India Bound

Sunrise at 5.30 am Sunset at 7.05 pm

Location: Mussoorie and Delhi, India

Engaging in wild acts of exploration and inquisition.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flaming Egglpants, Yeah!

My friend Cora and I have befriended the sweetest little Indian woman named Kaushal. She must be nearly thirty, but has the sweetest giggle and twinkle to her. She had previously worked with an American family for three years - cooking, teaching Hindi, giving massages, etc. and we asked her if she could teach us how to cook a few dishes. Start simple - rice, bangam bharta, and roti.

She took us to her house, which was one room (about 15'x10') adjoining the house of her mother -in-law. The space was organized with complete efficiency and neatness and everything was brightly colored and tucked away. Her nine year old daughter, Asha (ÒHopeÓ in Hindi), had red ribbons in her braids and we talked about favorite foods and dancing. Her son, Ashu ("sadness") kept running in and out with a different friend to show each time that there were westerners in his house.

And so for the next two hours we roasted eggplants on the two-burner camping sort of stove and scraped their skins off and mashed them in a huge pan with garlic and onion and chili peppers. We rolled out roti and somewhat successfully made them even looking and in between it all there were amazing/funny hindi songs on the radio and a small child running in and out demanding bananas and pails of water to be fetched. When it came time to eat, Kaushal taught us to mix the rice with the bangam bharta and roll it into a little sort of ball and eat with our fingers. Funny to grow up constantly being told not to eat with your fingers and then to be re-taught how to eat with your fingers in the most delicate way possible. We made fools of ourselves getting food everywhere and found it really hard to not actually stick our fingers in our mouths...

Kaushal showed us her photo albums and we found that she had been married at fourteen and had Asha when she was sixteen and has never been to the cities surrounding Mussoorie that are only an hour away. Her son had stayed home today as it was raining hard all day and he doesnÕt have a rain coat, so when we come back this Sunday for cooking lesson #2 we are planning on coming bearing a new raincoat and methia (India sweets made from nuts and flour and rose water) and a jar of Nutella, which is KaushalÕs favorite.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Well, I'm not very good at putting up pictures and they take ages to do, so I've got to find some way about it to make it happen eventually. For now I have just gotten through being sick as a dog for a few days...all of us are dropping like flies. I had thought that people living here were immune to all the bacterias, but my Hindi teachers were explaining that everyone constantly gets sick, especially the children, as no one knows what food is contaminated or not. There is a complete re-evaluation of what one can take for granted here (goodbye clean water, toilets, fresh foods, clean air, electricity) and it is very surprising what you can always expect to find (tea services, pizza, vegetarian food, someone to drive you or carry you).

Its raining constantly and a busload of pilgrims headed to Gangotri, the source of the Ganga river plunged over the edge of the road near a couple of my friends who were traveling the same road and half the bus died. Yes, and then there were these Mumbai train bombings (everyone's parents are calling to make sure everyone is still alive though Mumbai is all the way down the coast)...interesting to be in a place where such terrorist bombings are somewhat frequent (coming from Kashmir). Yes, death is much closer here....

On a lighter note, was chased by a mother cow this morning when I walked too near her calf and when I turned a corner to safety a hoard of monkies came running at me screeching and throwing their shit. A very "ha! I am in India" moment.

And so we went to Rishikesh....

There seem to be as many holy cities as there are people in India, and in the North they usually are connected to the River Ganga. Rishikesh is one of a few holy cities at the mouth of the Ganga and is also the place where the Beatles stayed while they were working on the white album (so there were a lot of hippies...) and is a huge center for astrology and yoga and all these new agey things that seem too stereotypical to exist.

The East Bank of Rishikesh is mostly made up of ashrams where you can stay and practice yoga - so for a few days we hung out and did yoga and listened to lectures from a swami who told us how to do rectum strengthening exercises and to please clean our noses with salt water every morning.

I had my Vedic charts drawn up by an astrologer and it took him nearly two hours to explain it all to me in a little musty bookshop down a dark alley and it was amazing all the things he said and knew....

Monday, July 10, 2006

So, I dunno, these pictures are pretty and everything, a really "like, woah, there's a lot of crazy/beautiful shit in India," but beyond that I hardly take pictures of myself so I hope everyone likes calendar pictures....

Mussoorie and Rishikesh - Pilgrims crossing the bridge over the Ganga River and the Shiva Temple
The misty Ganga and the hills around Mussoorie in the morning on the way to schoo

Delhi Traffic and a man selling marigolds at a Sikh temple

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I am starting to miss foods..

Yesterday we went hiking in the woods after tea and we all came back with at least four leeches on us each. Only one of them had started to suck me and I poured salt all over it and it writhed around a lot and was a generally traumatizing experience.

Indian tea cookies are the best (cashew and cardamom being my favorite) and also Indian ice cream, though not great in variety holds competition to gelato (safron being the best so far).

I would kill many men/give my kingdom for: tofu, green vegetables (spinach, endives!), whole grains, all of the hippy santa cruz food I have grown so dependent on, cheese, and japanese food...oooooh! Its all these things I took completely for granted before ( can I have some of Maria's banana pancakes or a Vanessa strawberry salad? Pleeeeaaase) and now thinking of them is so futile and so consuming...

Monday, July 03, 2006

11,000 feet of intestinal death...

"If we could hear the squirrel's heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar," said George Eliot

"Think how quickly the sheer volume and multiplicity of sensory information we receive every waking minute would overwhelm our consciousness if we couldn't quickly forget a great deal more it than we remember."

And so we took a caravan of old Ambassador cars and ancient vans for the eight hour drive into the Himalayas, stopping every couple of hours for "tea breaks" in small villages where our presence created quite a scene.

(quick, a list!)
- the wiry Nepalese men carrying stacks of bricks with their heads
- colorful skirts and shirts on the small, tanned men and women covered by large tweed jackets reminiscent of British Army coast
- women in bright saris tending to the rice paddies
- the tan dog who followed me all through the village and sat at a distance away while I watched the sun set (and the men who laughed at the sight of us)
- houses built on stilts at the edges of cliffs overlooking the Yamuna River
- changing landscapes: from jungle to pine forest with cacti and brown mountains to huge jagged green rice paddy-laden mountains with snow
- the sadhus living in caves by the river, the women coming down from the mountain barefooted and with no teeth
- the fat men and women carried in baskets on people's backs up and down the mountains (a group of thin women pointed at a fat Indian woman in her basket jiggling everywhere and laughed behind their hands)
- having chai and pekorahs under the awning or our small hostel as the sun sets over the 23,000 foot mountain behind us
- half the town that gathers around to watch us play a game of cards, or groups of people that gather in awe of digital cameras and smily shyly when they are shown pictures of themselves
- lunch by the side of the river - the tour guides took the trash we had put neatly in bags and set a huge bonfire as we looked on in horror (plastic melting to the ground, tinfoil crackling)
- marijuana plants everywhere alongside the road (all male) and we gather astonished to smell the four foot plants as women and children walk by entirely non-plussed


7 am hike to Yamunotri, the winding steep paths that never seemed to stop their switchbacks, and we ascended 3,000 feet huffing and panting next to horses carrying the old, the young, the fat, and the rich Indians too prim to walk through all the horse shit and piss and mud. We passed the sudhas in their orange and while drapery (Jai Yamuna Ji) and women weighing saris down with rocks to let the river flow over them for a good washing. Up and Up, stopping constantly at to have our pictures taken with those coming down the mountain (at their request - we are always an odditiy).

Finally we are there, and the little cleft in which the Yamunotri temple is perched on is opened to us and we walk through rows of smokey stalls where pilgrims buy their offerings to the goddess Yamuna (we buy little dishes made of leaves holding perfumed pink flowers). We make our way to the temple where we must wash our hands and feet in the scaling natural hot springs (rice can be cooked in them in two minutes). We perform puja - our offerings are given to the goddess with the aide of the priest, who gives us blessing and chants several mantras for us and then annoints our foreheads with red and yellow paint and rice. Then we are off to the "Ladies Only" bathing area where the water from the hotsprings is pumped in for the enjoyment and cleansing rituals of the women, though carefully hidden from the view of men. After splashing fights with a group of Indian girls, and when the hot became too hot, we stretched across rocks by the river and lay in the sun and wind. From a high rock I watched women washing their saris, sadhus smoking beaties (tobacco rolled in leaves), fat men from the city next to the skinny men of the nearby villages, everyone taking cleansing dunks in the river and sunning themselves.

The walk down the mountain, still warm from the hotsprings, I felt the closest to bliss and weightlessness that I have this entire trip. Surrounded by so many sights, sounds, smells (equally as disturbing as amazing) so constantly I had begun to feel a weight develop physically and mentally and the river and the springs lifted that weight. I can only image the joy the men and women who walk miles and miles just to get to the mountain must feeling having reached it (and feel a pang of guilt for being ferried around in a taxi)

Once down from the river we met a man who wanted to show a couple of us his village across the river, which is one of the oldest villages in the Himalayas. It was made of wooden carves strung with wheat drying in the sun and the women and children sat around in clusters eating mangos, dressed in the most brightly colored woven clothes. We were led into an old wooden temple and climbed ladders made of hollowed logs until we reached the top where we were given Shiva's blessings and then taken to a rickety balcony to see the view.

Ten or so of the village children who had been following us noticed that I had been collecting flowers and began grabbing handfuls of potatoe flowers and thrusting them at me and refused to quit...and so we trailed flowers after us through the town.

Then, down to the second village temple where a wedding had just been celebrated and flowers still lay everywhere...And standing in from of the snake god's temple, it hit me - a wall of naseau that threatened to knock me flat. Clinging to the edge of a shit-filled hole in the ground, vomitting my guts out, I saw a spider as big as my hand walk up that wall and was humbled before it all. Wrapped in blankets and sweating off a fever I marveled at how in one day India brought me to the highest (11,000 feet) and then soon after had me on my knees racked with pain. This is India thus-far, always in extremes, constantly reminding me that I am fragile and not a part of it.

We left Yamunotri the next day, and I thanked the river and the mountains but in truth was entirely glad to leave.