Friday, March 4, 2011

Days of Delhi

Me getting a haircut on the street, 1st night in Delhi!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yesterday we met the group and introduced ourselves, and after an easy morning we went to the market that is near Hamdard university (where we are staying) and did some shopping and lunch at Darrol’s old hangout – the Alakhnanda market.  After, it was Tuglaqabad fort, which was neat.  Dr. Bryant sat us down on some ancient stone ruins and gave us a short lecture on Islam which was interesting and informative for all of us.

I am trying to get used to the fact that there is a cameraman following us around everywhere we go, and I hope that Marjonneke – the filmmaker who is making this trip the second part of a documentary about India – is Ok about the fact that I really don’t want to be interviewed one on one, nor do I want much spotlight at any time.  Otherwise, the members of the group are all nice people, and I am very relieved that Joseph Lance has chosen to come on the trip.  He is rooming with me and I liked him right away when I met him last November at the information lunch at Dr. Bryant’s house. 
After the first full day with the group most of me is settled.  However, my intestines are not, and though I feel fine, this is the third day in a row that I wake up and empty out completely. 

For the record, the group consists of Dr. Darrol Bryant, his 29 year old daughter Emma, Heather, Marjonneke, Matty, Grayden (cameraman), Jessica (camera assistant), Joseph, Pam and Don Dietrich.
Dr Bryant talking at Tugluqabad Fort

Day 2 of Delhi

Second day of the group, I had a bit of a miserable day.  I woke up rushing to the washroom for the 3rd day in a row -  but this time it did not subside.  The group went to the shopping mecca of Lagput Bazaar, where the dreary light rain echoed my mood.  As others rushed to see rolls of material, I sat and drank a chain of chai, hopeing only that some of it might stay in my system.  It did not.  For lunch I tried bananas and cashews and preposterously, it also rushed through – just in time for our arrival at the epic Red Fort.  I got a great tour of the toilets of the Red Fort, by the way, and after I had given up on any food or drink, taken a nap on a bench.  But besides feeling awful with round 2 of the Delhi Belly, it was incredibly beautiful place.  Next we took cycle rickshaws to the Jamia Mosque – the largest Mosque in India.  I offered to guard the shoes and bags for this one.  By the time dinner came, I was glad to take an offer of Pepto Bismol  and attempt a touch of rice. 

Day 3 Delhi

Hallelujah!  Big news is that I did not have to run to the washroom during the night or in the morning – feeling tremendously better!  Otherwise, I was about to take something much more serious.  But it was a great day – easy morning, then 2pm we went to the Ba’hai Lotus temple which was so gorgeous, then after that to the Nizamuddin Sufi centre, where we had a lecture on Sufism from Dr. Shareefi before enjoying the treat of the evening music performed by Sufi musicians who are actually world famous.  But this happens to be their home turf, so we got a small show and we all feel very grateful and blessed – this is why we are travelling with Darrol!

Day 4- Early train to Amritsar.

It is day 35 of my trip in India.  Incredible!  This is the longest I have ever been out of Canada since my trip to the Faroe Islands when I was 11.  And, there are at some moments, whispers and faint feelings of that trip that was so profound for me.  I don’t think I am having as much pure fun and delight as back then – but of course I am a bit more mature.  I am writing this on the train to Amritsar.  We are in coach seats and this is surprising for many of us who have taken a few trains already.  It is comfortable and the food service is excellent.  Sipping my strong coffee, writing in the sun as India passes by, I cannot complain despite my insides being a bit creaky still.  I am getting used to being in a group, and my initial frustrations with a camera following us, and the test of patience that is every new turn have largely subsided.  We are getting to know one another and there are a few solid people in the group that I am comfortable with.  Also, there is plenty of time to relax, and take precious time for my self. 
I was a bit concerned the other day when I was so sick, and I really hope that I am all done with all of that.  Of course, my diet has completely gone out the window.  I am eating foods none of which my body is accustomed to, and the dramatic change of weather here in Delhi was not something I was well prepared for.  It has been quite cool, and our rooms at night downright cold.  I have been taking hot water foot baths before bed and piling on the blankets.  Of course, it doesn’t help that the windows simply do not close.  But, the truly hot water is a godsend.  I am not so sure that taking this trip with Darrol was the best course of action, but I have to trust that in the grand scheme of things it is perfect. Joseph and I have talked about the cost-value of the trip compared to travellig by ourselves, and the fact that what we are paying excessively for is Dr. Bryant’s knowledge and experience which we don’t feel we have felt enough of.  Last night at the Sufi centre was a confirmation that at least there were some priceless moments for us – and there is just no way we would ever have found our way to that sort of place by ourselves. 
I am really looking forwards to the Golden Temple of Amritsar.  Yes, it is a tourist hot spot, but it is also a very special religious location, and I hope that I can find some silence and space at the place for some contemplation.  There has not been enough of that.  I was pleased though, when yesterday we entered the Lotus temple of the Ba’hai and the entire place is reserved for silent prayer. 

I am sorry that I have not been able to communicate better with everyone at home.  It should not be so difficult, but finding the correct time, coinciding with the opportunity of the computer or phone has just not worked out much.  I do miss some aspects of life back home though.  I miss my cat, good exercise, the comfort of diet, the peace of a solid day of work at the store.  India is a strange place – of course – but for so many ways.   In many ways -  perhaps even in most ways – I don’t like it.  It is infuriating, toxic, crowded, loud.  But it is like a spouse of many years in this way.  You may not always like them,  but there is a deeper love that makes the rest of it moot.  India has a beauty to its disgrace, it has an essential soul that seems always to suggest that the horrid external world is precisely what is needed because it draws one ever towards the non-physical and the appreciation of things more subtle than the soil.  Every day is a struggle to survive here, but in a very raw way this can bring you back to what is most important in life.  Talk with locals revolves around simple things.  How old are you?  Which country?  Are you married?  Your job?  I had to explain to a rickshaw driver the other day that Canada was not a city within the US.  No, we don’t use US money.  NO, the relationship of Canada to the US is not the same as Delhi to India. It was great.  At the cafeteria at the university where we have been staying, a man and his wife came over to eat and chat with me two nights ago.  It turns out he is a professor of Zoology from Kashmir University, and they live in Srinagar.  He gave me some very helpful tips and wrote down his phone number and email, telling me that I must visit him while there.  I am not sure if that was just being polite, but I will give him a shout while there – connecting with locals is exactly what I was hoping for, to get to see a real home, get the inside scoop on shops and foods, maybe get some authentic food or chai?  It is worth the try for sure.  At least he confirmed for me that now is a safe and good time to visit.  Apparently, if there are any problems, they usually don’t start until June.  June?  Yes, well apparently most of the militants are from rural communities, and come June, the crops are all planted and they loads of free time to cause mayhem until the fall.  So, although it has been cool up there, and I will have to plan for sweaters and buy some boots, it should be glorious and clear and full of spring. 

Ok, this is officially the nicest train any of us have been on – after tea, then breakfast, then another round of tea/ coffee, we have been handed surveys!  This is amazing.  I bet they only give those to every 20th train, on which they give amazing service.  I mean, even the washroom had soap!  Soap!! Wah – Shabash!

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