Sunday, March 7, 2010
It just a matter of good timing, the right place and a good seat. The Dalai Lama lives in a small town called Mcleod Ganj, at a temple complex for a few weeks out of the year. He has a few different homes around the world and stays at these while speaking. I happened to visit this town, which I didn't know he lived. I happened to be in town when he was speaking. So I walked down the road and went through the security check, sat down on the steps and waited amongst the faithful.
A second closed room would be used for his talks, but the open courtyard is for puplic audience. The man walks through the courtyard and up a flight of steps. I didn't get a chance to sit and contemplate buddhism over tea... But I did see the greying of his hair, and his distinctive half smile.
My encounter was brief, but I could feel his presence and the power he had over his followers. I was star struck for the first time in my life. Meeting some movie star doesn't really do it for me. But the Dalai Lama is just different.
Thats my story. Wish I could say we had a lifechanging talk. But a quick glimpse was pretty cool anyway.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
So its come time to leave Mathura. Aside from the temples, and the annual Holi festival, little else draws the traveler to this place. Mainly an industrial town, the dirty streets and polluted waters make the stay a challenge. The tourist draw creates a competative sale, and the constant hassle becomes too much. I'm happy to leave.
I board a bus at 1pm to Delhi. A stop over in the citybefore an overnight sleeper train towards the northern town of Dharamsala. I'm happy for the company of Martin and Neel, two friends who had themselves painted from head to toe with me at the festival. We make the 4 hour trip in 28 degree heat, sweating in the cramped back seat sharing the bench with our luggage and the rotation of various Indians. The bumpy slow bus arrives on the outskirts of town, and after haggling for the best rickshaw rate, we again climb into our cramped quarters and head off into the city. I have a few hour to spare before my journey continues. We have lunch and exchange the cursory e-mail contacts, and then I kill an hour at the internet cafe, updating my blog ;)
So my train departs at 9pm. I had verified my seat, and train at the New Delhi station that afternoon. I assumed of course that this was the correct boarding site. I arrived at the station with a half hour grace, to buy some water, snacks and get my seat before departure. So when I look to the train listings, and I can't find my train number I get a little worried. I quickly ask the nearest official, and i'm told my train leaves from OLD Delhi station. Information I thought would have been given when confirming me seat...
So its now 20 minutes to 9, I have to get across a large section of one of the busiest cities in the world. My rickshaw driver is encouraged for the first time by me, to drive like hell and get me there fast. My fears of collision are lessened by my need to catch the train. So as we weave through traffic, I'm thinking more about my train than near death. We reach the station, and I dart across the street, thankful for my experience in Indian J walking. I push and shove like the best of the Indians, rushing my way up the stairs and to my platform. I scan the listings as I rush up the stairs and luckily find my train with ease. But as I'm descending the stairs, I see my train in motion. Its starting up slow, but moving none the less. I run along the train, and catch onto the first car I see. I pull myself up into the car as the train picks up pace. I sigh relief and next figure out which car I'm on, and which car I should be on. I start working my way down the cabins, passing between cars, and towards the front of the train.
I've passed through at least 7 train cars before I reach a locked gate. A barrier which separates 2nd, from 1st class. I groan with frustration realizing I need to wait for a stop in the route, to get to the next car. To my relief, I feel the train slow, and gradually stop. Its between stations, a stretch of track in some unknown part of the city. So I grab up my bag and guitar, and push my way towards the doors. I poke my head out and look up towards the next car, i cross my fingers and climb down onto the gravel. I have a moment when I realize now that I'm in the middle of the city, in some desolate stretch of train track, and that i really, really need to get to the next car. So I dash to the next ladder and climb back into the safety of the train. Just a brief moment, but scary all the same. I work my way down, and find another locked door, but this one is luckily able to be opened by the staff, and I can avoid the risk of being left at the track side again.
At last I'm on the right car, I find my bunk and I can finally stretch out and relax! I make my bed and read a chapter before passing out for a great sleep. My journey is not over yet.
I disembark from one train at 7:15, and board another. Within 20 minutes I'm moving again, up and towards the mountains. I'm leaving the town of Pathankot elevation 331 meters, destined for the mountain town of Dharamsala at 1,457 meters. The narrow gauge line weaves its way up a steep track, offering my first glimpse of the mighty Himalaya mountains. I look out the window at the distant peaks in awe, the completion of a dream since I first saw Canada's own Rocky Mountain range.
The end of my train journey is continued with two more buses. Further climbing into the mountains, up to an elevation of 2,082 meters in McLeod Ganj. Its around 1 pm in the afternoon, and a full 24 hours of travel. Some 1800 meter in elevation and I'm on another planet.
McLeod Ganj is a community of exiled Tibetan refugees. Home of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. I feel as though I'm in a different country here. The air is crisp and clear. The streets are immaculate. The population is largely Tibetan. Maroon robes fill the streets, casting a calm and peaceful feeling across the city. The place is small, only 3 main streets, and surrounded only by two tiny villages higher in the mountains. Towards the valley one can see the rolling foothills of the great mountains. Uphill, the snow capped peaks are seen.
Today I saw the Dalai Lama. I am rarely star struck. I could care less to see the stars of Hollywood. But when this man walks through a courtyard, silence falls and people watch. The calm, smiling face puts everyone at ease. I sat and wondered in my mind how this man who was forced to leave his home, forced to watch as his people are systematically erradicated, how he can stay peaceful. How does he smile despite the pain and suffering he is forced to manage and deal with. I was shocked to read the postings in the Tibetan museum today. I'm shocked and disturbed that this injustice continues today. 1.2 million people died in the last 50 years. I am shocked that I knew nothing of this.
I urge anyone to educate themselves on the issue if nothing else.
I am leaving this wonderful place today. I am sad to leave after only 3 days, as this has by far been the greatest place i have seen in India. I have made friends with ease here. As a popular travel destination, I have even run into some people I met in Mathura and Agra. Martin from Holi, and the Red Faced German from my blog traveled here the day after I arrived. I saw them in the street and shared a dinner with some others. If there is a place that I will visit again, this is it. On my next trip to India, this will be a good starting point.
I'm headed home soon! March 9th I'll arrive at 4:10pm. I'm sad to leave Mcleod Ganj, But I am soo excited to leave India. I have never missed my home or my family more. I miss my wonderful, patient and Loving girlfriend so much. I can't wait to share some of these experiences in person, and to share the images I have captured.
Talk soon everyone, Thanks for reading :)
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
March 28th is marked with bonfires. An ancient ritual used to signify the burning of an ancient god, the death of an evil man. Though I'm unsure of the history, I am eager to be witness to the ceremony.
A shrine sits in waiting for the fire. It rests atop a massive pile of these discs shaped out of cow manure. Plate sized patties of shit left to dry in the sun, the sacred fuel for this sacred fire. Held together with wood and rope, the pile reaches four feet high, 8 feet squared. The Idol waits. The fire is not set to light for another hour so Martin, Neel, Jochem, and our two Indian friends from Dehli head to check out their hotel as they are eager and excited to show us the digs. We share whiskey and coke, but the devout Hindus deny our offers. Happy to enjoy the festival and need no extra celebration help, stating that being so close to this temple, and here in this town is intoxicating enough. So we finish our drinks and head back to watch the blaze. We approach as the flames just start, and as we reach within 20 feet we can feel the intensity of the heat. A crowd has gathered and the energy is palpable, the smiling faces and wide eyes lit from the fiery light. I feel the trickle of sweat down my face as I near the blaze, trying for the perfect picture. I snap a few portraits and by now its beyond hot, too much to handle.
We vacate the area, having seen enough. We head back to our hotel roof top to celebrate this foreign festival further. Three is a crowd, 5 is a group, and 10 is a party. We have drinks and music and within no time the dancing starts. We keep it authentic and move to the music as the locals do. Hands in the air, twirling and dancing like a bollywood star. The moon is full and the cool night air brings an amazing vibe that persists into the night. A Magical night with an International group. Sweden, Germany, England, America, Holland, Canada, Spain, Brazil.
I'm woken by the sound of drums, the shrill cries of excitement from the street. I'm groggy eyed from a late night atop the roof, dancing Indian style till the early morning hours. I have the same eager excitement as I get on Christmas morning, ready to run down and get the festivities started. I shower quickly and don my pure white clothes. I rush through the streets to grab a quick bite to eat, trying to avoid the mob of Indian boys with buckets of paint water.
I wolf down a spicy dish and I'm back to the hotel, managing to avoid the barrage of colour that awaits. I'm up the stairs and preparing my artillery for the showdown. I have paint water balloons, a water gun with colour water, bags of the Holi coloured powder. I am wearing my yet to be painted canvas of white. The first splash comes when I least expect it. The stream of dark green water hits my back and neck from below. Beneath me two boys have staked claim in the courtyard and shoot up towards me on the first floor balcony. The others have woken, eaten and are readying themselves too for the battle. Its time to show these young lads the advantage of higher ground. I race into the bathroom and fill the shower bucket with water. I creep around the side of the hotel, and with perfect aim I drench the first with a direct hit. Powder follows and before long, the attackers vanish, admitting defeat.
We convene as a group and the coloured water balloons are filled. A second round of battle begins and the street crowd below dodges the raining colour. A mad looking mob of coloured men surround the gates of our hotel, keeping us from making our way down to the street level. So we continue our attack from above. The bandits loose interest and wander down the street in search of easier targets to drench in the dark red soupy water.
We reach the ground and fan out in army style, keep watch and scouting a path. The war has just begun and we are in the trenches. The first bucket lands on Neel's head, the first fatality of Holi. His entire left side is marooned. We return fire and manage some damage in our rival colour green. As we work down the street the attacks are unavoidable, and soon we are smeared, painted and drenched head to foot in the rainbow colours of this amazing festival.
We hailed a taxi to the next town over, but have missed the prime action. We wander the streets and view the temples, wishing the passersby a Happy Holi and Hare Krishna. The occasional blessing of colour is given from the people, a gentle rubbing of powder across the forehead, against the cheeks and atop the head.
We end our day with a group photo and a final dousing of colour to each other, marking the end of a great Holi. We retire to our rooms and attempt with little success to remove some of the deeply stained colour.
I sit here in Dehli on my way to Dharmsala with green paint in my nails, and the light tint of yellow still on my ears. My face has a purple hue, but I am cast no strange looks. Well, no more strange looks than a big white guy in India gets. The colour is a symbol of my participation of this great holiday.
I am so happy to have been a part of this time here in India. From dancing in temples, to soaking locals in colour, I feel like I'm blessed to be a part of this.
I'm off to see the home of the Dali Lama, and to view the Himalaya mountains. A dream of mine since I first heard of these magnificent mountains. I am dreaming of the snow capped peaks.
I am also dreaming of home :) After the mountain retreat, I will be boarding my flight home. These past weeks will mark the perfect end to a great experience. One I will never forget.
Thank you all for letting me share such a great time in my life with you all. Love you, Miss you.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
I'll have the details up soon, and hope to have some picture to share in the coming days. If you want some more reading, my friend Jon I travelled with keeps a great blog, Lots more details of our travels together. Check it out
Hope you Enjoy it :)
Friday, February 26, 2010
Mathura - India
I have left the tourist saturated town of Agra, and have happily made my new temporary home in Matura. The town is renowned for being host to the most revered temple of Shri Krishna-the famous Krishna Janma Bhoomi Mandir. The temple is the place where lord Krishna is said to have been born thousands of years ago. This is significant because in a days time, the town will celebrate the biggest festival of the year, and I am in the town where it is celebrated the biggest. I imagine this festival to be a crazy combination of colour, dance and devotion.
The past two days spent here have been action packed already. As the town celebrates Holi for 16 days leading up to the final day, a certain energy exists in the place. There are travellers from all over India who come to praise lord Krishna, and view the site of the great lords birth. The streets are packed and the sales people are on full power.
I was lucky on my first morning to arrive at the temple as an event was taking place. I entered through the gates and made my way towards the mosh pit style crowd. Like a rock concert for Hindu's, a huge set of marble stairs were filled like bleachers, watching the floor space go crazy. On the ground level a play fight interaction was unfolding between some middle aged women and men dressed in costume. As the crowd of young men grew closer to the play fighters, the women would suddenly lash out at the crowd, beating the asses of the closest boys. This sent the crowd into a mob, pushing and shoving away from the assualt with huge intensity. I was happy to be a foot taller than the majority of Indian boys, so I could keep on my feet and avoid being trampled. But as this game of cat and mouse continues, the boys creep ever closer to the action, risking a beating, and seeing who can get closest.Of course I am urged forward, at this point unknowing of the potential bamboo beating. So that was how I learned first hand about the crazed middle aged women. I was gradually pushed to the front lines, and stood nervously near the edge of crowd, trying to find out what they were running from the first times. I saw the play fighting, and just as I'm about to duck back into the crowd, a woman breaks from her choreogrphy, and swings hard at my ass, I take the hit, and push into the crowd, I take two more hits to my legs and back before I cam able to shield myself with the first Indian I can grab. I laughed at myself then, and again now when I look back, picturing my self physically holding a small Indian man in front of me, using him as a shield from the beating of a middle aged Indian woman with a bamboo pole!
The colour was a deep pink that day. During the battles, people atop the surrounding roof tops threw handfuls of the powder dye down upon the crowd. Silver and gold confetti was mixed in with the mess, and those in the area walked out covered head to toe in these hues. I was late for the colours, arrive as the battle was finishing, having just enough time to get my ass beat before the celebration ceased and the shrine opened for viewing.
The local people, those of Hindu faith consider viewing the shrines of deity's to be as exciting as throwing colours and beating people with poles. The same excitment was evident as I followed the crowd through the inner workings of the grand temple. The clotrophobic, dark and narrow hallways led to a cave like room. A priest sat accepting donations and giving blessings as devotess by the thousands stream through, bowing, praying and reciting mantra. We exit through the other end, back along another narrow, dark hallway and out into the square.
I reflect on the devotion of these people, thinking hard about this celebration and the influence religion plays in the lives of these people. I have seen people lying flat at the entrance of shrines, rolling side to side, arms stretched over head, like a log roll back and forth in the name of god. I have seen tears and joy, excitment bording on riot. I observed one particular shrine. This building was designed like a childrens ammusment ride at a fair ground. The exterior is decorated as a massive fake mountain, shaped like boulders and surrounded by ponds and trees. In the yard in front, and herd of animals and sheppards are there for show. 3 rupees buys an entrance, and whole families line up to view the sacred insides. I throught to myself while I watched the procession of people enter and exit the building that this is like Canada's Wonderland for Hindu's. There are sweets sold, entertainment is all around, the rides are kind of lame, but essentially they have the same effect. I spoke further with a few travellers I met, and we discussed the same idea, and it seems that this society simply has a larger space for religion. We in the west have filled that need with our over abundance of social security and wealth. One guy even compared corporate infrustructure to ancient religion, with the CEO being the new priest. We are now devoted to the almighty dollar, praying that our jobs will bring us the happiness we pray for.
I still think its all smoke and mirrors. Literally. I sat yesterday in a temple that we were directed to by an unoffical "guide". This gentleman was so very helpful, gladly showing us around a particular temple, of course with no mention of wanting money. But of course that will come after he provides his great educational service to us. Anyway, were led into a temple, a beautiful hall lined to the ceiling with reflective glass and colorful tiles, light bouncing off in intricate patterns. The insence are burning and wisps of smoke arc across the room, adding to the spiritual vibes. The two priests sit atop the low stage, and greet people as they arrive. We are urged to sit and recieve the offering, make a prayer and have a small fortune told. I sit back a little, choosing to just observe rather than partake. The girls I was touring the temple with eagerly sat and were handed a silver egg attached to a silver basket, as you pull the egg, the basket shakes. 3 pulls and your wishes will come true. A sprinkle of holy water, a flower necklace and 100 rupees later, your umm, Blessed?
I sat back and just observed because I don't see the point. I don't believe any of it, I think its nice, fun to watch, great to think about and observe. But I don't believe. I don't think for a second that shaking an egg or wearing blessed flowers will bring me anything good in my life. I also don't think eating some stale craker at church is the flesh of christ, to me its all just smoke and mirrors. So when I'm asked for my donation, I kindly refuse, considering I didn't participate. I say the the guide, the man asking for me to donate, that My god is Free...
Whatever my god is. Its not Flowers, its nor insense, its not shaking some silver egg in a glass temple. I'm just here to watch. I've seen how much joy it brings to the people around me, the Hindu people. So I'm glad to see it, but not for me. I'm just here to throw some colorful dye and dance around silly in the street :)
After we left the temples, the girls I hung out with for the day were off to Agra, and I was left to my own to entertain myself. I went back to the temple near my hotel, the place of krishna's birth. A place where it seems something is always happening. I lined up and walked around the temple but not much was happening. So I sat on the empty stairs that were used as bleachers the day before, and watch the crowd mill about. I noticed a slow procession towards the shrine at the top. So I wandered towards the excitment. I entered the interior temple and was greeted with the rhythm of drums and chimes, a man was up and singing, while a crowd sat cross legged watching. I sat with the crowd and clapped along to the song. I was greeted with friendly smiles, warm welcoming. So when the song changed tempo and intensity, the crowd jumped up and the dancing began. I'm right in the middle now, no way to avoid dancing, so I forget it all and join in with the best of them. I'm jumping and spinning, laughing uncontrolably as I dance the silly indian dance. I screw in the light bulb, I pat the dog. I let my hips go and roll my shoulders like a bollywood star. I lock arms with a man and spin around the room, laughing and yelling. I have never felt so silly and comforable at the same time. I felt like a fool the way I was dancing, but it turns out I was doing well, as silly as I felt. The other mimicked my dance moves, and I copied thiers. We would pair up and challenge each other like a dance off, repeating the dance they did, and answering back with some new move. I had a great time. I realized that this fun, this dance and singing, it is all in the name of their devotion to God. So despite the smoke and mirrors, the cash grab in temples. I guess it brings the people together.
Anyway, just my thoughts.
Feel free to write me, would love to hear from you all. Thanks for reading.
I'll let you know how the big day goes tomorrow. :)