Letters from the road

India and Thailand 2008

Part I: Gujarat or Don’t feed the animals

Mcleoud Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India Monday June 16th.

Part I of the past 2 months:

Oh my goodness where to start. The last two months have been jammed pack full of….well two months of life in India really cannot be summed up in one sentence. Beauty. Frustration. Wonder. Contemplation. Ridiculousness. Humor. Heat. Rain. Sand. Peace.

Since I wrote last, Malachi and I managed to safely make it out of the second story cramped Internet cafe that I wrote the last email in, after the suspicious smell of smoke “What’s burning??” (Malachi) results in the shut down of all the computers. Not surprisingly the exposed wires (Indian electricians should find new jobs) sizzled and ate through each other. Another great escape from Indian building codes.

We left Ahmedabad on our way to Diu, via a nigh train to Verival, and then an early morning bus onto Diu. We woke to the vultures of taxi and rickshaw drivers at 6am at the Verival train station. Drowsy but surprisingly good humoured, we found our way to the city bus station. We sat our ginormous bags amidst the bidi butts, cracker wrappers, newspapers, red pan stains and filth you don’t want to contemplate at 6:30am. We caught one of the rickety blue Gujarat state buses, and made a rambling 4 hour ride to Diu. We always sit in the back of buses, to the bemusement of Indians. We place our bags on one seat with the sitar strapped to the bags and wedged between seats, and the violins up in the overhead rack. We prefer the back. It may be bumpier, but at least you can’t see the teeth clenching, knuckle whitening, hair raising close encounters with pedestrians, motorcycles, livestock, and other buses from the back. I’m not sure about meeting your fate head on. Sitting in the front of an Indian bus gives you a whole new perspective on meeting life with your eyes open. I think I prefer my eyes closed, fingers crossed, and sitting in the back. The buses rattle, spew toxic fumes, threaten to fall apart over every bump, and are a good argument for entropy.  I happened to read a newspaper article saying that Gujarat state buses are notorious for “not having all their nuts and bolts”?! I wonder where they go……

Riding the bus is the best way to see people from local villages. People cram on at every stop. They carry babies, groceries, merchandise, and duffel bags full of who knows what.  There’s no limit to the number of people on a bus. Number of seats gives you a rough estimate of how many you can cram, multiply the number of seats (32 usually) by 1.5 (Indians seem to be able to fit more than one person in a seat) and then add another 10 people just for good measure. People stand in the aisle or sit on the floor. Sadly, it’s usually women. Elderly women especially.

While on the bus, we talked to our first tribal women. Tribal women are the most stunning women I’ve ever seen, with the most beautiful personalities.  One woman showed me her tattoos, black plus signs and dots and squares, tattooed all over her arms, legs, neck, chin, and one in the corner of her eye.  Like most tribal women from Gujarat, she also had three gold hoop earrings hanging from the tops of both ears, so heavy they folded her ears down. They also wear round sun shaped gold earrings, gaged (larger than normal earrings) in both ears. She was incredibly friendly. Language barriers are a pain, but there is so much learned from sign language, facial expressions, and laughter.

We arrived in Diu and found an ex Portuguese city (still governed as a territory) with white washed buildings, Catholic churches, beautiful architecture and more Portuguese speakers than Hindi speakers. We stayed in a guest house owned by and Indo-Portuguese family who remembered a couple with a little girl from Alaska that had dinner there two years before!! (Thomas and Melea, we assume this was you) We explored the island for about 5 days. We rented a moped (Malachi doesn’t like to let me drive…..grrr boys) and drove to the end of the island where you can see wooden boats being built in the fishing village, and paid 10 rps to see the Sea Shell Museum that had plenty of shells from Alaska, go figure.  A few days after we left,  I read another newspaper article that said one of the boats in the fishing village was pirated the day we were there. Yes I said pirated. The boat was boarded and taken over by pirates. Only in India.

We left Diu for Junagadh to Malachi’s chagrin (he desperately wanted to get out of the heat.) We stopped in Junagadh thanks to a tip from Melea. I found the most beautiful gold nose rings (I bought plenty) and we climbed Girnar Hill. Girnar Hill is a misnomer, it’s actually a small mountain with 10,000 steps built all the way to the top. There are Hindu and Jain temples that pilgrims climb the steps to make puja. There are also the immensely fat Indian women who let two men do the climbing for them while they sit on a small square of wood dangling from the middle of the pole. Not very spiritual like.   The women must be weighed on a beam scale to determine the price of the trip. Too embarrassing if you ask me.

We started at 6:45 am to stay out of most of the sun. We climbed past chai shops, orange blobs of plaster that looked like the goo from Ghost Busters but were actually gods, and other pilgrims. We were passed by crazy high school kids running up the mountain for training. They laughed at our bamboo walking sticks,( so did I when Malachi decided he wanted one), but by the 3000 step I was more than grateful.  We made it up to the first summit, where we sat to have a mango. We were both covered in rivulets of sunscreen and sweat. Not everyday we climb mountains. While we were sitting on the cement slab that looked just like a helicopter pad, over looking the hills and valleys below, we were approached to have our pictures taken by young Indian guys and families. We reluctantly stood up and they told Malachi not him, just me, and then proceeded to take pictures of me by myself and then with entire families. Ah life before camera phones must have been wonderful! I get treated like a circus freak. Some guys won’t even ask before they attempt to take a picture, Malachi has gotten into the habit of walking in front of me to block their cameras when he sees them do it. |’m so grateful.  Anyways, we sit back down and I tell Malachi I feel like I’m an animal at the zoo with a “Don’t feed the animals” sign hanging around my neck. The next moment a couple of teenagers brings us cookies and a woman hands us a bag of nuts. We died laughing.  The people are so generous but there is never a sense of privacy.

We made it to the top, made puja, rang the bell for our parents and received a nice handful of sugar and coconut for our efforts. We felt triumphant. The view from the top was amazing and we were told there are wild lions in the area, but the biggest creature we saw was a mongoose. We climbed back down the steps spent but happy.  We took an over night sleeper bus to Bhuj that night.

Bhuj turned out to be a wonderland of textile shops and jewelry. I found plenty of goodies and we enjoyed our first real Gujarati thali ( a never ending supply of delicious food). Bhuj is in the Kuttch region of Gujarat, where Rabari, Ahir, Jat and other nomadic and semi nomadic tribal groups live. It’s also in the desert which Malachi reminded me about 5 times a day. We talked to the extremely knowledgeable curator of the Ania Mahal and explored the tight winding streets of Bhuj. After 5 days of not being able to convince Malachi that we should venture out into the 115 degree desert in search of tribal villages, we took another over night train to Udaipur and left Gujarat to enter Rajasthan.

Well I believe this is a long enough email to be considered Part I. I’ll let you all digest our time in Gujarat before I launch into amazing Rajasthan. We truly have been having a ton of fun. There have been some bumpy roads, literally and so to speak, especially lately, but we are enjoying our time. When we were both at the end of our limits, we arrived in Mcleoud Ganj. Suffice to say, we have been recharged and our faith in humanity has been restored. I’ll write more soon!

Love to everyone,

Kenni and Malachi

ps. for those of you curious about when or even if we are coming home (just kidding Mom and Dad) the plans aren’t quite filled out, but the rough sketch is I will be home at the end of September. I’ve decided to take the General Skills and ATS Teacher Training course (belly dancing) with Carolena in San Francisco from Sept. 15-24 and I’ll be heading home after that. As for Malachi,……..well he’s not sure what he wants to do. The belly dancing course doesn’t sound very appealing to him, so instead he might be heading to Korea to study his martial art. We have the traveling bug for sure now. We are thinking maybe somewhere warm for the winter…….Mexico, Australia, Spain…..but first of course we’ll come home and shower family and friends with presents and share pictures and crazy India stories. We really love you all and miss you terribly. 5 months has been a long time. We can’t wait to see you all!


Watch out for my umbrella……..

4:44pm Wednesday Sept. 10, 2008 Delhi, India

Well, I’ve taken a break and had a mocha (which was untimely taken from me by the way toooo efficient staff at Costa’s; every time I’m there they want to take my mug as soon as they give it to me. This time I went to the restroom and my half drank mocha and water bottle was swept away even after a warning that “I will be back, don’t take my mocha.” The water bottle was recovered but not the half drunk mocha.)

Continuing the story……..
We arrived in Delhi after the night on the bus floor on June 5th. Malachi managed to gouge a chunk off the bridge of the nose of the luggage guy with the sitar case by accident when he put the sitar in the bus the night before. Suffice to say, the luggage guy didn’t want the lychee I offered him the next day, he wanted rupees for removing our bags. Tough luck dude, not after a night spent on the floor of the bus. While Malachi argued with the rickshaw drivers over fares to Paraganj, I handed out lychees to the cycle rickshaw drivers. I’m not sure why I was in such a generous mood. The rickshaw drivers found it funny. We checked into a mediocre room in Paraganj (the backpacker hub of Delhi) and jumped at the opportunity to dive into the mayhem and heat of Delhi. Well maybe not jumped…..more like “I guess we should leave the room….” *accompanied by the sound of dragging feet*
For the next few days we ran errands and bought things we thought we needed while in the capital city of India. We went to the movies (Malachi is a movie whore) and generally enjoyed the finer aspects of New Delhi and avoided the mass amount of people and heat of Old Delhi. We found cozy coffee shops and good food. We took a break from India in the midst of one of the most populated cities on the planet.  On our last day we went on a mission. Goal: to recover some of the money we spent on the bus ticket that resulted on sleeping on the floor. After the calm demeanor I showed after the incident, all of the frustration and heat of India was released on the unfortunate fellow who maned the travel agency in Delhi. We paid 400 rps (about $10) each on our inflated sleeper tickets and I demanded that we each get 300 back. They could keep 100 for gas. The man offered 200rps each but I would have none of it. I was a woman on a mission. A woman that has been harassed and cheated too many times in 4 months. Long story short I made a scene. Apparently I use big words when I’m mad, who would have thought. Malachi had to act as translator periodically because supposedly the travel agent didn’t understand my “big words.”  I essentially said that if he didn’t give us the refund, I would make sure their agency was black listed and never make it into “this!” as I threw the Lonely Planet travel book onto the table for dramatic effect and explained that every traveler in India had one. I garnered quite the group of onlookers because again, apparently my decibel level rose with every word I uttered. The man looked at Malachi and said “I don’t understand her” Malachi replied calmly, “You will get a bad review if you don’t return the money.” Ahh I saw a flicker of fear and one phone call to “the boss” and we happily strolled away with 300 rps each. Small change, but it’s the principle I tell you. I felt childish at the same time I felt vindicated. I had started to reach my limits.
We bought night train tickets to Amritsar to see the golden temple, the train was 7 hours late, but we eventually reached the most famous city of the Punjab. A fantastic Seik gentleman helped us board the free shuttle to the temple. I dripped sweat all over the poor woman I had to stand above in the crammed shuttle. The man didn’t speak any English, but showed us to the free temple guest house with a smile and a wave goodbye. This was the first time we stayed in a dormitory. We met an American guy from NY with unbelievable stories of traveling alone through Eastern Europe  (being stabbed in an alleyway in Belgrade, having to strip between the borders, being baptized at each church he came across to enjoy free meals, you name it. Mom and Dad be grateful I don’t have such stories).
The three of us went to Attari to the border crossing ceremony. Attari is the official entry point into Pakistan. Every evening at dusk, the guards on either side of the border strut their stuff in the most testosterone driven ceremony I could imagine. With high steps and fan topped hats, the guards march to the gate and make faces at the guards on the other side to the uproarious raucous applause of the enormous Indian audience on the Indian side and the small yet prideful handful of Pakistanis on the Pakistan side. This is all performed to the intermittently shouted slogan “Long live Hindustan!” Children are invited down to dance to blaring bollywood music, and the general attitude is one of Nationalistic pride with a hefty dose of Indian holiday enthusiasm. At the end of the ceremony, people flood to the gate to shake hands and wave at their Pakistani brethren. There is no animosity, you would think it was a greeting of old friends across borders. Too bad the head honchos gain power by further dividing the two countries without realizing the similarities and goodwill that could be experienced by both peoples. I’ll get off my soap box now.
Completely drenched in sweat, Amritsar was even hotter than Rajasthan or Gujarat, we headed back to the Golden Temple. We spent the evening in the company of young Punjabis eager to practice English and espouse the virtues of the Golden Temple which are already apparent. It is the most  beautiful piece of architecture I’ve seen to date. (Still haven’t seen the Taj though….) Surrounded by an enclosed “lake” of water (more like a large pool) is the glimmering gold vision of by gone eras. The Golden Temple is breathtaking to say the least, something straight out of a fairytale. The area surrounding the temple is calm and soothing after the hecticness of backpacking.  An older Seik man who lives in Alberta, Canada offered to show us the massive dining hall and kitchen that reportedly feeds 80,000 people for free everyday. There were cauldrons of curry being made by dedicated volunteers, but my favorite part was the giant chapatti making machine. It reminded me of the pasta making machine I had watched on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood as a child. The mass amount of food produced by the army of volunteers was staggering. I asked where I could make a donation. I was told there was no need, part of being a Seik is to work hard and to give back to the community, wealthy Seiks (which there are many living abroad) fund the temple kitchen and renovations. Ingenious. The cacophony of washing metal dishes accompanied us to our room where we dropped like rocks into bed. The next day we ate at the temple kitchen (fantastic! better than most Indian food we have had) and caught a bus with our new friend Morely to Dharamsala.
As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, Malachi about had a spaz attack of excitedness once we started to see the craggy peaks of the foothills of the Himalayas. We arrived in Mcleod Ganj with anticipation and a great big sigh of relief to be met with the cooler weather and mellow home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. We ran into friends that we met in Hampi, and they took one look at us and told us we needed to stay awhile. We asked why and they laughed and said we were strung so tight that we were about to snap. They had just spent the last month volunteering and teaching English to Tibetans and said they recognized the need to relax because they had been in the same state of mind when they arrived in Mcleod Ganj. We thanked them and needless to say, took their advice to the max. They left to Leh while we found a fantastic flat with beautiful views of the mountains and big airy ceilings down 187 steps from the main road. We fell in love with Mcleod. We went to one of the conversation classes with our friends and helped teach Tibetan lay persons as well as monks, English. I wanted to volunteer (which I wrote 3 months ago that I was going to) but they needed at least a one month commitment, and Malachi didn’t want to stay that long. We thought we would stay a couple of weeks and then head further North. In the end we spent the last 3 months of our trip in Mcleod. We had one gorgeous week of weather before the monsoon hit. I’ve never seen such torrential down pours. The streets turned into virtual rivers. We were grateful for our keens.
At the same time Malachi found an amazing sitar teacher, I found an amazing yoga teacher. I signed up for a six week yoga teacher training course from July 1-Aug 14. I had yoga class from 7-9am, philosophy from 10-1pm, advanced yoga class and pranayama from 4-6pm and meditation and satsang from 6-7:30pm six days a week. I also started teaching tribal belly dance classes 3 days a week from 1:30-3pm during my break. I’ve never felt so good in my life. Unfortunately, I made it through 3 weeks (finished the philosophy classes) and came down with a nasty stomach flu. I was out for the rest of the course. Although I didn’t receive my certification, I learned an immense amount and found a fantastic teacher and a life long yoga practice. I became fast friends with a French woman also taking the course, and we’re contemplating heading back next summer to help out with the next ttc. (Georgia I’m interested in your teacher training when I get home…. 🙂 ) While I spent my days learning how to stand on my head, Malachi finally put to use the large beautiful yet cumbersome instrument that he lugged around the country for 4 months. His teacher Anil is an absolute sweetheart. He has one sign hanging up in Mcleod, and a stack of posters in his room. One day Malachi asked why he hadn’t hung any more up. His answer “If I get one student every month, that is enough” in his very laid back musician demeanor.
Finally, we both had things that we each wanted to study. Two weeks became 3 months. We made friends with a great couple of Brits that lived in the room next to us and would spend our evenings eating in one of our favorite restaurants. Malachi decided to leave on Aug. 24 in order to go to the big festival Burning Man. I decided to stay an extra 2.5 weeks and here I am, on my own in Delhi.  Before he left we performed a couple of times at one of the open mic nights at the restaurant Kanna Nirvana “Owned by Americans, run by Tibetans, in India.” He played the drums while I belly danced. We’ve both become much more comfortable with groups of people and a lot less shy. Not that we were shy before. We listened to the teachings of the Dalai Lama right before the Olympics, (there were protests the entire month of Aug) and genuinely fell in love with Mcleod.
Once we had been in India for 6 months, we had to register at the foreigners registration office. The forms the forms the forms. Bureaucracy at it’s finest. Each successive time we had to take the 45 min bus trip down the hill to Dharamsala, surprisingly the man at the Foreigners Registration office became nicer and nicer. By the time I signed out last week, I was met with the astonished outburst of “You’re leaving?? Why? When will you come back? You must come back!” A month ago I could have swore the man would have personally seen us to the border if he could. The ironies of India.
I accompanied Malachi down to Delhi to see him off (tearfully) and came back to Mcleod. As soon as I arrived I got an offer to be the illicit “on the side” partner of the taxi driver who gave me a ride from Dharamsala to Mcleod. Not surprisingly I declined the gag worthy offer and quickly exited the taxi.
*A note on harassment in India. For the most part men are pleasant. At the minimum level of harassment I’ve been leered at, graduating to secret photo taking on cell phone cameras, to “accidental” touching, to outright grabbing of breasts and attempted crotch grabs. I don’t dress provocatively, but the sexual maturity level of most (I know not all) men in this country is that of a 12 year old boy on a dare.  The majority of the time it’s harmless, sometimes less so. All of this is to set the background for a few incidents that occurred on my way to Bhagsu.  My teacher training course was in Bhagsu, it’s about a 20 min walk from our home. I would walk if the weather is nice. It is mostly populated by Indian holiday makers (mostly young Punjabi men) and backpackers looking for more of a “scene.”  I was asked on average about 7-10 times for “one photo” every time I walked to Bhagsu. I used to pose for the countless photos in the 4 months of traveling throughout India, but once we settled in Mcleod, I felt I found a home and I was no longer a tourist. I was harassed constantly by the huge groups of young Punjabi men, not pleasant but not menacing. One day I had had enough of “one photo” questions and the apparent deftness of the one with a camera when they heard “no”.  One man asked and kept blocking my way so I reached down and started to pry off my sandal and told him I would beat him with my shoe if he didn’t leave me alone. With a frightened face, he finally left me alone. Another day, I was walking down the street, minding my own business as usual and carrying an umbrella because it was monsoon season, and a guy in a huge group of young men happened to be the unfortunate soul who decided to press my buttons that day. He made some sort of lewd comment, well maybe not really lewd but enough to peeve me and………to my utter astonishment by pure reflex I swung my umbrella out and smacked him in the back. I turned, pointed at him and said “YOU! Don’t ever do that again” and suddenly realized to my chagrin, it might not have been him but one of the guys next to him. Whoever it was, I think they got my point and hopefully never bother another foreign woman again. If you’re a man in the States, you better watch out for my lightening fast reflexes if I think you have the wrong idea. Dad, I think you would be proud. Never had a problem again.
Mcleod has been lovely overall. The Tibetans are phenomenal and the backpackers you meet are also amazing people. I spent the last two and a half weeks doing yoga everyday, taking 2 hour salsa dance classes 4 days a week with a great British guy, and learning how to paint Thangkas with the most amazing Tibetan teacher. Thangkas are traditional Tibetan paintings of Buddhas and other deities that are framed with fabric and hung on the wall as meditation tools. I spent each afternoon in the small cramped paint paraphernalia strewn room, learning how to sketch and paint Buddha. Tashi, my teacher, also lives with his Grandmother who recently had cataract surgery and who doesn’t speak English. Every day they would make me lunch and feed me traditional Tibetan food amidst Buddhist philosophy discussions between me and Tashi. In my head, I would make up translations to the conversations that Tashi and his grandmother would have in Tibetan, because all I know is “hello” and “thank you.”  I feel so privileged to have not only been taught by a caring teacher and phenomenal friend, but to have also been granted an intimate look into their lives.  I definitely feel blessed by my experiences.
Now if you were to ask me how I felt about India 3 months into our trip, I would have given you an idealistic and very positive reply. At the 4 month mark I would have told you I want to go home and all this mayhem isn’t worth it. Now after 7 months, I’ll give you an all together different reply.  India has been a blessing and a burden. India has changed me, in ways I didn’t even know I could change. For me, this trip has been all about growth and learning. I am a perpetual student, whether or not I’m in a classroom and India is the ultimate test. She tries your patience, your compassion, your sanity, and your world view. To me, India has been an internal journey, one of self discovery. I’ve learned from situations that I would never have encountered in the West. I’ve discovered how strong and how weak I am all at once. I’ve found that I am capable of withstanding the harshest mental, emotional, and physical conditions I’ve ever been presented with, and retaining not only my sanity, but my love for humanity. India presents you with your own demons and how you confront them will ultimately shape your experience. To put it in words that will never do justice to the feelings, I love India with a love that has been borne through adversity. India has made an indelible impression upon me, one that I will treasure and carry with me throughout life.

I now sit here in an internet cafe in Delhi. This reflection has been cathartic for me. I thank all of you who have read and responded to my emails over the past 8 months. I look forward to coming home, but I know I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart thousands of miles away from home. Thank you for playing audience to my internal ramblings and I can’t wait to see everyone when I get back. I’m stepping off the plane in San Francisco, and heading straight into a new adventure: more Life. I am so grateful for everything I’ve experienced in the past 8 months, and I am grateful to all of you who have been supportive. On the almost eve of my 21st birthday, I cannot encourage you enough to travel. Do it while you’re young, do it while your old, just go. Get out of your comfort zone. Experience what the world has to offer. It’s a huge and varied place. Enjoy life and every thing it has to offer. Even if you don’t travel, approach life with an open mind and most important, an open heart. This is my advice for each and every one of you.

Love to everyone and one final heartfelt Namaste!
Kenni


Himachal Police: “Better Late Than Never”

*In case you were wondering, the subject is from a road sign on the way up the hill between Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj. It’s suppose to mean go slow and don’t get in an accident on the road, but the Himachal Police department paid for the sign and of course advertised their name right above the warning. I love India.

I know you have all been beside yourselves waiting for an update that is 3 months late. I apologize for all of the disappointed faces who kept checking their emails only to find that there hasn’t been an email from Kenni. Well this one should make up for all that anticipation. I hope.

Sept. 10, 2008  Delhi, India
I’m on the second to last day of my trip. I head back to the States on Friday. Being who I am (a procrastinator with amazing resilience in the face of a deadline) I decided I must finish the tale of our adventures before I leave India. I am picking up where I last left off and then I’ll bring everyone up to date on Malachi and my current status as travelers.

Beginning of May 2008 Rajasthan!
I left off of our trip update with Bhuj, back in the beginning of May, so I’ll start where I left off. Malachi and I left Bhuj with the image stamped into our minds off four adorable beggar children chasing our train, laughing, and waving at us until we left the station.  Malachi tried to convince me to take them with us, but there was the issue that maybe they weren’t orphans and we would be abducting some one’s small children. Instead we will always remember their adorable happy filthy faces.
We left Bhuj and spent the next day in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. I threw my back out lugging around my huge backpack, surprise surprise. Needless to say I wasn’t pleasant to be around in Ahmedabad. We spent the day at Gandhi’s ashram where you can see real live replicas of his glasses and the spoon he ate with.
Once back to the train station to continue into the great state of Rajasthan, we met a Polish couple taking the same train to Udaipur. We all almost missed the train while relaxing in the air conditioned cafeteria and had to run across all the platforms to catch our train. These are the times that I contemplate giving all of my possessions to passing beggars. We really do carry too much stuff.
The train to Udaipur was slow and pleasant. Malachi and I had our own cabin to our selves (sleeper of course, we’re not big spenders). I slept on the “seen better days” blue swathed bottom bunk, wrapped in my duppatta, and spent the night staring up at the passing stars through the blue barred window. There are moments at night of utter stillness of peace. For all the mayhem that happens here during the day, the evenings are as calm as a mountain lake and just as refreshing. I wonder where all the energy from the day’s mayhem goes? At night all you can feel is the collective sigh of 1 billion plus people.
We arrived in Udaipur with our Polish friends in tow, and Swaftka and I guarded bags while Malachi and Peter went on the prowl to find the best deal in accommodation. They found 2 beautiful rooms with a views of the lake and the Lake Palace for a reasonable price. Mainly because every time you went to your room you ran the risk of having a brick dropped on your head while they renovated the hotel. Malachi spent one evening helping the men who were all a head shorter than him, hoist an I beam up 2 stories with only ropes. Who says you need fancy equipment, there’s power in sheer numbers. Dad you would appreciate the hilarity of the situation.
We shopped, visited the Monsoon Palace, watched Octopussy (the James Bond movie that was filmed here, and advertised ALL over the the city) and enjoyed the beautiful weather. That beautiful weather also meant that there was no lake around the Lake Palace, in the height of the sun in the afternoon you could walk to the majestic building. Malachi ordered a tailored made white linen jacket (snazzy huh) and the “tailored made” part somehow got lost in translation. “No problem with the jacket…..your collar bones are wrong……chest too small.” Suffice to say he got his money back and no jacket. We were boxing up stuff to send home when we heard about the Jaipur bombings. Right away I sent an email to family saying that we were in UDAIPUR but failed to mention the bombings, because that would have caused unneccsary worry on their part. Unfortunately Dad reads the fine print on page 15 of the business section of the newspaper and the worry alert came in the form of concerned emails from my Mom. “WHERE are you? Are you sure you aren’t in Jaipur? On the map they’re only about an inch apart….that’s very close.” I love you Mom.
We spent about 10 days wandering around Udaipur and then decided to head to Mt. Abu for the summer music festival. Before we left, we sent packages from the post office. Being the seasoned travellers that we now were, we weren’t daunted by the dreaded POST OFFICE. That is, until the customs form man demanded rupees for the customs forms, the rickety tape that he used to tape them to our box and then proceeded to throw the tape roll at my feet when we refused to pay up. As we walked out of the post office, I thought our boxes were goners. Surely the angry post man (gives a new literal meaning for me of “going postal” both in the sense of the officer worker, and how I felt leaving the post office) was going to rip off the flimsy tape holding down the flimsy customs forms and distribute our goods throughout the office as soon as we were out of sight for failing to pay and extra 35 rps. Thanks be to the multitude of Hindu gods that one must be able to call on in thanks for safely delivered packages, our boxes have made it to Alaska. Woo.
We left Udaipur for Mt. Abu under the impression we were lunatics. The Lonely Planet travel book writes, “If one is mad dog enough to be traveling through Rajasthan during the summer, there is a summer music festival in Mt. Abu.” We were definitely mad dogs. Well I guess I was the alpha mad dog and Malachi was the sane one saying “North, please! To the mountains, I can’t stand the heat anymore.” But the wish wouldn’t be granted for another month.
We arrived in Mt.Abu in the evening with our recommended guest house reservations and proceeded to refuse the little blue push cart that resembled a little red wagon pushed by a man in a red turban, white jodhpurs, juttis, and big gold hoop earrings, in favor of walking the ridiculous distance up hill. Stubbornness I guess. That or heat stroke insanity.We spent a week in Mt. Abu where there is soft serve ice cream on every corner and a mass amount of holiday makers looking for relief from the sun baked plains below (taken from the lonely planet description). The summer festival landed on the same weekend as the full moon, which meant their was also a tribal people gathering taking place at the same time. The tribal men and women are some of the most beautiful people in India. I don’t get the slimy leering look from tribal men that I usually get from other men, only simple curiosity. It’s refreshing. I could follow the tribal men and women around all day if they let me, which they probably would because “no” is not a commonly used phrase in this country. Just try to ask for directions, the average Joe will almost always refuse to tell you he doesn’t know where something is. He would rather make up a direction and point you in it.
We had a fantastic time in Mt. Abu. We watched classical Indian musicians, Kalbelia gypsy dancers!, ghoomar dancers, African-Indian dancers, and Bhangra dancers. The first and second nights of the performances, we sat near a group of gorgeous African-Indian women (India brought over African slaves too, once released from slavery, many settled in Gujarat where they still preserve their own unique languages and culture.) I figured they were the spouses of the African-Indian dancers and on the second night when their hubbies came on stage to perform their peacock dance, they started giggling. I thought maybe they just enjoyed their husbands performance, but nooooo, one of the peacock dancers gets off stage, makes a beeline to the only white people in the audience (us) and proceeds to pull us up on stage. I just know the ladies were behind the whole deal. So, in front of hundreds and hundreds of Indians, Malachi and I danced like peacocks. Sadly there is no physical evidence left to prove this, because we had no one to take pictures for us. I’m personally not too worried about that fact. It was actually a blast, maybe because there was no one to make fun of us later. Instead we became celebrities. For the next few days that we stayed in Mt. Abu, we received compliments on our dancing from everyone including the random person on the street to the waiter at the restaurant. The smiles were genuine and I believe we must have looked only “mostly” ridiculous not “totally.”  We spent our last night getting Henna from a 13 year old boy, eating fantastic North Indian food at the Hotel Jaipur, and watching the closing night fireworks. Our last day was reserved for exploring the amazing Jain temples that really do look like sugar icing, speaking to friendly Gujaratis about Girnar Hill and the US, and spotting the one completely naked sculpture on the side of the last temple that must have been a sly joke inserted by one of the craftsman.
We were finally on our way to Pushkar! On the night bus from Mt. Abu and Ajmer, I came to the sudden realization that Indian night buses are driven just like the night bus from Harry Potter, except there is no magic to keep you from smacking into the oncoming traffic…. only wily bus drivers who don’t believe in speed limits or any traffic laws for that matter.
I had been so excited I would almost shake when I thought of finding the gypsies that Melea and Carrie studied with in Pushkar. I thought I would have to search them out, but the morning we arrived, they found me. We had checked into the fantastic guest house Carrie and Gary recommended and then ate breakfast. As soon as we left the restaurant, a group of 4 young gypsy women and 1 old woman, descended upon us in a flurry of color and jingling bells. My hand was grabbed and henna was being applied while the obvious leader told me she was a gypsy and she would teach me dance. They were dressed in red, yellow, black, blue, silver and every color in between. They wore Rajput dresses, (skirts with short kurtas over top, and scarves on their heads). I was immediately taken off guard. Maybe from the heat, the long night bus ride, the color of their dresses, the henna on my hand, the immediacy of the gypsies that I had hoped to find, or maybe just the self assured “don’t mess with me because I can overcome anything” demeanor of Gita, the lead gypsy of the group. I fell in love at the same moment that I was scared to hell, not for myself, only worried about how I was going to maneuver through the minefield of a relationship that laid before me. Come to find out, the minefield was completely my own making. They gypsies are who they are without any reservations or apologies. I discovered in the next two weeks that  it would be my reactions to situations that would shape our relationship.
I told them I was interested and that I didn’t want henna at the moment (which resulted in an expert flick of a fingernail that removed it from my palm) and that I would think about the dancing. I was introduced to Gita, Raihka, Raju, Rakhi (not yours Carrie), and the old woman whose name I didn’t catch. Gita told me to “remember my face, I will teach you dance, don’t talk to any other gypsies.” I told her I wouldn’t promise to not talk to any others, but I would remember her. I was impressed by her forthrightness, her ferocity, and how apparently young she was.  Within a couple of days, Gita became my teacher. Raihka and Raju also helped, but it was Gita that I really connected with. After one of our long hot dance classes, while drinking chai, we sat with another group of gypsies (chai or lassis always marked the end of a class). In the corner sat a beautiful gypsy I hadn’t met before and I asked her if she was Rahki at the same time she was about to ask me if I knew her friend Carrie. I smiled and told her yes I was a friend of Carrie’s and I couldn’t believe I had found her. I  showed everyone pictures that were on Malachi’s IPod from the professional dance troupe photo shoot that we did back in Dec of 2006, and Rahki was so excited. My teacher Gita lives with Rahki and I got to know both women. I had an amazing time full of emotional ups and downs with the gypsies for the next 2 weeks. I visited their village where Rahki’s house blew down in the sand/wind storm. They dressed up for us and danced after feeding us. Seeing where they come from, shined a multitude of understanding upon their strong characters.  Throughout the couple of weeks, they slyly pointed out that I had “a good husband.” Apparently they were all smitten with Malachi, I can’t possibly imagine why….haha 🙂  When we left, Gita told me to come back and bring our baby! Hahaha It was so hard to leave them. It took almost the entire two weeks to gain the trust of Gita, and just as we were starting to really get to know each other, we had to leave. I swear strong Gita had tears in her eyes when I left. I love them so much! Right before I left, Gita told me she was 20. I said, me too, when is your birthday? She looked at me for a moment and said “I don’t know.” I was taken aback at first, but told her no matter, we’re both 20 so you can have my birthday. I feel like I found a sister; a blunt, dirty joke telling, betel nut chewing sister.
We left Pushkar in a sad state only to experience a horrific night bus trip to Delhi. While we were in Pushkar, protests started.(complicated but here’s the gist: a group of lower caste people from Rajasthan the Gujairs, were protesting the fact that their children had to score higher on their tests and had less reserved spots than children from upper castes in order to go to school. A completely understandable protest if you ask me.) Because of this, no trains were running because the peaceful protesters were sitting on the tracks. All the bus prices doubled and were packed. We had a sleeping bed and our bus broke down in the middle of the night. We were ushered on to another packed bus with no seats and only aisle floor room and driven to the next dabba. We were ushered onto yet another bus and told we had to sit in the front cab of the bus with the driver, conductor, a family of 5, us, blaring bollywood music, and the ridiculous horn that plays music instead of a “beep.”  If you ever want a harrowing experience, ride in the cab of a night bus. You will reflect on all the positive things you’ve done in your life and how grateful for tomorrow you now are. After about an hour, we both laid down in the aisle with our bags and slept on the floor. Humbling to say the least.  We arrived in Delhi surprisingly well rested and in good moods which is a miracle in and of itself. Probably because we survived yet another “only in India” experience.
Well I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll write about our adventures in Delhi, Amritsar, and Dharamsala next. First I need a break, I’m going to wander out of the air conditioned Internet cafe and find myself something to eat amidst the craziness of Paraganj, Delhi.

Love to all of you and I promise I’ll finish before I leave!

Kenni


Giant boulders and camels oh my!

April 21, 2008 Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Namaste!
It’s been about a month again and I can’t believe how time flies.  It seems like only yesterday we were gathering firewood with our Ladakhi friend Ilan and then making Israeli dinners by candle light. Yes we are still in India, but sometimes the experience is of another world completely.
After leaving Varkala we headed North to Kodai Kanal.  Because we are in India, traveling is not what it seems and it took us 6 days to get to Kodai. We stopped in Munnar where the clouds part to reveal the most succulent patch of green earth situated amongst the hills and the friendliest people.  We stayed long enough to hike 12miles through the tea plantations where women in work saris and sumo wrestling leg armor, cut tea leaves for 8 hours and 100rps ($2.50) a day.  We bought enough spices and coffee to feed a small brigade of…..well coffee connoisseurs and chefs and left the dew covered hills for Kodai.
We arrived in the rain and spent the next two weeks in the eye of two consecutive cyclones from the Bay of Bengal. They brought thunder, lightening, and power cuts. After a night in Kodai, we met a group of Israelis who raved about a small village called Vattakanal about 4km outside of the city.  After the lush fertility of Munnar, we were disappointed by the drabness of downtown Kodai and took them up on there recommendation.  To our wonderment, we found a semi secluded hillside where every other house is for rent and the views are astounding. We moved into the top floor of the “Kibbutz”  (a group of Jewish Holy men lived downstairs and  we were treated to Friday night singing and prayers) with 8 windows facing the valley all covered in the same red curtains!? and a propane stove and fireplace that proved essential. We made friends with a great couple; a Dutch woman and Israeli man who taught us how to make shashouka and Dutch pancakes. We spent the next two weeks living the life of luxury…..by candlelight. There was no power for the majority of our stay, but the fireplace kept us warm and the propane stove kept us fed. When the clouds finally parted, we were presented with the most breath taking views of the valley from our front door. We made friends with a guy from Ladakh who has lived enough life for four people in his 23 years. On the second to last and last mornings of our stay in Vatta, a French hippie man brought us fantastic French pastries (he made them, authentic French I would say even if made in India) to our doorstep. We almost thought twice about leaving, I mean a French man who brings you pastries in the morning, what else do you really need?
We spent a few days in Bangalore, a bustling IT capital with a shortage of Internet cafes but the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. We took a train to Hospet and found a worm hole of relaxation in Hampi where the giant boulders balance in the most peculiar ways and the people are deep and friendly.  We stayed at Shanthi Guest House in a bungalow that shared a faucet with the water buffaloes and a restaurant that you never had to leave.  We met some of the coolest people from Australia, England, and Canada. We slack lined (tied a tow rope between two palm trees and tight rope across it, absurd yet oddly exhilarating) and bouldered (rock climbed without all the fancy stuff, just shoes and a “hope to goodness I don’t need it” matt). We had esoteric conversations in our beloved restaurant pavilion where you can spend the entire day reading and ordering snacks amongst the floor cushions and watching the sunset behind the red Stonehenge size boulders.  We wandered amongst temples and saw our first Rajasthani gypsies (yes they weren’t in Rajasthan).
With a heavy heart, a fever, and the accompaniment of 4 friends, we left Hampi after 10 days for Mumbai on a night bus. Mumbai (Bombay) is India colored within the lines.  The streets are wide and clean and the constant littering non existent…to an extent. We caught up on our urban cosmopolitan fix while being asked about 5 times if we wanted to be extras in a Bollywood (would have been cool but not enough time) and left Mumbai and our friends for Aurangabad to see the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.
We arrived in Aurangabad at 4am after sharing one sleeper seat in a train car packed beyond its capacity. India seems to defy space and matter constraints. In India more people, or animals, or objects, or all of the above can seem to fit in less space than we would reasonably estimate in the West. All done in good humor.  We wandered the 13 hundred year old Ellora caves that are simply amazing. It wouldn’t be very hard to convince me to live in a cave when the temperature out in the sun is somewhere around 100 degrees F.  We saw all the Buddhist caves, one Hindu, and one Jain. “I bet I can tell you what will be in the next cave…..another giant Buddha!” (Malachi by the end of the day). We also gaped in utter amazement at the Great Kailasa Hindu Temple that was built completely out of the mountain. The foresight and dedication not to mention the moolah it would take to convince someone it was a good idea to build a temple out of a mountain, is mind boggling. We fit into a share jeep that may have comfortably fit 11 people but instead again defied space and fit 22. After a frustrating and hot discombobulated day in Aurangabad, we made it to Ajanta and were even more impressed by the 2000 year old Buddhist caves that had paintings resembling a hybrid of Egyptian and Mayan art. Makes you wonder what kind of cross pollination was going on that we don’t know about.
We stayed in Jalgaon for a night at the most remarkably clean and modern interior design guest house we’ve seen in India and caught a sleeper bus to Ahmedabad. Here we are, the 21 of April 2008 and we’ve made it to the state of Gujarat. The women wear their saris opposite of the women in the South, and I’ve seen more gypsy women that brighten my heart.  I get completely goofy with excitement every time I see one and Malachi is getting tired of being poked in the arm and told “look!” every few minutes.  We’re heading to Diu on the coast tonight and from there to Bhuj. I’m going to start emptying out my backpack in preparation for all the goodies I know I’ll be buying.  (Mom and Dad, no doubt there will be another box heading your direction soon!)
Hmmmm I think that about covers what we’ve been up to, save for all the really juicy details not appropriate for a mass email (just kidding, but seriously) and I hope this finds everyone happy and healthy.
Love to everyone!
Kenni

PS. Carrie we got a “blessing” from Lakshmi the temple elephant!
PSS. The camel reference in the subject is because this morning we saw camels for the first time pulling carts down the street here in Ahmedabad. I’ve heard a camel safari is a must, but you’ll never want to repeat the experience.


Life of the beach is exhausting…….:)

March 10, 2008 1:42pm

Varkala Beach, Kerala, India

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since I divulged our exciting India adventure onto a computer screen.  Quite a lot has happened over the course of just a few weeks.  We’ve now been in India for 1 month and outside the US for almost 2.  Surprisingly it seems like we’ve always been on the road, it’s amazing how you fall into a routine: “You carry the sitar, I’ll carry both the violins, oh and don’t forget to buy more bottled water and we’re running low on toilet paper.” The essentials.  Thankfully food, water, toilet paper, and a place to lay our heads at night are our biggest concerns. No worrying over gas prices and deadlines for term papers (sorry for all of you who have to worry about one or both).  Instead we watch the US exchange rate fluctuate with avid interest and are appalled when the Canadian Dollar rises above the US dollar. (They are both at 40 rupees to each respective $ for those interested, the best we’ve seen so far). Catching trains and laughing at wily auto rickshaw drivers has occupied our attention.  So has eating French food in places where French is more widely spoken then any other language and answering the incredibly repetitive almost mantra inducing questions “Do you want to come into my shop?” “Where are you from Madam?” “Taxi?” and more recently “Fresh fish? Cold beer? Maybe later”  We are never bored to say the least.

After leaving the spectacular liveliness of Kolkata, we traveled by night train to Puri. The small beach side town of Puri is in the state of Orissa, south of Kolkata. I had a lovely day of horrific stomach flu, which colors my entire outlook of our stay there.  Thankfully, knock on wood that is the only time I’ve been sick in India. While lying on my back in bed, I became incredibly familiar with the intricate mandala-like design painted on the roof around the base of our rickety fan. There were five, sometimes six petals on each of the flowers ringing the outside edge of the red,orange, blue design. I couldn’t figure out if it was a symbolic purpose or merely the ascetic preference of the artist. I was also treated with a magnificent array of bed bug bites all over my calves and feet from the forced repose upon our less than 5 star quality bed.  (Malachi escaped the invisible army, but they caught up with him a week later in Mamallapuram.) I counted 75 bites on one leg, and 45 on the other.  I’m still at a loss about the insanity of the human body being able to sleep through hundreds of insect bites, but not being able to sleep through the occasional buzzing of a mosquito on the OTHER side of the mosquito net.

We took a city bus from Puri to Bhubanswar and received our first taste of what travelling cheaply with 3 instruments would be like.  Our luggage was divided throughout the bus and placed in various racks and besides various seats to accommodate the press of people who ride comfortably packed like sardines.  Once in Bhubaneswar we found a craft fair showcasing crafts from all over India and attended the free Odissi dance concert held outside and amongst the ethereal stone pillars of the Temple Complex of Mukeshwar.  We sat down in plastic red lawn chairs surrounded by an enthralled Indian audience, when we were beckoned forward by one of the overseers of the performance. We were motioned into the VIP seating area in front of the red lawn chairs and separated by more than just a flimsy metal fence. I was horribly embarrassed to be sitting in VIP for no reason other than my skin color. There were cushioned red and gold benches that were sparsely occupied and looked as though they belonged in the atrium of some old maharaja’s palace.  The only faces who we now sat surrounded by were white or very well dressed Indians.  I was sweaty and rumpled from the day’s bus trip and successive stroll around the dusty craft fair, and in no way did I look as if I belonged in VIP seating.  If I was Indian I would resent the treatment of us spoiled Westeners. No wonder skin whitening advertisements abound. On t.v you see popular Western brands espousing their whitening results to an Indian audience.  The memory of colonialization has been harsh to such a beautiful people.

The Odissi dancing was done beautifully.  My favorite was a young man who has been dancing with his specific guru since he was 4. (He must be at least 18 or so now) Odissi is such an amazing synthesis of storytelling, spirituality, and interpretive dance that conveys an entire spectrum of emotions by the tilt of the head, the flick of a wrist, and the coy glance of beautifully khol lined eyes.  Hopefully I’ll find a teacher to study with while I’m here.

From Bhubaneswar we took a 20 hour train trip down to Chennai in Tamil Nadu. I love the train. Even waking up to “Chaaaaiii gram, chaiiiiii graaamm, chai gram, chai, chai, chai,” and “Koffey, Koffey,Kooooofffffeeeyyy”  Melea you described it perfectly.  The random snacks handed through the windows at unnamed train stops to reveal some of the best meals, have been eagerly excepted, even if later tireless attempts to find the same dish in restaurants proves to be difficult. If it is one thing that we’ve discovered, it’s that eating in India is always an adventure and a surprise. One dish by the same name can be made in infinite ways, and all of them delicious, even if they weren’t what was expected.  The only dish that I have tasted and I’ve utterly and completely loathed and found to be the most disgusting thing in the world, of course was one that was made with bananas. Malachi enjoyed it.

We spent only a few days in Chennai, enough to find myself a beautiful red and gold sari that I have no idea how to wear, but couldn’t resist the beautiful fabric. The highlights of Chennai were the harrowing auto rickshaw that left my knuckles white and my heart palpitating and watching the new “Rambo” in a theatre full of wood floors, lazy boy like seats, and cheering Indians.  Of course we watched it because it was the only English language film being played.  Just like in Thailand, we stood for the national anthem to be sung before the movie, and were treated to a 15 min intermission of a 1 1/2 hour film. Be glad you didn’t have to see “Rambo” Mom, it was what you would expect from a Rambo film, blood and guts. I did  enjoy hearing the Indian audience cheer at all the cheesy hero lines and at the triumph of good over evil though.  The incredibly friendly staff at the Paradise Guest House, made our stay much more enjoyable in this not very touristy city.

A 2 hour bus trip brought us to the very mellow, very relaxed, and shopping oriented town of Mamallapuram.  Carrie, the Greenwoods Guest House was great. We spent a couple days wandering the endless Kashmiri shops and dining in places like the Bob Marley Cafe that featured an enormous poster of Bob Marley, but played Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  I woke up early one morning and bought Malachi a silver bracelet for his birthday. It really is difficult to keep secrets and plan a surprise when you are with someone 24/7.  Malachi had been debating on buying it the entire day before, and finally decided to buy it, so we went into the store later that day only to find out that the bracelet had been purchased already by “someone” else. I gave it to him the next day over his birthday dinner.

On Malachi’s birthday (Feb, 24th) we made it down to Pondicherry on another 2 hour (empty!?) public bus ride while making faces to a beautiful little girl.  This was after a failed attempt one day before. A sitar and two violins doesn’t make for easy access to packed city buses.  Pondy (as most people refer to it as) is a French mecca full of French food, French people, and French street names.  We had dinner at the French cafe Rendezvous (it’s in the book for parents) for Malachi’s b-day, after which he spent the next day sick. Thankfully we’ve been sick at different times.  I had dinner one night in a French restaurant which was run by a very large round French man, with a smaller version of Gerard Depardieu’s nose. His size at once made me aware of the decadent French food I was eating, but also reassured me that he must not only eat, but enjoy what he served. I watched him great people with the very European kiss on each cheek and almost thought I was in a France, not the south of India.

We found an amazing coffee shop (Coffee.com) full of mazagrand mochas, French baguettes, home made ice cream, and friendly family owners. We visited Auroville and found it’s mission and purpose great, but not quite the friendly easily accessible place we were hoping for. Completely understandable considering this is 2000 people’s home, not a tourist destination.  It was established by a French woman known as the Mother 40 years ago to be a cosmopolitan city belonging to humanity where people can pursue there dreams of research and education in whatever they please. Not a place for the transient travelers that we are at the moment.

From Pondicherry we took a bus up to Chennai and bought an unreserved train ticket to Mysore. Not a good idea. A young guy from Chennai explained the whole process to us while we waited for the train conductor to let us know if there were any available sleeper seats.  I was designated as “the one who should ask because you are a white female, and therefore the train conductor will of course listen to you.”  I managed to get us two seats and was again designated as “the one to bribe him because you are a woman and you won’t have to pay as much.”  The people we sat with explained the entire process and even chided me on trying to “bribe” the conductor in front of the “public” even though I thought I was just paying the remainder to the cost of the tickets, not bribing him. The “bureaucracy” of India.

We made it to Mysore in Karnataka without a hitch.  We ate amazing Mysore Masala Dosas, and visited the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.  I was nervous and excited and a little daunted by the fact that I was actually visiting the place where Pattabhi Jois taught (now his grandson Sharath does the teaching along with his mother).  I dropped off my application with the date May 1 as my starting day, but I’m going to use the next two months to decide if I really want to go.  The program at AYRI is designed only to take two hours of classes in the morning. I think instead I would like to study not only asanas but also meditation, philosophy, Sanskrit, and live the intensive ashram experience.  I’m still debating. Georgia or Heidi if you have any insight let me know.

After Mysore we came by over night train to Varkala in the state of Kerala.  We’ve been chilling out on the beautiful cliffs, enjoying the sun and the super power waves of the beach, while staying at the amazingly friendly MK Gardens.  Salim the host made the entire house the most delicious dinner on the rooftop Saturday night.  We’ve been attempting to make it to some yoga classes, and decide where we want to go next. We’re thinking Kodai Kanal (Thank you Thomas for the recommendation, we’ve been carrying around the list you and Carrie compiled for us).  From there North.

We’ve met some amazing people from all over the world, some that we keep bumping into, and the experience has been fantastic. I love it. India captured my heart in Kolkata. The South has been lush and green and beautiful, but I miss something about the crazy hecticness of the North. I’ve laughed uncontrollably with a rickshaw driver at his attempt to tout us and I’ve almost been brought to tears by the poverty and inhumanity that India forces you to acknowledge exists every day.  I’ve admired breath taking sunsets, and smelt the incredible retch inducing smell of hot sewage.  I’ve eaten French dishes for dinner and Indian savory snacks for breakfast. I’ve drank delicious hot chai on the train, only to discover I must throw the cup out the window to dispose of it. (No trash receptacles, all my counter littering instincts cease up in terror every time.) I’m continually assaulted by the complexities of India and the amazing opportunities for reflection on some of the most  heart wrenching aspects of humanity.  I look forward to each day and what crazy experience it will bring.

Sorry for the novel, I’ll either try to write less or more often from now on.

Lots of love to everyone,

Kenni

ps please write back, I love hearing from everyone!


Kolkata

Monday February 11, 2008 Kolkata, India

Since the last time I wrote, Malachi and I have traveled by an overly airconditioned night train to Chiang Mai, by public bus to Pai, moped around the lush valley of Pai, spent a night and a day with food poisoning, wandered up and down Khao San road one last time, and hopped a plane to Kolkata, India.  It’s been quite the last 2 weeks.

On January 29th-30th we took the night train to Chiang Mai; it was long and cold but very enjoyable. You would think that in a hot country that you could never go wrong with air conditioning, but I froze during the night. The sleeper train was very comfortable and surprisingly clean.  Most of the people in our car were Dutch.  For being a small country, they sure have a lot of people who travel abroad.  Not so many Americans.  I’ve only met a few.  Lots of Canadians and lots of Japanese.  I think it is wonderful how much people of other countries travel.  I wish it were the same for Americans.
About an hour outside Chiang Mai our train had to replace its engine.  We spent an extra 5 hours on an 13 hour trip.  Perfect time for reading books, catching up on journals, and listening to iPods.
Once we made it to Chiang Mai, we found a nice quiet guest house with big spacious rooms with wooden floors for very cheap.  We wandered around Chiang Mai and found the most amazing art gallery.  From the outside it looked as if a garden full of vines and trees had overrun the little shop.  Postcards and small paintings with optimistic sayings drew us inside.  Once inside it felt as though we had entered into the heart of a tree.  Almost like the where the Lost Boys from Peter Pan lived.  We were surrounded by beautiful bright acrylic paintings on simple canvas stacked on every available surface. The artist’s name was Johnny Gallery and he had Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue” playing throughout the catacomb of paintings.  It was a very surreal place.  Uplifting and beautiful words painted on gorgeous back drops done by a Thai man who wears a white t-shirt and white head band painted with his sunsets and words.  The most friendly and unassuming person you can imagine. An artist through and through.  We fell in love with a painting of a sunrise outside of Chiang Mai with the saying “Do not worry if you missed the sunrise this morning, for tomorrow shall make you another” written on the bottom.  What a great thing to wake up to in the morning, especially knowing that neither one of us are very good at waking up early…..
The next day on a whim we decided to take a bus to Pai.  We didn’t have the time to go to Luang Prabang, so instead we decided to head to the eclectic small city of Pai.  We rode a very old, very orange public bus 4 hours up into the mountains.  It started to rain on our way and only enhanced the spectacular green of the hillsides.  We could have been traveling through the North Western US except of course for the palm trees and native Thai speakers.  The forest was dense and oozing fertility.  I’m very grateful that there are still places like this in the world. Places where the air I breathe is manufactured and recycled.  The canopies that are created by vines scaling the mature trees, looked like the perfect home for fairies.  Of course they probably house all sorts of creatures I’ve never seen or heard about before.
Pai is situated in an amazingly green valley full of rice paddies and rivers. It reminded me of home, the valley part, that’s about where the resemblance stops.  We spent the next week exploring the many delicious restaurants, the countryside, and the shops about Pai.  The people of Pai are a mix of very hippy Thais and expats from all over the world.  There are many long term residents who have opened restaurants catering to French, Italian, Greek, coffee connoisseurs, vegetarians, and organic conscious people.  Our favorite was The Sanctuary.  An organic restaurant with fabulous juices and pastries. We rented mopeds for a couple of days and rode around the country side.  I felt like I should be saying “ciao” like Eddie Izzard. On our last night we ran into a Dutch couple from Amsterdam who Malachi went fishing with on Ko Chang.  They were very friendly and we spent a few hours listening to live music and chatting with them.  That was the same night I spent the entirety puking my guts out.  We were suppose to leave Pai on Feb 7th to catch our train back to Bangkok on the 8th.  However, it would have been impossible to ride a bus down the windy hilly road back to Chiang Mai. I really felt for the Spaniard from Ko Chang anytime I thought of getting on a bus that day.  Instead we both felt horrible (food poisoning) and watched movies on Malachi’s iPod.  Thank goodness for technology.
We spent the next day (feeling hundreds of times better) traveling to Chiang Mai and from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.  We spent our last day in Bangkok at a computer super center looking at mini laptops (guess who for…) and at the zoo.  Animals behind cages is always so depressing.  They were the only monkeys we saw in Thailand.  When we picked up our laundry that night, the launderer told Malachi I was a catch and he was very lucky. How am I suppose to leave a country that tells my boyfriend he’s lucky to have me? Thailand has been wonderful. All very beautiful and we only saw so few places.  Three and one half weeks was not nearly enough.  I will come back to the land of horribly smelling dried squid on a stick again.  The people were wonderful and the food delicious.  There is so much more I want to see.  We didn’t make it to the tiger temple.  I didn’t get eaten Mom.  I will see them in India instead. 🙂
Yesterday we flew from Bangkok to Kolkata.  We woke up early to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  We have learned so much in the last few weeks.  The price we paid for the taxi to the airport was 1/3 of what we paid the first time when we left the airport. It is amazing how seasoned you become with regards to haggling.
When we got to the airport, we found our ticket counter.  The one with only 3 counters for about 150 people.  Mostly Indians.  Standing in line I experienced my first taste of the staring to come. I guess the little bit I’ve tanned in Thailand has not given me enough cammoflage.  On the plane Malachi sat next to a man from Jaipur and he was incredibly friendly.  We haven’t been able to really connect with any Thai people, mainly because we don’t speak Thai, but already I feel so much more welcome here in India.  Everyone on the plane was more social and outgoing.  We met a guy from Northern California/Oregon and a girl from Montreal who we split a taxi with from the airport.  They’re incredibly nice and we’ve talked quite a bit.
I can’t believe I’m actually here.  We’ve been planning this for so long that it seems a little surreal to actually be here now.The taxi from the airport couldn’t have been more different from our one in Bangkok.  Here in Kolkata, all of the taxis are yellow or white Ambassador Classics that are dinosaurs of the Raj age.  The infrastructure is nothing like Thailand.  The roads are old and well beyond their expiration dates. People everywhere. Women in beautiful saris and men holding hands (a sign of friendship). The taxi drivers are liberal with their horns.  Malachi described it perfectly: “they drive using echolocation.” The streets are noisy and noxious.  The pollution makes your eyes water and your lungs scream in protest. But there is no animosity. The friendliness is palpable.  I was instantly smitten.  I feel much more welcome here than I did in Thailand.
We experienced our first Indian meal and it was everything I hoped it to be. Delicious. The chai is hot and sweet and spicy and perfect, served in a small clay disposable cup. A much better idea than paper cups.  The dosas are finger-licking good (literally).  The smells of the street vendors are alluring and many. We walked through the park near the Victorian Monument and I couldn’t take my eyes off the women dressed in gorgeous saris relaxing and having picnics in groups with husbands and family. What boring clothing we wear in the West.  Today we went on an adventure to find a music shop where Malachi could price sitars and decide where we want to go from here. Everyone wanted to help us find where we were going and not even asking for money, just genuinely wanting to help. Every time we pulled out a map we attracted an entire crowd of helpful smiling head bobbing Indians. I’ve already fallen in love with this country.  The poverty and filth is also extreme. For every extreme there is an instance of the exact polar opposite. It’s a woven quilt of opposition that encompasses everyone and everything.  Maybe that’s why it feels so welcoming.  India welcomes all aspects of life. The good and the bad, the brutality and the kindness, and manages to make all of it Indian.
We’ll be heading South to Puri in the state of Orissa tomorrow night.  It’s great not having an itinerary.

Love to all of you and I’ll write soon again about the land of color and spice,
Kenni and Malachi


The Frenzy After the Calm

January 28, 2008 Monday 11:35am

I want to be lying on the beach with my pineapple, mango, coconut shake, reading my book and soaking up the liquid sunshine of the beautiful Thai beaches.  Instead we are back in the crazy, hectic, sensory overload of Bangkok.

Let me explain, since my last email, we travelled by bus and ferry to the island of Ko Chang.  We decided on Ko Chang not so much because it was a place that called to us specifically, but because our friends from Quebec said they had a good deal on round trip tickets and we hadn’t decided where to go yet.  Ko Chang sounded as good a place as any.  Maybe a little less popular and a little more rugged than the islands of Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan, which sealed the deal.

While on the bus to Ko Chang, I happened to get locked in the bathroom.  The toilet was located in the bottom of our double-decker bus.  The door looked like it was made for a hobbit and there was a latch on the outside to keep the door shut.  When I entered the miniature room, I realized there was no light (aka it wasn’t in working condition) so I had to hold the door open to let in enough light to see.  Inconvenient but not enough to deter me.  While I was attempting to hold the door while the bus swayed from side to side creating the same sort of turbulence as an airplane, the door was suddenly forced closed and I heared the latch click.  I was shocked and it took me a few seconds to register what just happened. I thought Malachi must have been playing a joke so I sat in the dark for a few moments in order to not give him the reaction he was obviously waiting for, such as yelling or banging on the door.  I’m not extremely claustrophobic but who really wants to be locked in a hobbit size toilet on a Thai bus, so I told him it wasn’t funny and to let me out.  There was no answer.  My second thought was maybe it wasn’t Malachi.  So I knocked on the door.  No answer.  By now I was completely perplexed.  Why would someone lock me in the toilet?  I kept knocking. I figured that if no one let me out that eventually someone would need the toilet and I would be released.  But if no one needed the toilet it was only another 5 hours, so I guess a dark, cramped, smelly bus toilet was as good a place as any to meditate or attempt to take a nap……. I knocked a little harder this time and voila, someone opened the door.  I was actually surprised, I had almost come to believe that I would be trapped in there for some time.  It was one of my fellow passengers that I think was Italian. I looked up at her and her expression didn’t seem surprised or concerned, maybe even a little peeved as she said “Oh” and turned around and walked back up the stairs. I wasn’t sure how to react. I think my face pretty much said “Yes you just locked me in the toilet and I have no idea why, so please don’t do it again.”  I finished and went back upstairs and sat down.  Malachi was watching “The Rock” which was playing on the bus television.  Everything seemed completely normal.  I told him I was just locked in the bathroom.  At first he didn’t hear me so I said it again.  He said “What? What do you mean?” I explained and I could tell he was genuinely surprised.  It wasn’t Malachi.

Anyway the beach is much more exciting.  When we approached Ko Chang on the ferry, it looked as if we were entering Jurassic Park or maybe the Congo.  The jungle covered mountains rose up out of the sea and gave the impression that all sorts of large creatures were hidden amongst the trees.  We actually meet some of those giant mammals the next day.  We went for an elephant trek where we were able to wash, feed, and ride the elephants.  I think it’s actually a very clever way for the Thais to fool Westerners into paying to do elephant house keeping chores.  It was actually a ton of fun.  The elephants were majestic as always, maybe a little bored, but to someone who doesn’t ride an elephant everyday, it was fun.  I would have liked there to be a little bit more information regarding how the elephants are being saved and protected and how our money was helping that effort, but maybe that is a little too Western of me.  It was enjoyable just being a tourist.

Malachi and I ended up staying at the Treehouse II in Long Beach on Ko Chang for the majority of our beach bumming.  We met Ted the South African, Tania the German living in China, and Boris the Slovakian on the taxi trip to the beach and who were to become our dinner companions.  Taxi I think is much to formal. It was actually a truck with two benches in the bed with a canopy roof over the top.  Not the most comfortable considering the hilliness of the drive.  I sat next to a Spaniard who threw up the majority of the trip and I rubbed his back while he was retching.  The poor guy was miserable. The least I could do, or even think of was to offer him a little comfort.  Thank you Mom for the times you rubbed my back when I was sick.  I think it helped him a little.

Once we got to Long Beach, we dropped our bags in our lovely beach side bungalow made from thatch, and headed to the beach. We went to the restaurant to have dinner that night and as I surveyed the rest of the patrons, I recognized a face and it took me a moment to register who it was.  The woman who locked me in the toilet on the bus 3 days before was there.  A little surreal I guess, but we never ended up running into each other and there was no locks on the outside of the bathrooms so all was well.

We spent the next few days swimming, snorkeling, eating, doing yoga, and reading in or around the water.  At night we had dinner with our new friends sharing stories and eating fish that Boris the Slovakian had caught each day.  Speaking of fish and Boris, one night we decided to go to a little shack down the beach and have seafood.  We picked out our Red Snapper BBQ fish; there is something erie about meeting your food face to face before you eat it.  Then only to open up the tin foil and stare straight into the eye of your chosen sacrifice.  Almost enough to make you become vegetarian.  But if that doesn’t do it, watching Boris eat the eyeballs, lips, cheeks, throat and other various apparent “delicacies that are the best part of the fish” would do it for you.  Suffice it to say the fish was delicious, but I’m moving towards the digestive tract of an herbivore.

We had a blast at the beach and enjoyed every minute of it, but (and this is where I insert my utter detestment of cigarettes) there were smokers everywhere. When I dreamt of spending days at the beach I would never have guessed that the refreshing and sweet air of the ocean would be tainted with cigarette smoke no matter where we went.  I can’t believe how much Westerners smoke.  It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand how you can enjoy the beauty of the sand and the ocean while dragging on a cigarette non stop. Grrr, enough of my rant, but it really was unbearable at times.

Malachi is a little burned (I wore tons of sunscreen) and my sandals are full of sand, but we loved it.  We had a very hard time leaving yesterday, but we are off to new adventures in the North.  I think we’ll be going up to Chiang Mai tomorrow with maybe a stop at Kanchanaburi for the tiger temple. I promise to not be eaten, then on to Lao and back to Bangkok.  We fly to Calcutta, India (it was cheaper to buy tickets to Calcutta than Chennai, only $187 one way!) on Feb 10.  We’ll keep everyone updated. Oh and Malachi put new pictures up with people actually in them.

Thank you everyone who keep writing, I would like to write to everyone individually but I won’t always have the time.

Mom, is it a business week or full 7 day week?? 🙂

Oh and happy late B-Day Joanna, I’m glad you had a fabulous time in Mexico

Grandparents: I’m sorry I cannot write everyday but I am doing fantastic and I will write as often as I can.

And an interesting note for other Psenaks, Boris said Psenak is definitely Czech….or maybe Slovakian I can’t remember which.

Talk to you soon!

Love to you all,

Kenni and (Malachi even though he’s writing his own email too)


Bangkok II

Hello from the heat.

I’ve never really appreciated, or even understood air conditioning until today.  It’s about 95 degrees and beautiful, but crazy hot. The Internet cafe has air conditioning thankfully.  It’s a long way from Alaska.

Anyway, thank you everyone who wrote back.  It’s so cool to be such a long distance away and still be able to communicate with all of you.  Yesterday we saw the real Bangkok: from the back of a tuk-tuk.  Imagine a motorcycle motor with a bench behind the seat and a roof.  Three wheels and a lot of guts.  I can’t believe what a Thai driving test would be like.  The streets of Bangkok are jammed packed and relatively quiet.  Malachi and I sat on the edge of a round-about last night and just watched everyone, as we commented on how Bangkok traffic is ordered chaos.  There is never an accident, but I can’t believe what kind of attention you have to have to follow the traffic patterns.  There doesn’t seem to be as many lights as there should be, and drivers take liberties whenever they are available.  Today I was in a store and a motorcycle came down the aisle as if he had utter confidence that he should be driving through.  Bizarre and amusing all at the same time.  I’m completely charmed by the city. I love the hustle and bustle and the friendliness.  I don’t feel unsafe at all, the only thing I have to watch is being too kind and paying way too much for something that I didn’t really want in the first place.  I have gotten the hang of haggling, it is easier to do with men than women.  Women are more intimidating.  Probably because they are the ones who shop in the market places themselves.  It’s hard to bargain with someone that is good at reducing prices themselves.

Back to the tuk-tuk; when we were wandering through the wat at the end of Khao San Road with Nick the Canadian we met the night before, a couple of guys gave us a lot of travel advice and warnings, and an itinerary of wats to visit.  Probably a standard route, and we probably were ripped off a bit, but it was nice playing tourist and a few cents isn’t all that much in the greater scheme of things.  All three of us piled into the tuk-tuk and stopped at the beautiful gold standing Buddha (which is immense), the Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple), the Lucky Buddha, and a very posh tailor shop.   The tailor shop was recommended by a tourist agent at the Lucky Buddha and it was very professional.  Not even close to being in the same category as the tailor shops on Khao San, more like something you would find in Italy with rooms and rooms of silks and very professional staff.  Considering the fact I will probably get skirts a plenty in India,  I decided to get a dress and Malachi is contemplating a shirt. Not quite the budget of a backpacker but I think the experience is worth the rate.

After the tuk-tuk we wandered around and happened to stumble upon a British couple who were coming out of a beauty salon where the woman just had a facial.  She was raving about her skin and how soft it was.  They said it wasn’t a tourist place, it was where Thais themselves went.  Her skin was absolutely beautiful, so we stopped in and I did a facial while Malachi had a foot massage, and the only other customers where Thai.  I fell asleep half way through listening to a Thai soap opera on tv.  It was the best facial I’ve ever had. I wish I could have seen what she did and what she used.  When I got up Malachi was passed out in the chair where he had his foot massage.  It took awhile to wake him up and the masseuse thought it was hilarious.  She didn’t speak any English but  He was completely out of it but obviously enjoyed his foot massage. We decided to call it a night and headed back to our room.  A very calm night to a jammed packed day.

Today has been more wandering.  We’ve decided we need to get out of here asap, so we should be heading down to Ko Samui maybe Sunday.  Beaches, beaches, beaches.  I can’t wait. We’ll probably be there for close to a week and then perhaps head up to Chaing Mai  and fly out of Bangkok.  Nothing is official yet.  We’re playing it by ear.

Love to all of you,

Kenni

PS. We tried fried worms yesterday! They tasted salty but you would never guess it was a worm. Something more along the lines of a hallow chip. Oh and Melea we’ll try to find the Happy House. And we did find the banana roti vendor, if we weren’t so tired last night when we did, Malachi would have been all over that.


Bangkok

January 17, 2008 Thursday 11:24 am

Malachi and I have made it to the metropolis of neon lights and tuk-tuks, also known as Bangkok.  We spent 21 hours getting here from Cali and when we finally arrived we lost a day and threw our internal clocks off.  We flew in at midnight on separate flights from Tokyo and amazingly enough we found each other in customs right away.  The crowd of people yelling out taxi rates in front of the airport was a sensory shock.  All of the cabs are bright neon colors and about the size of a small sedan.  Pink cabs and green cabs pelt by on the amazingly pristine paved roads.  We split a taxi with a young guy from Vancouver, Canada and an older couple from Quebec.  It cost us about $4.50 each to drive the 45 mins to Khao San Road.  That gives you a bit of a gage on the price of things.  Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.  We wandered around Khao San Road for about 45 mins until we found a nice budget guest house tucked out of the hustle and bustle.  It was clean and quiet, perfect by our standards even if the toilets reeked of backed up sewage.

Khao San Road is known as the backpackers’ haunt of Bangkok.  You see more white faces here then any other part of the city.  Even at 1:30am, the road seems like a permanent carnival.  Lots of bars and late night snack food. Balloons being sold to drunk couples stumbling out of bars, and young women sitting on the sidewalk amidst rubbish cooing babies to sleep.  Dogs lay in the middle of the street and cats roam free, unconcerned about the people or auto traffic.  It’s all rather surreal.  We haven’t seen the real Bangkok yet, but we have plenty of time.  I’ll post pics tomorrow.  There is an Internet cafe downstairs from our room.  Right now it’s time to go eat. I had fresh pineapple this morning from a street vendor and it was delicious. ( clean street vendor, for those of you who’s first thought was nasty bacteria…. you know who you are).  There are beautiful things everywhere, hopefully we’ll have room in our bags for everything. If not, Mom and Dad you’ll be receiving packages.It’s hot and sunny, last time I checked it was 85 degrees and humid. I think it’s comfortable, wonderfully warm.  Malachi is dying already and our first shopping stop is for a pair of shorts.

PS.

Mom and Dad: we are safe and healthy, we’ll keep you posted on where we are heading. For now we’ll be in Bangkok for a few days.

Love to you all,

Kenni and Malachi