|Posted on February 11, 2016 at 2:05 PM|
We arrived at New Delhi airport after a 13 hour flight from New York. Much to my surprise it was very nice. The heat hugged me as soon as I exited the air conditioned building. The cars and vans were abundant but I noticed right away the perfumed air. A blend of spice, diesel, and flowers. Our guide Heriome greeted us and presented each of the five of us with a necklace made of fresh marigolds,jasmine, and roses. An age-old tradition called “Atithi Devobvava”. The cool flowers and the fragrances made it quite clear that I was no longer in America. Heriome, explained that it is custom to gift the Indian "lay" to visitors in heart felt way. From his heart to ours. LOVE it.
After a short sleep at Kempinski Ambience Hotel we woke and where introduced to our translator and permanent guide Anu. She was very regal looking. Dressed in a beautiful sari. Just as I would expect an Indian woman to look.Our group was taken to a near by temple. The Seik temple was incredible. It was required to take our shoes off and the nurse in me cringed at thought of what I was walking on! I got over it quickly. My eyes absorbed all of the beautiful colors the visitors wore. The clothes I packed and wore were all respectful of the of the culture. My head was covered with a scarf and I had long sleeves and pants on as well. There was no doubt about it though… I was not from India. The light skin and hair was a definite giveaway.
The opportunity was presented to receive a blessing. Of course I was going! The lines were long and crowded. Personal space was non existent. The experience was slightly uncomfortable as I was trying not to offend anyone by bumping or shoving. But I soon realized that was the last thing these devotees were thinking about. After the blessing was given I had to navigate my way back through the people packed lines again successfully reunited with my small group.
My group decided to sit in the temple for a few minutes. There were areas for prayer and many people were on mats doing so. I chose to go to room in the back where I could watch others be blessed. The large quiet room had long wooden benches. At first it appeared only the elderly were sitting there. I did not want to take anyone's seat so I stood for a moment. An old man waved me over and patted the seat next him. I was hesitant but slowly moved that way. I noticed further down the bench a middle age woman shooing a man next her to move. Then she looked at me and patted the recently vacated seat next to her. I felt that after seeing her intentionally make room for me and the manner in which she did so I must accept her generosity. She and I exchanged pleasantries. There was a language barrier but she did speak a little english.
In a few moments I found my self sitting there in amazement. I was really in INDIA!!!! The colors were bold and bright. The men's wear was as dazzling as the women's. The golds and reds.... and the shoes! It was truly a feast for the eyes. But not only the clothes. The feeling in that space was a palpable gift. I could feel their love for their beliefs.
It was hard to remove myself but I moved on with my group. Next I was able to go and work in the kitchen. I attempted to roll out naan bread. Hopefully the effort made up for lack of skill. It was a bit embarrassing at how poorly I did.I am sure it tasted fine… or maybe it got pulled and tossed into the garbage. I will never know. My group departed and explored some more of the city and drove to Agra.
This was quite a bustling city. We arrived at night. The drive was a bit longer than expected due to traffic. TRAFFIC is an understatement. The vehicles are smaller than I am used to but there are many more on the road. Which may be why my nerves ran a bit high during this trip. You see we were driven around in a very nice mini-bus. The size of our vehicle was quit large for the some of the road we drove on, but more on that later. The first night we were taken to see the Taj Maul during a full moon. This was beautiful. The monument is made out of marble which has a translucent quality to it. The the moon light shines through the building and it changes color in a subtle way. There is limited viewing and I felt very honored to have this opportunity. At night the Taj Maul was pinkish in color and when we returned the next day it was incredibly white. Again the dress of the visitors was impressive. The bold gem colors stood out against the white stone like a field of wild flowers. So beautiful. I was as amazed with the Indian people as they were with me.
It was obvious by the stares. Apparently caucasian people are a rarity. Eventually some people asked to have a picture. Of course, we agreed and then it was game over. I felt bit like a star but in an uncomfortable way. Many pictures were taken by the time we finished our day. Unfortunately, the heat was very intense and all of us were showing its wear.So my photos most likely would have been in STAR not VOGE!
The amount of water I drank everyday in an effort to stay hydrated was great. The challenge with that was my fear of getting sick. The water is not processed as well as in USA and can be contaminated with pathogens that could cause illness. The solution was to drink bottled water. There was water for sale everywhere. In addition, I brought a water bottle with a very good filter to use. I poured all water that I was going to drink through this bottle - even purchased bottled water. Better safe than sorry.
I have not mentioned the food. In New Delhi through to Jaipur the food was great. We ate at many buffet style restaurants. This allowed us to sample many different dishes. The NAAN was so good. My favorite was a broth corn soup. I pretty much lived on this my entire visit after Jaipur. The Double Tree by Hilton was the hotel we stayed at in Agra. It was very nice. The breakfast staff brought us a smorgasbord of traditional foods try. The was a pleasant surprise as they did this special for me and my roommate. Bobbie and I shared a room during this trip. She is a friend of mine who eagerly agreed to come when I asked.
We were introduced to local crafts men and shown how the detail of stone work on the Taj Maul was skillfully created. The Agra Fort was also a destination of ours. This is city where the royalty lived. It is a must if you ever visit Agra. I was also able to walk to a local food market. I learned that local vendor deliver fresh produce to homes. I took quite a few pictures at the market mostly of the people. There were cows and mules wondering through. Many dogs roamed as well. The animals eat the wasted produce from the market. It was very interesting to have skirt around a huge cow laying in the middle of walk way. This was something I eventually got used to. Crazy!
On to Jaipur!
Jaipur was shopping mania! Street lined with shops and vendors. Products galore! I saw men sitting behind a truck getting their faces shaved and their ears cleaned. Not a sterilized package in sight. Dickering with the sellers on price was learned skill. After a few purchases I picked it up. I found my self walking away from a sale only to be chased down by the vender.( Quick Note… vendor is the typical spelling, vender spelling is noted to only be used in NY…no wonder I had both spellings in this!!) He and I went back and forth on the street but I was firm on my offer and he finally came down to my price. He walked away looking unhappy, but thats part of the process. He would not have sold it for a loss. However I did learn that for the first sale of the day venders will take a loss. This was not his first sale and I knew it.
On to see The Wind Palace. That was amazing. I could picture myself living there with all of the beautiful gardens and the elephants for transportation. It was a sprawling compound. Many buildings built next the river. The architecture was ornate and well thought out. The planning of the build created airways that would funnel the wind and force it in and out of areas cooling those who lived inside. The drains and rain channels still function today without issue where modern builds struggle during the monsoon season.
The Hotel Shahpura House was where we stayed. I was able to get an oil massage treatment called Shirodhara. This is vedic based massage treatment and helps to calm the nerves. The process involves warm oil being continuously poured on your forehead which desensitizes the nerve bundles and cause a relaxation to occur. At least thats how I describe its function. The oils are determined based on the state of the receivers dosha at that time.I will offer a class on Doshas at the Center. Our next stop was Pushkar.
This dessert city was a four hour car ride from Jaipur. It is said that the god Brahma dropped his lotus leaf here and thus the world was born. The city was built around a small lake. Many kings built homes around the lake which now have been renovated into hotels.This is a holy lake. People pilgrimage from all over the world to be blessed by the water.
The streets were dirt and lined with vendors. The items here seemed more unique. Most of the items I brought home came from Pushkar. Cows, dogs,mules,and monkeys were part of every day life here. With as many animals around - one would wonder about the poop. The animal dung is used as fuel. I saw young men with wheel barrels collecting the excrement off the roads for their families to use for cooking and heating. Recycling !
Bobbie and I went off on our own to explore the city. Within the first half hour we found ourselves at the Ghats (ghats are stairs that lead into water or the lake in this case) getting a blessing. Beware the blessing are not kind gestures. The Sadhu priest or priest in training expect “donations” afterward-as we both learned.
Our hotel was Hotel Pushkar Palace and it was right on the lake. Each night I sat on the balcony and watched worshipers bath in the waters. Occasionally a monkey would run by. The fencing around the hotel kept the monkeys at a distance which was nice because we were warned the monkeys like to snag personal property and run away with it. It’s funny as long as its not your stuff.
A camel ride through the dessert was on the agenda. This was a 2 hour tour through the dessert. Every year in Pushkar the have a Camel festival. It is quite the to-do. It is on my bucket list. We were shown local homes and lots of dunes. I would ride a camel every day. I loved it. The camels give two rides a day due to the temperature. Also they get and 1/2 hour break in the middle of the trek. During this down time they lay down on their sides and nap. It was quite a site to see. The terrain was beautiful and fortunately I didn't find out that cobras live there until we returned safely. Unfortunately, I did not sleep very well that night knowing that we were in area where cobras live.
Every day at 5:30 am and 6:30 pm they held a prayer service. A Sadhu Priest who perform the rituals and it would be blasted across the lake. Bells were rung. People were chanting it was something I never would have understood unless I experienced it. The peace and unity was incredible. I really enjoyed this place.The food was good I chose to eat in the hotel.
A private blessing was arranged for our group by a Sadhu Priest. Our second day there in the afternoon walked to his home for the ceremony. The alter was stone with many statues, flowers,oils, and incense. The ceremony took 3 hours and was very interesting. We massaged honey and rose oils on the statues, repeated verses, chants, and ate nuts and fruits that were blessed. At the end of the blessing we were all in a line and the Sadhu mixed up a cup of lake water,rose water, honey, curdled yogurt and we all drank some. He smeared our foreheads with holy colors ( looked like ketchup and mustard). After sharing a cup of Chia we went on our way.
The next stop was Dharmsala. We took a 16 hour overnight train ride from Puskar to Dharmsala. I won’t do that again. Don't get me wrong its a good way of transportation and I am glad to have experienced it. Air fare is very reasonable in India- so that is how I will travel next time.
I can not wait to go back! I really loved it there. This was what I was looking for when I went to India. The Dali Llama lives there. Meditation class, yoga, energy healing, singing bowl therapy, cooking classes were all available. Tibetan monks strolled the streets. There was an annual nun convention in town while we were there. It was incredible.
On the main street was a tibetan trained doctor who I was able to schedule a consult with. The town also had a wellness center. Bobbie and I each had medicine baths and tibetan massages. The best massage I have ever had. It was performed by two trained priest who chanted the whole time. AMAZING.
Dharmsala is located in foot hills of the Himalayas. The roads we navigated to get to our hotel were very scary. The locals are the experts when comes to driving on the steep twisty turning roads of this mountain town. It is not for the faint of heart. I finally gave in to the fear and said if I am going to die on these roads I may as well enjoy the views.The scenery was outstanding and Obviously, I survived!
The locals were kind and friendly.We stayed at 8 Auspicious Him View Hotel. It was nice and small. We walked everywhere from there. On one of our walks Bobbi saw an advertisement to volunteer and help people work on their english. Bobbie, Beth and I decided to spend an hour of our time volunteering. The location of the building was in the middle of town. After walking through narrow paths and stairs ways we arrived at a crowded room with 6 circles of people sitting on the floor. Each circle had 3-5 paying students and a volunteer. We each picked a circle and joined in. The intention was to speak conversational english. It was more challenging then I had expected. I would recommend this to any one who travels there.
Then I was headed home!!!!
The time went by incredibly fast. I did get quite home sick. “Delhi Belly” got the best of me. I rode a roller coaster of emotions the entire 15 days. But I can’t wait to go back. India is so different and so much the same. After a few days it hit me hard… that we are just people. The culture we grow up in, the country live in, the amount of money in the bank, and the things we have or don't have none of this changes the fact that we all have feelings. Each one of us is living the best way we know how.
Live your life the best way you know how. Always make time to learn and grow!