Monday, November 8, 2010

पहाड़ (Translation: Mountain)

         Erik, Jeanie, Erin, Allegra and I all ventured up north to Darjeeling during our week off. What a magnificent trip! Tea galore! Tea tea tea tea tea. TEA. We stayed at a lovely hotel with a prime rooftop seating to watch the sunrise over Mount Kanchenjunga (Try saying that three times fast. Heck, just try to remember how to spell it). Mount Kanchenjunga is the third largest mountain in the world and is just a few peaks over from Everest. Needless to say, the mountains made for some beautiful morning views.

Sunrise over the Himalayan mountain range

           While in Darjeeling, we scoped out a 500-year-old monastery. A kindly old monk generously  showed us around the inside. Murals covered every wall with accents in gold paint, and among other neat things sat two large drums. When Erik asked the monk the purpose of these huge drums, the man replied, "Oh those? I hits those and all the peoples of the city come." I suddenly had to squelch the desire to test that little fact out.
          The monk proceeded to give us a private concert with a large wooden wind instrument. He introduced his first serenade as,  "Like bison, ferocious grunts after glorious fight." Have you ever heard a bison grunt before? Given the circumstances, I think we all managed to stay very well composed.

Prayer flags of Tibet, hanging on a wall on the outskirts of Darjeeling
From the monastery adventures, we went on to a two-day hike where we tromped around the edges of Nepal. My "tough-it-out" side was a little embarrassed to be staying in a lodge on the hike. However, when I realized how cold the foothills of the Himalaya get, I swallowed my pride between gulps of the delicious hot tea they gave us. We were quite the happy [indoor] campers.

Kachenjunga (spelled right? You were supposed to remember!)

Hope all is well where you are! Take care!

देखना (Translation: to see)

After we were done with Darjeeling, Erik and I separated from the group to explore more western states. After a three-and-a-half-hour bumpy jeep ride down the mountain side to the train station, I got out of the vehicle with a sigh of relief. I walked around, enjoying my newly rediscovered freedom of leg movement. I began thinking about the long train ride ahead of us, my newly purchased tea, and did I forget to pack my-

WHAM. All of a sudden I was airborne. I was like a cartoon with my gangly legs somehow now above my head, surrounded by a ball of kicked-up dust. The world went quiet as everything turned into slow motion. And, during my new found serenity in flight, all I could think was, "Are those my shoes in the sky?"

A cow had rammed me. Sucker punched, really (I guess you could say it put the "cow" in coward). My old friends, favorite photo-subjects, had betrayed me! And I thought all I had to keep an eye out for was unruly traffic and pick-pocketers. Et tu, Brute? 

Reminiscing from Udaipur: in the initial, shy stages of our short friendship

Luckily, the fantastic city of Varanasi helped me forget the incident in a matter of moments. The phenomenal Ganges river flows like the aorta of the living, breathing India that has enamored me so much. I could bore you with every experience in that crazy city. However,  it would do Varanasi no justice and probably put you to sleep early.

Imagine the smoke of incense rising around your cheeks, filling up your head with intoxicating scents of forgotten flowers.
Imagine the sound that jangling anklets make on the slim feet of shoeless women.
Feel the calloused hands of people, reaching out for work, not for handouts.
See the translucent red cloth waving softly in a cool breeze.

Then you can feel what it's like to be in Varanasi--and that's all that really matters, isn't it?

Boat trip on the Ganges for sunrise
Hope all is well where you are! I miss you, and am eager to hear of the current happenings in your lives. Take care!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

तैरना (Translation: To Swim!)

Hello! Happy (almost) Halloween!

Since we're entering the summer season here, four of us students rounded up to take a trip to cool off a bit: a trip to a little beach oasis called Paloelem.

Late bus connections, expensive rickshaws, and a pinch of rain made us a little dazed and frazzled upon our arrival. Minor details! After a refreshing cup of chai, we tromped along the shore towards our hotel. We approached a small river along the way, and as our good fortune continued we realized that rains had recently washed away the connecting bridge. So, wading we went! (We went to the beach expecting to get wet anyways, right?)

Casual stroll to the hotel
 Generally I try to travel in lesser-known places, but I had a good time relaxing in this tourist hot spot. The Paloloem tourist scene pleasantly surprised me. European and Australian backpackers with dreds studded the beach, talking about "the importance of savin' nature, bro". Restaurants brought out raw fish on plates to allow patrons to select their next meal. Not to mention swimming in the warm ocean water is a perfect way to spend any weekend.

Cows, it turns out, appreciate quality beach time too.
All in all, great success! Granted I look slightly like a toasted lobster by the end. However, a light sunburn was small price to pay for such a great weekend with Erik, Lauren, and Stephanie.

Hope all is well where you are!

मुंबई (Translation: Mumbai)

Earlier this month, we managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to Mumbai. Movie-goers might know the city as the main setting for"Slumdog Millionaire". The city houses 13,830,884 people. That's 22,000 people per square kilometer. PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.

It's a very happening, westernized city. A couple of us students went out one night and tried to get into a fancy restaurant. Apparently this cool restaurant wanted people other than the haggered travelers in poofy pants and Ganesh t-shirts. I thought that once they noticed my pleather shoes with velcro straps they would change their minds but no such luck. Their loss. Their. Loss.

We scoped out the sea shore along the coast that reflected the problems of a highly-densely populated city: a stagnant layer of pollution floated on the top of the water like a blanket of moss. It was still a fun entertainment area. Cotton candy, plastic swords for sale...needless to say, I thrived in that environment! We even met a boy flying a kite with his pet monkey. Erik tripped on the monkey's leash, causing the once-cute monkey to bare his teeth with a snarl. The kids jumped away and whispered in a small voice, "he bites." Back awaaaaay, slowly.
Such a grumpy monkey

 I also got into a an tense ring-toss competition with a beefy, well- trained man, which justifies why he beat me so badly. (Or a pudgy 8 year old boy. I forget the exact details...)

The competition. Followers call him "The Intimidator".
Fantastic city though. People are always hustling and bustling during the day. However, in the early morning around 5:00 am, the city awakens slowly with quiet streets and shop keepers still sleeping outside of their stores. One morning, Erik and I sleepily woke up with the city as we stumbled over to see the ships bring in their fish loads for the day. Women with big bushels on their head full of fish bumping into me: I found a couple of little fish surprises in my hair afterward. No appetite for sushi for a little while....

A boy watching the fish boats out at sea, with Mumbai in the background
 Hope all is well where you are! Take care!

Monday, October 18, 2010

ऊँट (Translation: Camel)

Well Erik and I didn't get to the movie theater far enough in advance to get tickets for the bollywood movie. So, that left us with a snorefest ride home in the rickshaw orrrrr.....



Yes. I am eating on the camel. As if I wasn't being conspicuous enough already! It's corn on the cob--a cheap roadside snack sold everywhere on the streets. (Meals on wheels...hooves?)

Hope all is well where you are!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

खाना (Translation: To Eat)

Happy October!
After a nice calm week at home, Bina (my host mom) suggested we make some American food for dinner on Saturday night. She mentioned that Kansas City was known for its barbeque. On behalf of Kansas City: Thank you, world. So, she would like me to cook a sample of Kansas City's world-renowned, sophisticated palate!

“Oh, wow! Yes! Yes, that would be great! You have a grill here?” I said, eagerly swiveling my head around, looking around for the grill I must have overlooked these past two months. I kept looking, and finding nothing, I looked back at Bina. She sat staring at me with such excitement, like she had the best secret in the whole world swelling inside almost bursting to get out.
“We will MAKE one!” she exclaimed triumphantly.

Right then. In case you’re wondering, this is a sample of homemade grill tips you can access online.

Pictures like this:

And idiots like this:  

File:Paul Wall.jpg
 How to make a Homemade Grill
 1. Gather your materials
2. Cut foil into desired shape 
3. Place in mouth and press down all over your teeth
4.Make alterations if applicable. 
5. Suck down so it has the extended teeth feeling
(Granted, I never should have clicked a link that spelled
grills as "GrILLZ")

USELESS. Slightly disheartened, I realized we were on our own. In the late afternoon the day before the grill, I slipped into panic mode. But, Erik and I somehow managed to create a [barbeque] grill out of an old dish rack and aluminum foil. The aroma of smoky chicken, vinegar mushrooms, and garlic bread soon filled the air, making the house smell like a summer day at home.

The delicious products
Bina and Ira made a lovely marinade, Erik did a fantastic job manning the grill, no one went to bed hungry, and the house was still standing when we went to bed. All in all, I think it was a great success! Now for round two: shrimp!

I hope that you are doing well, and all is well where you are! Take care!

Monday, September 27, 2010

दैव योग (Translation: Luck)

We reluctantly left the beautiful city of Udaipur (see below post) to continue our exploration of northern India.

Recipe for a Long Day:
  1. Have a train cancelled on the first leg of your tediously planned trip, then hastily book bus ticket
  2. Select the back seats of the bus for the 10 hour bus ride (Note: not a problem if you like rollercoasters or earthquakes--or both simultaneously)
  3. Miss your bus stop
  4. Visit Surat (period).

So, at the mercy of bad luck we stumbled into Surat: voted the Filthiest City in the 90's due to, among other reasons, a break out of the plague (...THE PLAGUE). We decided to skiddadle out of the rough city ASAP, but not before buying a hot-pink, sleeveless shirt that bares a flexing wrestler and reads "Dr. of Thuganomics". I really couldn't turn it down: it's just too versatile! (Got a new church outfit, mom!)

The train ride was great. Tons of people. Who knew luggage racks could serve as a whole new row of seats? Everyone in India, that's who! We were entertained by musical drums, singing, and snacks by local people throughout the ride. Also, cross-dressers on the train threatened to curse men unless they forked over some rupees. Indian revere people of the cross-dressing culture as auspicious and with magical powers. Thus, it is common for people to give gifts to cross-dressers to avoid being cursed.

 It is, in case you've ever wondered, a little amusing to watch women with five o'clock shadows bullying people while wearing sequined, belly-baring saris. Luckily, they left me alone....but, not before nicknaming me "गुलाघ" (Rose). Apparently my pink skin is amusing here, too. Reaaaaal mature, India. Real mature.

 Erik and I enjoyed a brief stay in Nashik, and then headed back to Pune so as not to miss Monday classes (Yes, yes. I do attend classes).
Enjoying Nashik early in the morning!

Returning home just in time for a hot dinner at the Joshi house put the icing on the cake for this fantastic week. Overall, the journey was a great success! It opened my eyes to realize all that I still have to see in this mystical, beautiful country.

I hope you're doing well! Take care.