as me.  I get lots of stares, but I am pretty much used to that now, but what I love is watching these guys start up conversations with each other and imaging what they are talking about.  I love seeing them become friends on the journey – laughing together.  One of my favorite scenes was from Hubli to Mumbai.  The compartment I was in had a group of men that were boxers and weightlifters (if their shirts with the name of their gym hadn’t given them away – their barrel chests and tiny waists would have.  Well, that and the fact that they outweighed most Indian men by a gazillion pounds (as Indian men might be the skinniest group, on a whole, of men EVER!)  And it was hard to remember, seeing them, that they were Indian – as they could easily have been American gym-rats.

[Side note:  I have told you how affectionate men are here, right?  They hold hands, they put their arms around each other’s waists, they sit against each other with arms resting on each other’s thighs – ok, now that you remember that, read on…]

But these muscle-heads — their affectionate touch reminded me of their Indian-ness.  I want you to just imagine this scene — a bunch of gym rats sitting around with their arms around each other, on each other, their hands resting on another one’s knees – and then wanting to make sure I had dinner and ready to share their dinner with me!  I unfortunately had already eaten, as I would have loved to eat with them as they were so intriguing to me.  Do you think that they are vegetarians (like so much of India?)  Did they carbo-load?  watch their protein intake?  drink shakes?  so many questions….

In Mumbai, I had to take a commuter line in order to get to another train station where my next train was leaving from.  I read that 2.5 million people travel through the main Mumbai station every day, and I believe it!  It was a pretty crazy scene at rushhour – and me there with my backpack — not so helpful to the locals.  But I got myself figured out and got on my commuter train – it was leaving shortly so I hopped onto the nearest car and found myself surrounded by… women!  I had to look twice, all around me, women.  Wait a second… this cannot be India – the land of men!  Sure enough, I had accidentally, but correctly, landed in the women’s car of the train.  It was an amazing sight – all the different vibrant colors of the saris and clothes, the western dressed women, the women texting and talking on phones and resting their eyes after a long day at work.  I got some smiles as I tried to deal with all my stuff — and best of all — no staring!  I mean, I was staring at all of them, and some of them were watching me — but how different it felt!  No cold stares, no one watching my every move, not the feeling of being so utterly watched.  It was great.  I smiled to myself and sat back – relaxed.  Which is how so many of them must feel as they ride to and from work (otherwise, why would they ride in that compartment?).

I only have one more train to take – from Jaidpur to Delhi.  It is sad to not have any more big train adventures in front of me…

Status update:

Some of you have asked how I am doing on my $30/day budget and I am happy to report that I am doing really well with this!  In fact, the first three months have been under budget – which allowed me to buy a plane ticket from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (instead of taking a 30 hour bus ride) to meet up with my friend Beth to do some trekking before to big climb (or – in other words – an attempt to get in shape before the climb).  And the best part of my budget is that I have not had to really work at it!  I have had a few days that have been WAY over budget – but usually that is because I have been ripped off in some way – but for the most part, it has been easy to stay below.  In India, my biggest cost is accomodations – but I try to keep that close to $8-10/night which is pretty easy (there is cheaper but after the bedbug fiasco cleanliness is high on my priority list).

Then for food — it would be easy to spend a lot there, but as I have mentioned, my favorite place to get food is the hole in the wall places — though that is not always feasible (it was super easy down south — not sure what it will be like up here).  but, even if I go really big, which would be about $4/meal — that still leaves me with 8$ a day to do stuff.  And most of the stuff that I like to eat does not cost much – so it is pretty easy to stay in budget (basically, i stay away from the western food – which is fine by me!).  I definitely could be doing things cheaper – but so far my lifestyle feels pretty good.

As for the rest of things… well, some of my stuff has taken a beating — my pack is ripped in several spots, two (of my four) t-shirts have holes in them but it is my silk sleeping bag liner that is suffering the most!  I have had it for 3+ years (got it for my first trip to India) so, i have definitely slept in it countless times — but it is ripping on pretty much every seam – right now there are 3 very large holes .  And I have sewn it together in a bunch of spots, only to have it rip again, right next to where I repaired it (thanks to Jess for the sewing kit — i love the hot pink thread!).  It will be interesting to see what kind of shape it is in by June!  And yes, for those of you wondering, I am already sick of my limited wardrobe.  All I can think is – thank god I packed those extra pants…

be well friends.  i am sitting here in the restaurant of my guesthouse, having rice pudding and chai (after having a good masala dosa from a street cart) watching the lunar eclipse through the window.

love — aurora