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Indiestani's Travel Blog
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Amritsar - Manali
Indiestani's Travel Blog
Rishikesh, Agra, and Jaipur
Khajjuraho - Orchha - Varanasi

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Fall Break

Khajuraho, India

Last week our program gave us a break from classes and took us down to Central India to Orchha and Khajuraho for the weekend. We took a train from Delhi to Jhansi, where we then took a coach-bus from Jhansi, through Orchha, down to Khajuraho. There we spent 2 nights and 2 and a half days exploring beautiful Khajuraho – which is most famous for it being the birthplace of the Kamasutra.

In Khajuraho we saw these insanely impressive temples that were built around the 1st century AD, which the most intricate carvings all around the inside and outside. We had a guided tour in and around the Laxman and Kandaria Mahadev temples, from which I learned a lot about the representations of the Hindu deities and the significance of the erotic carvings in the architecture. We also got to see some really impressive Jain temples. Our time was spaced out, so we were able to enjoy afternoons lounging by the hotel pool and hang out at the bar with our tour director, Pulinji, who organized and accompanied us on our trips to Mussoorie and Agra and Jaipur.

We also got to go on this awesome jeep safari ride through the rural old villages of
Khajuraho, away from the newer, more touristy section of the town. They took us out to the jungle where we did a 1 km hike through the woods to this clearing where there were these huge canyons formed by inactive volcanoes.

We were scheduled to go back to Delhi on Monday around lunch time, and everyone had the rest of the week off from classes to do independent travel. Many of the other students went down south to Kerala, and some went up north to Nepal, but I had made arrangements to meet up with a friend of a friend I met here in India and stay in his hometown of Orchha and wound up having a really great time travelling around with him.

I was able to have our tour bus drop me off back in Orchha, since it was on the way to Jhansi where everyone else would get the train back to Delhi. It was there that my friend, Raj, came and picked me up and drove me and my luggage further into town on the back of his motorcycle. He got me set up at a really nice guesthouse where I left my stuff, and the next 2 days I spent getting to know him and his friends in town.

Orchha is this beautiful small town in Central India that has one little main market bazaar in the middle of the town outside the main temple, and all these huge palaces, ancient temples, tombs and cenotaphs scattered around the edges. Raj took me on a personal tour of the sights and we climbed way up inside the deserted crevaces of some of the palaces which had spectacular views of the town.

My favorite part of Orchha, however, was getting to know Raj and his friends. I spent a lot of time just hanging out with the locals at their shops, at the temple, or just having chai and pakoras out on the main street. I got to meet Raj’s family, went swimming in the river, went to temple services at night, and got to know lots of local gossip. It was so fascinating to be welcomed into this world of people, and by the end of my very short stay I started feeling like a local myself. About an hour before I left I was sitting down at Raj’s friend’s food stall and this guy sitting next to me introduced himself. When I told him my name he said, “Oh, you’re the student from Delhi!”

After Orchha, I had decided to travel East to the city of Varanasi, and I convinced Raj to come with me since he’s Indian and speaks fluent Hindi, I didn’t want to travel alone, and also because he hasn’t travelled much outside his home town and I figured I could do him this favor. We took a direct overnight train from Jhansi to Varanasi in non-AC Sleeper class which I will NEVER AGAIN do in my life. It took us about 14 hours in that crowded, unair-conditioned train, to reach Varanasi (which is also called Banaras).

I had always gotten the impression from people who have been, that Varanasi/Banaras was this incredibly holy city, known as the place where Lord Shiva resides, situated along the Ganges. My first impression was that it was extremely congested, crude, and dirtier even than Delhi. We pushed our way through the rickshaw drivers who rip off tourists to get their cut of commission and eventually made our way to a decently priced guesthouse with survive-able conditions that overlooked the Ganges. Our view, however, was obstructed by this large factory-looking building that actually turned out to be the main crematorium in the city.

[Without going too much into Hindu mythology, let me simply explain that the Ganges is the holiest of holy rivers and people travel to Varanasi from all over the country, quite simply, to die. It is believed that once you die, if your ashes or remains are thrown into the Mother Ganges, your life will be erased of sin and your soul with go directly to Nirvana.]

I was mortified to discover that people who cannot afford to have a typical burial celebration, donate the bodies of their beloved deceased to this crematorium, which I was told burns about 150 bodies per day, where the body is burned and this creates electricity for the town. I never got used to the fact that the smell and smoke emanating from that building was that of burning bodies, but was eventually able to just accept it. It’s economical at the very least, although that’s not to say there weren’t frequent power outages.

Raj wound up being a great travel companion and was always optimistic and never awkward or uncomfortable. Through him I got to know and trust our hotel manager, Kailash, who set us up with a rickshaw that took us up North to Sarnath on our second day there. Sarnath is most famous for being the birthplace of Buddhism, and even though I didn’t get to see it with Raj, since tourists and Indian nationals I guess aren’t allowed to tour together since they’re charged separate rates everywhere, I really enjoyed seeing all the temples and landscapes.

When we got back that night, Kailash got us a great rate on a boat-ride on the Ganges where we got to see all the Ghats, which Varanasi is also famous for. From my understanding, a “ghat” is just a series of steps leading to a body of water. In Varanasi, there are dozens of beautiful Ghats which line the holy river that have been built and named after famous people throughout India’s history. Everyday at sunrise and sunset there are these Arti (fire) ceremonies where people pay homage to the Mother Ganges. Some are more elaborate than others, but the guy who took us out on the boat took us to see the biggest ceremony at the main ghat. It was so beautiful and elaborate and really made me appreciate the city a bit more.

Our last day in Banaras, we got up at the crack of dawn to see the sun rise over the river. It was absolutely stunning. Raj got to bathe in the river, which was really meaningful for him as a devout Hindu. Despite the fact that everyone kept telling me it was the cleanest, purest healing water in the world, I simply refused after seeing the trash, muck, and dead cattle floating in it. Call it cultural ignorance but there was just no way I was about to soak myself in that water, even though dozens and dozens of locals were out there at 6am performing ritual baths and doing their laundry on the banks of the ghats.

Later on we toured the huge Hindu University and got to walk around its museum. We did some last minute shopping, and Kailash saw us off to the railway station where I caught a 5pm train back to Delhi, and Raj got a train back to Jhansi where he’d then get a bus to Orchha. I had such a great time with Raj, especially in Orchha at his hometown, but I was ready at that point to go back to Delhi and get some rest. This time, I rode the train in AC class, but unfortunately my experience hardly improved. My train was an hour late arriving, which is normal, but what was supposed to be a 12-14 hour overnight train didn’t arrive in Delhi until 2:30pm Sunday afternoon – about 21.5 hours after departing from Varanasi. When we finally got to the station I practically ran off the train, I was so glad to be on solid ground.

So that’s the short version of my September break. Classes are starting to pick up, I just had a midterm in my Social Stratification class at JNU. I’m starting to have to think about what I’ll be doing for my final projects, but in the meantime there is so much more of Delhi I have yet to explore. Tomorrow starts another week of classes, so I’m going to finish up some reading and head to bed.


permalink written by  Indiestani on September 28, 2008 from Khajuraho, India
from the travel blog: Khajjuraho - Orchha - Varanasi
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Rishikesh, Agra, and Jaipur

Agra, India

First off let me apologize for not updating this sooner, but between travelling and classes, these past few weeks have just flown by. So let's catch up.

After I got back from Mumbai, I came back to Delhi with every intention of staying in Delhi through the next week. That is until one of my friends found cheap bus tickets to Rishikesh, a town about 6 hours away, for Rs. 250 one-way (about $6 American). Of course I couldn't pass up a good travel deal so I tagged along. There were 6 of us in total; 3 stayed in an Ashram, and the rest of us stayed at a guest house in the upper bank area of Rishikesh and met up with a few friends we had met in Dharamsala.

Rishikesh is this beautiful hillstation town in the Himalayas that is situated right along the Ganges River. It has a lot of religious and historical significance to the Hindus and is full of temples and shrines. We wound up meeting these really nice locals who took 3 of us on 2 motorbikes all the way up through the mountains to this Hindu temple that’s supposedly 5,000 years old. Afterwards, they took us up to this beautiful waterfall that’s close to one of sources of water that flow into the Ganges. We went swimming, took some pictures, and ate food at this great restaurant near our guesthouse.

The Rs. 250 bus ride home was not worth a rupee more than we paid. It was unair-conditioned so we had to keep our windows open to get any kind of breeze, and we must have driven through the dirtiest, smelliest, dustiest rural towns in all of India. It was so brutal. We also hit a ton of traffic coming home and we got dropped off at the most remote location in Delhi we had never been. Long story short, we got home really late and sitting and commuting to class for about 7 hours the next day really sucked.

The following weekend we had a scheduled group trip to Agra and Jaipur. We were all excited to go see the Taj Mahal and spend some quality group time together. We wound up staying in 4 and 5 star hotels because our travel agent, Pulin ji, was able to pull some strings. In Agra we got to see this huge palace/fortress, and of course the legendary Taj Mahal. In Jaipur we drove through the Old City (or “Pink City”), rode elephants up through this big fort complex, and saw some more palaces, gardens, and ruins. It was a lot to pack in to one weekend, and we were on the road for probably 6 hours each day.

At some of the more touristy sights, the beggars and vendors were really aggressive. They’d follow us all through the main fortress roads and bazaars. Outside the Taj Mahal, there was this one little boy trying to sell us keychains who couldn’t have been more than 12 and spoke really good English. He kept following us and it turned out that he spoke Spanish, French, Chinese, and multiple local Indian languages almost fluently. We actually conversed with him for awhile in Spanish - it was so random. Perhaps he only knows a few key phrases really well, and might not have be able to write or read them, but I just think about all the opportunities for someone like that back in the States and seeing him there on the streets of Agra begging tourists to buy keychains…it seems like a talent wasted.

This was pretty much the first weekend I got to really explore Delhi. I’ve been so grateful to finally be able to take a break from travelling and get to know my way around the city. I’ve also started to explore some side projects and have gotten acquainted with various people involved in some really interesting stuff that will help compliment my studies here.

Friday I went out with my Cities of Delhi class on a trip to see the Qutb Minar complex, just south of where I live in Neeti Bagh. It was built around the 12th century AD and was one of the first (if not the first) “city” of Delhi. It’s still very much intact and houses the world’s largest stone brick minaret (architectural feature of Islamic mosques).
It was just nice having some free time this weekend to hop in a rickshaw and go exploring. I saw a lot I haven’t seen before, and there’s still so much left to see. Next week we have a break from classes and the program is taking us down South to Kajuraho. Afterwards I’ll be travelling to Viranasi and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

But for now I’ve gotta go finish some papers. Peace!

permalink written by  Indiestani on September 7, 2008 from Agra, India
from the travel blog: Rishikesh, Agra, and Jaipur
tagged TajMahal, Jaipur, Agra, Rishikesh, Ganges and PinkCity

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Mumbai Pride!

Mumbai, India

It's taken us over a month, but we (the students and staff of the IES program) have finally established a schedule for our classes that most everyone is satisfied. We worked it so that we all have friday's off, and some even have friday and thursday off. This gives us a good amount of time on the weekends to travel.

Once I decided to come to India, I started doing some research on the cultural climate to try and get a feel of what I was getting myself into. I knew of course that India as a whole is a typically more conservative than the U.S. The girls here have been told to cover their shoulders and not to wear low-cut shirts, and to travel always travel in groups preferably with at least one male. I sort of knew all this before, but what I didn't know, and am slowly discovering, is India's cultural attitude towards homosexuality.

In my research I found that there is a law in the Indian Penal Code called Section 377, which states that anyone who engages in "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_india) This law was established during the British rule and basically makes homosexual acts illegal. Though this law is written on the books, homosexuality (of course) still exists in india, and in many major cities there is a vibrant gay nightlife.

About a week before I arrived in Delhi in July, the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, and Calcutta celebrated their first every gay pride celebration. The city of Mumbai, which is notoriously liberal and metropolitan, did not participate on that date, but held its pride celebration last weekend on Saturday, August 16th - they day after India's Independence day. This was done purposely to symbolize the fact that while 60 years ago India gained its independence from the British, the LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual and transgendered) community is still bound by section 377 of the British Penal Code.

So...of course I had to go.

My friend and I booked a ticket to Mumbai for the weekend, and I was actually able to get in touch with an international student from Bryant who offered to let us stay with her. It was definitely an adventure getting there, since I still don’t have a phone and everyone else’s got shut off because of Independence day (still not sure why). But we made it safely Friday morning to Mumbai, and took a cab to my friend’s place where we got a wonderfully warm Indian welcome.

Friday night we got to see the city a bit and meet a bunch of our host’s friends. Mumbai is a beautiful city, much more organized and clean-looking than Delhi. It’s sort of like the Manhattan of India since it’s so extravagant and it’s also surrounded by water just off the Southwest coast. There’s also a ton of money in Mumbai, and we were able to eat at some amazing high-class restaurants, bars, and lounges.

We went to bed so late Friday night that we slept-in til about 2pm Saturday, and although we got to Chowpatty (where the parade was supposed to be) we actually wound up missing the first half of the parade because they switched the time at the last minute. We were able to see the end of the parade, where everyone gathered at the beach holding signs, wearing rainbow hats and boas, and dancing on the sidewalk. It was a much smaller gathering than I’m used to seeing in places like Boston or Providence, where their pride celebrations are on such a larger scale, but for India – this was huge. Mumbai had its first official gay pride celebration (which I think might have even been more of a protest) in 2005, but everyone we talked to said that this was by far the most successful one. After the gathering, everyone piled into this little café across the street and got completely drunk and sang along to the Madonna tunes playing over the speakers inside.

It was a truly existential moment being there seeing and talking to all these people who were so excited to have a Pride of their very own. This was a gigantic step forward for India and for the LGBT community.

The next morning we took a taxi out sightseeing for a bit and made sure we got that day’s paper before we left to remember our visit. The flight home was delayed, so we got home much later than we expected, but the flight itself was quick so it wasn’t too draining. All in all it was a fantastic trip that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

permalink written by  Indiestani on August 20, 2008 from Mumbai, India
from the travel blog: Mumbai
tagged Mumbai and GayPride

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Northern India

Amritsar, India

This past week has been crazy hectic, but let me write a little bit about my week-long adventure in Northern India last week. Sorry this entry is unbearably long, but hopefully it’s worth the read.

The program I’m here with has been going through a lot of changes, so there has been a lot of scheduling adjustments. We wound up having an entire extra week between when our allotted orientation schedule ended, and our classes began. Needless to say, most of us took the opportunity to travel. I wound up finding this great-sounding tour that started in Amritsar and took us through these small mountain towns in the Himalayas. So for the next 9 days and 8 nights, myself and 4 other American friends here with me in the program went on this tour.

We hopped on a train on Friday evening and arrived in Amritsar, located in the Northwestern state of Punjab. There we spent 2 nights in a nice hotel, and on Saturday got a guided tour of the Harmandir Sahib, known in English as the Golden Temple. For as long as I have known about India, I have known about the Golden Temple and its religious significance to the Sikhs. This temple is a sacred holy site because of it houses the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, holy book of scriptures, and its free community kitchen where anyone regardless of race, religion, sex, or origin is invited to come sit and enjoy a meal.

The pictures I have posted do not do the temple justice. For one, photography is prohibited inside the temple itself, where the walls, floors, and ceilings are covered in the most intricate, beautifully handcarved symbols, designs, and animal representations in marble, gold, and other precious elements. Walking around the perimeter alone was enough to take my breath away, and having the opportunity to go inside and see dozens of people volunteering for free to make thousands of Chapatis (bread) and food for all of the tens of thousands of pilgrims and visitors.

At night, we were taken out about 30 km or so to the Indian border, where we got to see the Wagah Border Ceremony at the India-Pakistan border. It was a great event, full of tourists from all over shouting chants meant to inspire nationalism and pride. It was insanely-humid, though, and by 6:30pm we were drenched in sweat just by sitting down.

After we got dropped off at the hotel, a few of us decided to take a rickshaw back to the Golden Temple to see it at night. The temple has people working there to keep it functioning and alive 24 hours a day, and it had a completely different feel at night. Still just as breathtaking and full of life, but in a very different way. Many people came up to us asking us where we are from and we took a few pictures with people. I also got to take a swim in the sacred waters, which some might be repulsed by knowing the amount of people who swim in those waters, but it was a very calming experience. One of the girls on our trip got really ill with a stomach condition and actually got progressively better, completely cured by the end of our trip, after swimming in the water surrounding the Harmandir Sahib.

The next day we took a 6 hour drive in our taxi to a small town called Dhalhousie, where we had this stunning view from our hotel room windows of the Himalayas. There was a ledge outside that connected our rooms where we sat out and sipped chai and watched the sun set over the mountains.

The next 2 nights we spent in Dharamsala, a small town in the state of Himachal Pradesh famously known for its large Tibetan community and being the hometown of the 14th and current Dalai Lama. The first night, a few of us went out and explored upper-Dharamsala, known as McLeod Ganj, to get to know our way around. The next morning, we set out to the main Tibetan temple in the town where we actually got to sit and listen to the Dalai Lama speak in person. He spoke in Tibetan, of course, so we had to bring radios with us so we could listen to the English translation being broadcast.

Later that night we got to explore the town a bit more, then went back to our hotel to pack and get some sleep. The next day we drove about 9 hours from Dharamsala through the mountains to a town called Manali. We stayed in Manali for 3 nights, met some really amazing people, and shared some great times. It’s a bit of a tourist town, much like most of the towns we stopped in, but the locals are so friendly and they really seemed to love meeting Americans, since they mostly interact with Europeans. One day, we drove to this town about 2 km away called Vashisht, where there is this beautiful Hindu temple in the middle of the town that has these natural sulfur hot springs. That morning it was raining very lightly, so relaxing in those hot sulfur springs felt amazing. Later that day our friends from Manali met up with us and took us on a hike through the woods to this beautiful waterfall.

By the end of our trip, we were all pretty worn out from travelling and soaking in all the sights, but we had to suck it up for one last day and endure yet another 8 hour voyage by taxi, this time from Manali to Chandigarh, where we were to catch a train back to Delhi. Our taxi driver (who, by the way, didn’t speak English OR Hindi and was a raging alcoholic) dropped us off way early so we had to wait in the crowded, filthy, incredibly humid train station for about 4 hours for our train to come. It was pretty miserable, but thankfully we had a short 3 hour trip back in our nicely air conditioned train. Arriving back in Delhi was a breath of fresh air, and despite the pollution, poverty, and chaos of the downtown, it actually felt really good to be riding in that crowded rickshaw back to our residence in Neeti Bagh.

permalink written by  Indiestani on August 13, 2008 from Amritsar, India
from the travel blog: Amritsar - Manali
tagged Manali, Amritsar, Dharamsala, GoldenTemple, DalaiLama and Dalhousie

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Hindi class and JNU

New Delhi, India

I'm going strong into week 2 here in Delhi, and the days just keep getting warmer. Yesterday it was about 33 degrees C with about 60% humidity. That may seem like a just another hot July day in the States, but with the hustle of the city and crowds of people all around wherever you go, believe me when I say it feels a lot warmer here.

This past week has involved a lot of activity. Since we got back from our Mussoorie trip, we've started our Intensive Hindi class in the afternoons. We have a great teacher who is very proficient in both languages, and is able to explain some of the cultural intonations that go into learning a language so different from many western languages. As of now, we've almost gotten through the entire 48-character alphabet, including vowels, and can read and write in Devangari script. We've also learned several useful phrases and this week we're tackling grammar.

Aside from Hindi class, we've been doing some touring at other Universities in Delhi where we have the opportunity to take classes outside of the classes offered through the IES program. So far, I've been most impressed with the sociology classes offered at JNU. JNU is a graduate school named after Jawaharlal Nehru - the first prime minister of India (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawaharlal_Nehru). The class I'm looking to take is called "Social Stratification in India" and focuses a lot on class discussion to help us understand the reading. Because it's a graduate school, the students seem a bit older, but the campus is beautiful and I'm definitely looking forward to studying in that atmosphere.

Next week, some of us have a big break in our schedule. They left us some free time because some students are moving into homestays, and some have already started classes at JNU. A handful of us have decided to hop on a train to Northern India, where we're planning on taking a tour from Amritsar in Punjab to see the Golden Temple, to Dalhousie, to the beautiful mountains of Dharamsala, to Manali, and finally landing in Kullu where we'll take a train back to Delhi. The whole trip will last 9 days and 8 nights. The few of us who are going are so excited, and will be taking tons of pictures all around.

Gotta go get some lunch before Hindi class, I'll write more later!

permalink written by  Indiestani on July 30, 2008 from New Delhi, India
from the travel blog: New Delhi
tagged Hindi and Jnu

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Beautiful Mussoorie

Mussoorie, India

This past weekend, the IES staff took all 12 of us up about 6 hours north of Delhi to a beautiful resort town called Mussoorie located at the foothills of the Himalayas. An attraction site for many tourists, Mussoorie boasts a fantastic view of the mountain side from where ever you are in the town, and great shopping!

We had to take a 5 hour train ride from Delhi to a city called Dehradun, and we took the most insane hour and a half cab ride through the city way up the mountains to our hotel in Mussoorie. I don't know what you all have heard about driving in India, but seriously, anything goes. You think Massachusetts and RI drivers are bad? You ain't seen NOTHIN! Driving in Delhi is terrifying enough, but going 30-40 mph on a very narrow, very windy mountain road where your view out the window is a several thousand mile drop was just nauseating! We put a lot of faith into our awesome cab driver, though, who has grown up in Mussoorie and his father and grandfather still reside there. He knew what he was doing, and after we got used to the turns and the honking, it was quite exhilarating!

Our first stop when we reached Mussoorie was this tibetan school for refugees sponsored by an organization called the Tibetan Homes Foundation. We watched a short documentary and were able to ask questions and learn more about the school and the greater tibetan refugee network in India from one of the staff who helps organize fundraising. There are a lot of tibetan reservations in India, and they are all greatly supported by the Indian government. It was fascinating to learn about, and afterwards we got a tour of the tibetan children's village where all the kids live, and also got to see the temple they pray at - which is where the Dalai Lama comes to visit.

We arrived to our hotel on Saturday night and were able to walk through the downtown once to get a gist of where we were. The hotel was, in my opinion, absolutely gorgeous and completely unlike any hotel I've ever been in. It was so surreal walking through the town and right from the street you would look over and see thousands of miles of green, fresh, fertile mountainside. The air was the coolest, cleanest, purest air I've ever felt, and there were parts when we were driving up that we felt as though we were at the edge of the universe because you couldn't see past the edge of the road since we were literally in the clouds.

The next day, a smaller group of us had decided to take one of the cabs about an hour drive away from Mussoorie to a small town called Dhanaulti. It's smaller than Mussoorie, but like Mussoorie, they rely on tourism as their main income, so there were lots of interesting shops in the downtown area. Our main purpose of going there, however, was to trek up the mountain by foot 10,000 feet up to a Hindu temple. The hike up was probably the best part. When you first start you walk through a gated entrance and ring a big bell to signal the start of your hike. The higher we went, the thinner the air got, and a couple of us had to stop because their asthsma was getting too bad. In the end, we all made it to the top, and got to look around this really cool site. We met some other Indian tourists who were excited to see white people and took lots of pictures of us.

It was cold and rainy, so to prevent getting sick we eventually hiked back down and got some hot tea and soup for lunch back in downtown Dhanaulti. We headed back to Mussoorie and had the taxis drop us off on the main street so we could do some shopping before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Sunday we woke up early, piled into taxis, and headed further up the mountain to a local NGO office. I forget the name of the NGO, but what they do is help educate the women in nearby villages about proper health and hygeine care. In many rural areas in India, women are seen as impure while they are menstruating, so they are not allowed near the men, in kitchens, or places of worship. Because of this custom, many women who are pregant wind up giving birth by themselves in the cow shed, which is (obviously) extremely unhygeinic and frequently results in miscarriage or death of the mother. This NGO teaches the women proper pre and post natal care, and helps them to understand how to fill out the necessary paperwork to get vaccines and checkups at the nearby hospital, since many of them are illiterate. It was a fascinating place that does really great work.

After that, we drove down a little ways and visited a small village school for grades 3 through 10. You know those commercials you see in the US about "saving the children" in poor third world countries and you see the shots of their dilapadated schools? That was basically what we toured, except the children weren't moping around tired and hungry, they were genuinely happy to be in school and really excited to have us as guests. The students asked us our names and let us take pictures with them. Their attitudes reminded me a bit of those in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; optimistic and perfectly content despite their less-than adequate resources and surroundings. Then again, their school is in the middle of the Himalayas overlooking mind-blowingly gorgeous mountainside vegitation. Also, the director pointed out to us that Marijuana grows wild there and we actually saw a few plants! Crazy, huh?

We all have been doing really well about not getting sick, but a couple of the other students were starting to get pretty light-headed and dizzy because of the altitude. Not bad, though, considering all the different kinds of food we've been eating and all the things we could have gotten sick from.

Later on that day, we packed up our stuff at the hotel, piled into our taxis once more, and headed back to Dehradun so we could catch the next train back to Delhi. One other cultural obstacle we have had to over come during that trip: Indian toilets. For the most part, the bathrooms are...relatively clean, but it's still strange having to pee in a ceramic hole in the wall. And on the train, that hole doesn't go anywhere but down. You can actually see the tracks flying by underneath you. It's really not too bad...until you reach a stop and the mixture of train tracks covered in extraments with humid, India air is just NOT pleasant.

It was nice coming back to our residence later on that evening and sleeping in our cool, dry, comfortable beds. Our hotel in Mussoorie was beautiful and spacious, but one thing about being in the mountains during monsoon season is that there's sooo much moisture in the air it made our sheets feel damp, which made it difficult to sleep through the night.

Overall, our weekend excursion to the Himalayas was so amazing. Every moment was breathtaking, and every breath was a moment to remember. I remember feeling a bit uneasy at first, being a big group of white tourists walking down this touristy resort town. But the shops here are only open from June to September because the winters are very harsh here. It's a bit like ptown, in that sense. People hustle and work very hard for a few months so that they can afford to live throughout the year. On our way back from one of our shopping trips downtown we actually met this 16 year old boy dressed in a school uniform and started talking to him. He spoke great english and told us that his dad is a business man who owns a shop downtown. For me, that cleared my conscience because it set in a reality that the money I spend here indulging in senseless consumerism is actually supporting local families and paying for this kid's education. It was gratifying, in a way.

Anyways, I gotta run. We're in the midst of taking tours to different colleges, scrambling around trying to choose courses we want to take for the semester. I'll update later, and in the meantime check out the pics from Mussoorie!

permalink written by  Indiestani on July 23, 2008 from Mussoorie, India
from the travel blog: Mussoorie
tagged Mountains, Mussoorie and Himalayas

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Prelude to the trip of a lifetime

New Delhi, India

Greetings from India!

It has been a mindblowing first 4 days here in the capital of this incredible country. I can't help but think back several months to when I first decided to come to India to study. Since then, many people have asked me why I waited until senior year to go abroad, and to most of them I reply with "Why not?"
I actually had no intention of going abroad during undergrad because I got the impression that it would just be too much money. I realize now that yes, it can cost a lot, but the added benefit is invaluable. And as I saw more and more of my friends begin to engage in independent travel and tell me stories of different parts of the world, I definitely started to catch the travelbug, and from there began exploring options for semesters abroad.

The second question people often asked was "Why India?" To this I have a few responses. One is that it took me awhile to figure out which subject(s) I felt most passionately about academically, and when I finally declared my major as Sociology Service Learning because of my interest in understanding socioeconomic differences and my overall fascination with people, India, still undeniably influenced by the caste system, seemed like a perfect fit. Many people also don't know that my mother lived in a Sikh Ashram for several years while I was growing up, so I learned a lot of the customs, traditions, and even some of the Punjabi language. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism)

Needless to say, I have been looking forward to this trip for so long and once I officially applied to the IES program in Delhi, my excitement and motivation grew ten fold every time I learned something new about India or the opportunities offered through my program. During spring semester, I was busy enough with classes and extracurricular activities, and at times it seemed overwhelming to have to sift through paperwork and trudge through the red tape necessary to study abroad. But the study abroad offices at both Bryant and IES were extremely helpful in answering my questions and providing me with the necessary paperwork and background information I needed to feel comfortable and secure.

Once the semester ended, I decided to move to Provincetown, Mass with my roommate in order to work and save as much money as I could in order to really enjoy myself when I went away. Okay fine, maayybe the fact that Ptown is like, the greatest place on earth (or at least the east coast) also had a little bit to do with it, too. I wound up working about 4 or 5 jobs over the course of 6 weeks, and becoming friends with amazing people. I actually learned so much living on my own and doing some interesting odd jobs. I was only there for a short time, but I left feeling much older. When it came time to move back home, I had about 6 days to get any errands, paperwork, and wits together before the big departure. It's so strange to think that 7, 8, 9 days ago I was running around the greater boston area like a madman scheduling doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, buying supplies, filling out paperwork, spending time saying goodbye to friends and family...it seems like so long ago.

These past several months I did a lot of research to prepare myself physically, mentally, and emotionally for an 8,000 mile voyage across the Atlantic. The one thing I never anticipated was how difficult it would be to say goodbye to my family. I have done a pretty good amount of travelling around the U.S. for someone my age, but I have never been outside of the states. Never. Not even to Canada. So the idea of being separated from my parents and my siblings for such a long time and not being able to visit them when I want is very foreign to me. Even now it hasn't hit me yet, though I'm sure it will. But for the most part, they understand that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and that all their patience, hardwork, and dedication to my wellbeing is going to pay off in so many ways.

I was very nervous and a bit overwhelmed navigating through security and making sure I was boarding the correct plane at first, but as soon as I sat down in those nice comfy American Airlines seats and felt the rumble of the engine as it prepared for a 6.5 hour voyage to London, I knew that my comfortable, suburban world as I knew it was about to shatter. And I couldn't have been more grateful.


I am living now in Delhi, India in a gated middle-class neighborhood called Neeti Bagh in the southern part of the city. There are 12 other students from all over the U.S. here with me doing this program (3 boys, 9 girls), and all of us are getting along wonderfully. Everyone is just so excited to be here and we all come from such different places, yet we all have this intense infatuation with India. The staff here has been so so SO extremely helpful and every one of them has gone far out of their way to help us and to make sure we are safe when we travel, eat, sleep, ... everything! I can't stress enough how supportive and fantastic this program is - they spoil us here!

At a later time I will elaborate more on the sights, smells, colors, and people that I have met so far and the fun things we have been doing during orientation, but for now it's getting late and tomorrow we have to get up and leave by 5:30am to catch a train to Mussoorie up North in the mountains for a weekend excursion. I encourage you all to look through my pictures to see some of the Neeti Bagh neighborhood, Delhi markets, and the Ghandi Museum we got to go to today.

Indian fact of the day:
Timur (great grandson [I think] of Ghengis Khan who had control of Delhi after the Tughlaqabad dynasty) loved to play chess, and the term "Checkmate" comes from the Hindi phrase "Shah (sometimes pronounced Sheh) Maat" which literally translates to "King You are Defeated."

Cool, eh? Okay, off to bed for me. Goodnight!

permalink written by  Indiestani on July 18, 2008 from New Delhi, India
from the travel blog: New Delhi
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