Friday, June 1, 2012

Reflections


Reflections

Finally another blog post…and the final one while in India.  Just looking over the number of posts during the past two years shows the integration process here.  At first, everything new…and in India that means an assault to the senses.  I was creating blog posts constantly in my head, though many did not make it out of my head.  My mind was so poetic with all the sensory experiences.  I was also, for one of the first times in my life, not obligate to do anything in particular, so I had plenty of time to write.  This second year, things started for feel more “normal” and the newness had worn off.  We were creating a lifestyle here, not just feeling like visitors.  It was a difficult year for Greg professionally and I felt like I spent a lot more time in the present, supporting and allowing him to go through his process.  So less blogs happened, though I still thought of blog posts in my head constantly during experiences.

As the theme of this post is reflection, we are a day away from transitioning back to the US, to Eagle County…back to work and observing the changes in ourselves as we settle back in.  When I look at the past two years, what stands out for both of us (in my opinion) is the transformations we have gone through and continue to go through.  It’s been challenging and the process has created some lasting insights.
I came to India feeling lost, unsure of what was next in life for me professionally.  I also reached a point where I was tired of the emotional patterns I had been trapped in for so long…which, of course, followed me to India. J There have been a lot of lessons in letting go.  Letting go of thoughts and ideas, opening myself to other possibilities.  Letting go of fear and excuses to dive into the unknown so that I could glimpse other potentials out there for myself.   India is a place that is steeped in spirituality with every corner and nook holding some place of worship or some deity.  The history of spirituality is long and deep.  It is in the air, it is in the culture, it is in the very being of everything here.  Life does not exist without it. 

We will be returning to the US where fear and control are at the very essence of our culture.  Luckily that culture is a few hundred years old verses many thousands.  I have some concern about how much of that fear and control will try to pull and draw me back in.  I am hopeful that the experiences and personal lessons I have learned will allow me to be aware and conscious, question things, and find my own way.  I am hopeful because there is a growing momentum in the US that is trying to change this mentality as it is creating so much misery in ourselves and for the culture as a collective.

As many of you know, yoga has been an integral part of my experience while in India.  Now a certified teacher, I will continue yoga as a lifestyle.  I am excited to see where this will lead.  I’ve realized that I have been going through a “letting go” of an identity that struggled with past experiences.  Growing up in a privileged household, existing in a privileged country…running from this, trying to be something else.  Having realized I can’t run from myself, I’ve begun to accept myself and be open to what these experiences have allowed me to learn.  I’m excited to see how my new outlook on myself and my life will mesh with life in the US.  I feel like India has protected me for a little while, allowed me to grow and discover and now it’s time to go back and live.

I plan on documenting my observations and experiences as Greg and I transition to our new situation, as well as my experiences on the path of yoga.  So, stay tuned for how that will look…maybe a new name for our blog…maybe my own blog. 
Until then…

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bangalore Airport – there really are too many people in India

Our overnight train from Hampi to Bangalore arrived at 6:30am. I knew when booking our plane tickets to Fort Cochi, we’d have only a little time to get from the train station to the airport. We haggled and got a taxi for a reasonable price to the airport. There was some tension with the worry that we would miss our flight. Our taxi zoomed through Bangalore and then came to a stop next to another taxi. We were informed that we were to switch taxis. The two drivers bantered back and forth, the second driver not happy with the price. I got in the middle of them and said, “stop arguing, we have a place to catch!” They looked at me funny and I rounded our driver into his seat. At that point we went from zooming through Bangalore to being, literally, THE slowest moving thing on the road. I think I saw some children and chickens running past us. When reminding the driver about our need to get to the airport quickly, he responded, “no problem, there is fog, your flight will be delayed.” We were all like, “Riiiiggghht. Speed up!” Of course, as we got near the airport, the fog grew very thick, maybe about 30 feet viability.

At the airport, our flight was not listed. We were worried that we had missed our flight…and in the back of my head I wondered if the flight had been cancelled. I asked around and we were just told to wait in line. (A very long line). When we made it to the counter, our flight had been cancelled and we had two hours of waiting time until the next flight. We all laughed at this and were relieved we would have time for some breakfast. The Bangalore airport is brand new and gleaming…but, when all morning flights are delayed due to fog, it can’t handle extra plane loads of people. After my mom and I waited in a ridiculously long and slow line at security, we then we headed to the jammed packed food court (Greg was on table duty, while the rest of us stood in the long, winding line being bumped by people trying to walk through). After getting our meals, I waited for about 15 minutes for our mango lassis. When my mom arrived to release me from my duty to go and eat, the lassis still had not come. I slithered through the crowd to our table, looked down and saw that Greg had eaten my breakfast and left his for me. I almost through myself on the ground and kicked and screamed like a two year old. I didn’t say anything besides, "I need to go for a walk," and left. My walk, of course, was more like a shuffle as I wiggled through the crowd, found a bathroom, recollected myself, and pushed my way back to the table. I ate what I could of the breakfast while not making eye contact with anyone of my travel partners. Needless to say, after putting food into my body, I could suddenly deal with life much better.

We ended up finding four seats to wait the next hour and a half until our rescheduled flight boarded. I tried not to think about the five hour car ride ahead of us once we reached Fort Kochi…

Hampi – Land of Granite Rock Piles and ancient ruins


After a grueling semester at school for Greg, finishing up with my clients, and my mom and Bill returned from their jaunt to Arangabad, we boarded a plane on December 18th to Bangalore. Greg and I have done all of our trips in India up north, so we decided to head south. The first stop was Hampi. Greg and I first learned about Hampi from a climbing movie called “Pilgrimage” with Chris Sharma, Nate Gold, and Katie Brown. We’ve heard about it since then from others who have visited, seen a few pictures and it was on my list of places to go before we leave India. (In case you haven’t heard, Greg and I will be leaving India in June. We aren’t sure yet where will land, but we are deep in the process of job searching). Pictures we had seen showed marvelous granite piles of rock dominating the landscape, with temple ruins resting below. I couldn’t wait!

After we reached Bangalore, we hired a taxi and decided to catch a bite to eat before going to the train station. We had about four hours to kill and two of those hours were spent in Bangalore traffic, which was pretty bad and rivals Mumbai’s. The Lonely Planet Guidebook lead us to a hip. westernized shopping area that was jammed packed. We found the little hole in the wall restaurant and were happy with the tasty food it provided, which we wolfed down in a frenzy. Then, we had the task of finding rickshaws to get us to the train station. I was feeling a little doubtful because of all the traffic and lack of public transportation on the roads. As we headed to the main street, a couple of rickshaws pulled up and we started to haggle prices when a policeman came up and told up there was a fixed price rickshaw stand 100 feet away. Greg and I couldn’t believe it! Another place in India, besides Mumbai, where you didn’t have to haggle for every rickshaw ride! Sweet! As we drove to the train station, I admired the streets’ layouts, noticed less honking, and a generally calmer atmosphere…maybe Bangalore isn’t too bad.

We arrived at the train station in plenty of time to find our platform, find our assigned train car and settle into our cabin. We were all tired and ready to sleep. But, we had to wait for our bedding to arrive. When the train started going, a little Indian man arrived with the rest of our bedding and was thoroughly disgusted with Greg and my attempt to make up one of the bunks. He brushed us aside and told us to sit. He quickly tucked and folded the sheets to a neat, welcoming bed. He made up the bottom bunk and then shoved us to the other side, quickly making up the other beds. We gave him a little tip and then fell into a rocking slumber. 8 hours later, we woke up in Hospet, the closet train station to Hampi. Overnight trains are great that way. You get travel and sleep at the same time and then have the day to tour about. Our rickshaw ride to Hampi was beautiful. We sped past fields surrounding rock out-croppings, small huts and temples, and colorful locals tending the sugar cane fields. After about 30 minutes, we made a left turn, paid an entry fee into Hampi, and descended into town. It was a spectacular sight and a climber’s dream. I felt like running up and hugging the granite rock piles. They stretched out as far as the eye could see.


We stayed at Padma Guest House, which was clean, friendly and had a great view of the Virupaksha Temple, which is sought after by many more pilgrams than tourists. There are daily broadcasts from the temple each day to greater India so that worshipers can witness and participate in the comfort of their own homes. We spent two days touring around Hampi in two rickshaws with Johnson and his buddy, who gave us bits of info about the different sites we saw. I was truly impressed by the sheer size and grandness of this former empire. I had no idea that the Vijayanagara Empire lasted for so long, had such a presence in Southern India and its technologies rivaled the Roman Empire! Everywhere one looks one sees another former temple nestled high between the granite rocks. We rested our weary feet and filled our bellies for most of our meals at Mango Tree, one of the only restaurants in town and one of favorites in India. All of the low tables face the lazy river, under the shade of gently rustled trees and the food and service are wonderful.

Our third day, we crossed the river and relocated to Anegundi for one night. We had a bit of a miscommunication and ended up staying is very nice cottages. The grounds were beautiful with chicken, guinea fowl, and ducks wandering around. We explored the small village, took some walks to visit nearby temples and hiked up to the monkey temple that evening to see the sun set. Our final day, we made our way back to the river, had our last meal at Mango Tree and then caught the overnight train back to Bangalore. We were all happy with our time in Hampi. Greg and I decided we could have stayed longer to explore more and even try out some of the famous bouldering routes. (We did put our shoes on a couple of times to scramble around, though we had to be careful of the toilet spots chosen by villagers all around the rocks. It is India after all!






Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rock Climbing Mumbai

One year and four months of settling into life in Mumbai and we FINALLY got our act together to go climbing. It took some momentum building to make the moment come together. In May, I got the contact info for a local who knows some info about the climbing scene. That he "knows" it is an understatement. Abhijit, aka, Bong, is the reason there is any climbing community in Mumbai. When we stepped into his modest home, we were greeted with half of the room covered in climbing holds and gear piled up everywhere. His place is THE meeting spot and the climbing is a short walk away. There's an article about him in Climbing Magazine (http://www.climbing.com/exclusive/above/climbing_in_belapur_near_mumbai_india/). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having obtained this pertinent piece of info to get connected with the local climbing scene, the school year ended, blazing heat broke with the
monsoon season and we left on our summer travels. When we got back to Mumbai, I would periodically come across Abhijit's contact information, reminding myself to contact him once the monsoon season ended. Maybe by putting this out into the universe helped again with motivation because I was then introduced to Chris, an Australian, whose children go to the American School. Chris is a kindred soul with his love of the outdoors and adventure. He was also wanting to get dialed into the local rock climbing scene and had been told about "Bong." That's when I made the plunge and contacted him. When I heard back from him, Abhijit was friendly and welcoming. He invited us to his house to meet up with other climbers and then go climbing nearby.

The climbing is in a suburb of Navi Mumbai called Belapur, across the bay from Mumbai and a bit of a haul to get out there. Luckily, Chris has a car and driver, so he graciously offered to drive, making it much easier t
o reach our destination. Belapur is a wonderful, peaceful place nestled up against some green, rolling hills. The neighborhoods are small bungalows, crowded together and reached by narrow foot paths. It wa

s calm and cozy. Beautiful and allows one to forget they are in Mumbai.
The climbing area has many boulders and then a handful of bolted routes. We brought most of our gear since we didn't know what to expect. In the end, we only needed our shoes and chalk bags because the bolted routes are still being cleaned from the monsoon season. There were about seven other climbers who were welcoming, relaxed and we felt free to hang with them or try out other boulders. The highlight of the morning was when I slipped in to try a traverse and placed a hang jam. One of the locals was so excited to see this and wanted to try it. (There isn't much crack
climbing around, so all the locals are strong crimpers....I am far from that, so I used what I do best). Chris came over and tried to start from the bottom of the crack system. Again, excitement. One of the wise and older climbers stated, "you've just put up a new route. We didn't even think of that." It was so much fun to exchange beta and learn from each other. After a few hours we were spent, having lost a couple of layers of skin from our soft hands, and our bodies not use to climbing. It was wonderful!! I hope to be out there most weekends until the heat comes again... Yeehaw!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jullay from Ladakh

Diwali was this past week and with it the end of the festival season in India, as well as a week off for Greg. We finally made it to Ladakh, India’s most northern state, located in the rugged Himalayas. Our time there marked the end of the tourist season, so we were greeted with calm and quiet as there were not many tourists and many of the guesthouses, shops and restaurants were already shut down.

In order to get to Leh, there are two routes, by air or road. The road route can take about four days from Dehli, so we flew, starting from sea level and landing at 11,500 feet. Luckily, Greg and I did fine acclimatizing. Only some small headaches that didn’t last long and huffing and puffing up the steep stuff. We spent the first two days in Leh, exploring the town, walking up to the two palaces, over to Shanti Stupa and around the main bazaar. There are many narrow walk ways, lined with irrigation canals that were covered with bright yellow leaves in many areas that crunched under our feet. Both of us were so thankful to experience late fall weather since we missed it last year. The walk ways were also for human, dogs, and cows only, so it made for a peaceful way to get around.

Day three we decided to test our lungs and headed to Hemis, a monastery about an hour and a half drive from Leh. Hemis was located in a tucked-away valley, so we winded up through grasslands and farmlands until the monastery appeared around a corner. After exploring, we found a path that headed into the mountains, which was well maintained. Again, the fall colors along the valley were breathtaking, with huge, rugged peaks in the background. The pathway headed up a steep mountainside to another monastery built around a cave, Gotsang Cave, where a Buddhist monk first came to the area to meditate. When we arrived, we were greeted by a monk who spoke fairly good English. After sitting in the cave for a bit (amazing energy inside), we were invited for tea to warm up. We enjoyed chatting with the young monk and learning a little about his life. We decided to keep climbing up since we were both feeling okay, and hiked another hour until we reached the top of a pass. We were greeted by three Bharal or blue sheep. They scooted to the side, but didn’t seem too disturbed by our presence. The views of Leh and the surrounding valleys were spectacular. We found out later that we were up at about 13,500 feet. It was also very cold and windy, so we had a quick snack and then headed down. The monk had invited us to his room for more tea and some snacks, which we welcomed for warmth and energy before heading back to the monastery. The building where the monks lived, was also built around caves and very cozy. When we reached back to Leh in the late afternoon, we warmed our bodies with yummy Thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup. Our diet for most of the trip revolved around Thukpa , Momos and Tibetan Herbal Tea. Both very comforting food.

The fourth day, we headed to another monastery, Likir, that housed a 30-plus foot Buddha statue as well as a school for young monks. We had a nice cup of tea and conversation with one of the teachers. They heated the water with a solar-powered stove, very cool. We then headed to the trail-head of a two day trek along the valley and we hiked for a couple of hours. This trail reminded us of Western Colorado and Utah, with the sandstone rock formations and arid climate. We started with a steep downhill and then rolled along until we hit a small village, then turned around and, surprisingly, despite the uphill, made it back the same time it took to hike out. Maybe getting acclimated…?

Day five, we headed out on a river valley at the start of the Stok Kangal trek, a four day trek to the top of the highest peak near Leh at 20,082 feet. We didn’t get far enough to glimpse the mountain from our hike, but had a great view of it each day from the guesthouse. We were lucky enough to see another heard of Bharal and a lone Urial, with amazing horns. The latter was quite skittish and ran expertly up the mountainside to get away from us. The rock formations back in the valley were amazing. Rows and rows of sharp fins, rising high. In two areas, there were remains of brick buildings that were built, balancing precariously on the top of these fins. We hiked about six hours out and back and both of us were pretty tired and ready for a rest. It’s amazing the energy it takes out of you at that altitude. Answer…nope, not quite acclimated, but getting there.

Our final day, we couldn’t resist the drive to the top of the highest (actually second highest) motorable road in the world at 18.380 feet. The drive was up a long, windy, mostly dirt road that is constantly being worked on to keep drivable. Greg did well and did not get carsick, though we had to ask our driver to slow down several times as he liked to take the corners fast. At the top, we did the requisite photo-op and then hiked the short staircase to the small monastery, having to pause to catch our breath several times. It was a great view of both sides, the snow capped mountains dominating. It was also very cold, so after a quick cup of tea, we jumped back in the car and headed down. We’ve now been over 18,000 feet! (by car J).

We walked back up to the Shanti Stuppa in Leh to watch the sunset and to mark the end of a great week. We are both so grateful for getting to have such a great week in an amazing place and hope to get one more chance to do some multi-day treks before our time ends in this part of the world. Jullay! (hello, goodbye, thank you in Ladakhi).

video

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kaas Plateau
















Over the three day weekend for Gandhi’s birthday, a friend and I headed to the Kaas Plateau in southern Maharatra in the Satara District. Our significant others were going to join, but one had too much work and the other was not feeling well. Luckily, we were both encouraged to still go.

The Kaas Plateau is not found in any of the typical guidebooks. It is a local Indian tourist spot during the monsoon, as the plateau becomes a canvas of changing colors with the rains growing a large variety of wildflowers from August-early October. When we were told about this beautiful sight at a meditation retreat in July, I couldn’t wait for this three day weekend.

We took an overnight “ish” train to Satara, arriving at 2am. We had hired Rajesh to meet us and take us to our hotel. It all worked out without a hitch. I think we were some of the first foreigners to stay at our three star hotel and we were the only “whitees” in the area for the weekend. Our first day, after a decent southern Indian breakfast of idlis and sheera, we jumped in the hired car and enjoyed the hour and a half ride up, up, up the steep hillside towards the plateau. It was green and lush around us as we breathed in the fresh air. The driver reported that “1 lakh” people visited the plateau last weekend. Wow! When we reached the plateau, we were not allowed to stop. The government had set up a bus system to transfer people from a parking area to the plateau. Amazing!! They were actually trying to conserve the area. I was very pleased about this. Our driver did his best to explain that we foreigners should be accommodated with the car, but they would not budge.

We spent awhile exploring around Kaas Lake, just below the plateau and there was evidence of the previous crowds from the trash laying around. Despite that, we didn’t have to wander far to get away from the trash and start seeing evidence of the flowers we would be seeing on the plateau. The lake was peaceful and we had our first snack while gazing at a patch of lily pads.

When we got to the plateau, looking out, one could see swaths of white and pink. Upon closer inspection, there were many varieties of flowers in white, pink, purple, yellow and blue. There were many large cameras with huge lens being toted around by others. I had my small point and shoot, which worked just fine at capturing the beauty. We spent several hours wandering around, having lunch and walking back to the parking lot. We opted out of having the bus drive us back. That evening at the hotel, we had an amazing Guajarati Thali for 110Rs and watched Dandia dancing for Navatri.

After a lazy morning, we set out the next afternoon for some nearby temples. The temples were of the Shiva variety, with one being filled with lingums. The hike up the ridge and exploration took about an hour. At the top of the ridge, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the valley below us. We started to hear what sounded like rain falling, but could not see rain anywhere. I guessed there might be a waterfall close by. Ha, I was very wrong. Just as we started back down, there was a light sprinkle. Then it became a light rain, so we pulled out rain jackets. Finally, it was a steady rain. By the time we reached the car, we were both soaked. But, by the time we reached the Kaas Plateau for some evening photos, we were both dry, except for our shoes. We found a beautiful meadow to explore as fine clouds settled in over the plateau. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the sun set from that vantage point, as was our goal. But, on the drive back down, the billowing clouds were a spectacular show as the sun faded away. After another fantastic thali dinner, we headed to the train station to return back to Mumbai.

For fresh air, getting outside, and wildflower viewing, it was a great trip. To find out more about the Kaas plateau, just plug the name into google and the sites available are endless. It’s a fun adventure to get off the Lonely Planet’s beaten path.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chowpatty Beach - Ganesha Immersion 2011



This weekend was the final days of Ganesh Chaturi, an eleven day festival celebration the Hindu God, Ganesha. Saturday morning, Greg and I got up early and took the train down to South Mumbai to get a tour of some of the larger Ganesh statues. We saw big ones and small ones, eco-friendly and plaster made, the cricket World Cup Ganesh, a Ganesh made out of over 80,000 buttones, a Ganesh made of plastic pearls, Ganesh with other Hindu gods and godesses, Ganesh in a forest...so many!













Then, Sunday afternoon, we jumped back
on the train with my friend, Claudia and her husband, and headed to Chowpatty Beach, where the largest immersion is held. It starts early afternoon, gaining momentum and one of the final immersions happens the next morning with the largest Ganesh statue. Chowpatty is known to be super crowded and have the largest Ganeshas in the city. We timed it right because after spending time on the beach, we started walking back against the crowds and saw four of the Ganeshas we saw the previous day being processed to the beach.

Enjoy the pictures. I've created a movie of the immersion photos which also includes some video clips. (Next post). Plus, the photo of me at the end with pink powder all over...this is the picture to go with my Facebook post. In the pictures you will see crowds, Ganeshas being carried into the water, floats used to carry the statues out as far as possible, puja (praying and chanting), and people just enjoying themselves. Remember, the water is very polluted and we scrubbed our feet thoroughly when we reached home and the thousands of plaster or paris statues only add to this nastiness. There is a campaign to encourage returning to using clay statues and eco-friendly paints. Some families now do a ceremonial immersion in a bucket at home and then keep the Ganesh for the next year. FOR PHOTO COLLAGE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubC4oxnHHNs.