The Beginning of the Pushkar Odyssey in Rose Smelling Delicates

Pushkar Jan 4th-14th

My undergarments smell like roses. The sari I am sitting in smells like roses. My pants, my sweaters, my socks all smell like roses.

I did not accidentally fall into a prickly perfumed bush of flowers with soft petals. Rather, an innovative laundry wallah down the alley from my guest house, washes clothes and then presses them with rose water from the roses surrounding Pushkar. How decadent I know. A small luxury in the midst of a 30 hour dance week.

Odissi. Pushkar. A new love and a familiar friend.

How to describe the brimming excitement in my stomach, in my chest, in my throat as I walk into Shakti School of Dance for the first time. Trepidation. Unbridled hope. A healthy dose of adrenaline.

I was met with “Kenni!” and an enthusiastic and warm hug from Rakhi the Kalbeliya teacher. I gratefully returned the hug with a small round ‘o’ of surprise on my lips. I studied briefly with Rakhi the last time I was here, almost 3 years ago. She wasn’t my main Kalbeliya teacher, but she was a friend of my friend Carrie and therefore I automatically became a sister.

It has only continued to get better from there.

On Jan 6th at 9am I attended my first Odissi dance stepping class. I had moments of utter bliss, feeling like this is what my body has been craving for years, and moments of “What the hell have I gotten myself into??!” In developmental psychological terms, I find myself on the edge of the Zone of Proximal Development (delineated by a Czech man with a complicated name consisting of an absurd number of consonants). ZPD is a fancy way of saying that I’m on the edge of my comfort zone, perfectly poised to absorb what I will now be learning. Not quite out of my depth, but close. At the end of that first class I was challenged, I was exhausted, but most of all I was blindingly happy. Happy in a way that puts into perspective how unhappy I have been for a very long time. The sun has burst through the clouds and not even a pair of 200rps fake designer sunglasses can block the rays of penetrating light.

It has only continued to get better from there.

Each day has been physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting and still I fall into bed each day with a smile on my face. (If not in actuality, then most definitely in my mind’s eye). I continually fall in love. Excuse the expression,  ‘I get my ass handed to me each day.’ I am beyond grateful for the years I played competitive sports, because I know physically and mentally my body can take the beating. This is the most grounded, balanced physical, psychic, spiritual training I could ever imagine. After 9 brilliantly intense days I can feel my body getting stronger. I am being shaped for Odissi. My thighs are being chiseled from the choka and tripungi stances. My hands and fingers are becoming more nimble from mudras. My core is becoming strong from targeted exercises. My upper back is becoming sculpted from supporting my arm and chest movements. My brain is being challenged by cross lateral movements. And most of all, my heart is overflowing with love for the dance.

There is so much to share from these first two weeks of training. Sharing the lovingly dubbed “girls dorm” with Melea and Shawna complete with matching bedspreads. Fugitively watching from an internet cafe the Kalbeliya gypsy girls I studied with before as they sat in the market with new babies. Debating whether I was ready to approach them yet. Watching them stride off down the market street with new flint in their gazes which pained my heart. The food. Oh India and your delectable street treats liberally dappling the market streets. The chaotic cacophony of motorcycle horns and “Excuse me Madam. Beautiful things my shop. Come. Only looking.” Our Super Ganesh shirt wearing, illiterate, cow raising, sweatshirt turban wrapped, infectious laughing, campfire stoking, oddly god-fearing landlord. Not enough said. More to come on the hilarious happenings of Sai Baba guesthouse.

There is so much and so few words to paint the landscape of life here in Pushkar. There are things I take for granted. Such as the imperceptible step I take to the left miliseconds before the motorcycle passes me from behind. The obligatory limp handshakes and chai consumption following my reacquaintance with Gita, Raju, and Raihka. The kites in the sky flown by children and adults alike. The sudden flight of thousands of pigeons from the temple just feet over my head as I wait for class to begin on the rooftop. The quiet peace of the holy Pushkar lake on a Sunday morning stroll once past the harassment of pushy Pushkar passport ‘priests.’ The moment when the sun peaks above the horizon and the monkeys on the rooftops pause motionless like energizer bunnies with their batteries removed. The bubbling airy happiness in my heart.

So much to share.

I have two and a half more months to share my Pushkar Odyssey. This is just the first taste. The first whiff of Puskar rose scented laundry. The beginning of a love story.

Brahman Blue and Krishna Chai

Bundi, Rajasthan, India December 31st, 2010- January 4th, 2011

I don’t believe it is possible to welcome a new year with a new journey in a better way then flying across the world, stepping out of comfort zones, and diving head first down the rabbit hole. I am finding “Alice in Wonderland” to be a perennial India comparison. From the chain smoking biddis to the mesmerizing blue snaking pathways through old Mughal architecture and the technicolor vibrancy of life. It is as if I willingly tumbled down the rabbit hole back to an alternate reality.

This universe fills every waking moment and every sense. My nostrils smell the excruciating exhaust from autos and motorcycles, but is still able to detect the wasp of newly fried samosas and the perfume of freshly plucked roses waiting to be placed on an alter, any alter. My face is caressed by the desert sun and the curious tongue of a local cow. I see brilliant yellow saris delicately stepping over piles of steaming cow patties. Monkeys roam the rooftops and worn out female dogs bask in the shade. When I gaze upwards I rest my eyes upon fortresses and palaces that are hollow shades of Mughal glory years. Archways full of sinuous lines and sharp puncturing points. The color blue. The sky, the buildings, my eyes when I catch my reflection in a shard of glass embedded in the palace walls. I am mesmerized.

My second night in Bundi, Shawna and I stopped to listen to the music cascading down the steps to a Shiva temple. Without missing a beat in his playing of the dholak, an older Indian man motioned us up to join with a wobble of his beanie covered head. We looked at each other, shrugged and climbed the steps. We spent the next 45mins or so playing zils/cymbals and enjoying the kirtan. A painting of Shiva, lord of the dance, watching over our music making. We took prasad (blessed sweets, like communion) with the musicians at the conclusion of the evening. It felt like a blessing on our soon to come dance training. Perhaps Shiva is the patron of this dance trip.

Bundi is a relatively small slice of Indian life. Approx. 80,000 people, but the backpacker area feels cozy and it is easy to recognize familiar faces. I wander the market place with Melea and Shawna. Combing through fabric to take to the tailor and eagerly await beautiful flowing salawaar kameezs and Rajasthani dresses. Bangles. Glass bangles that bruise my knuckles as the woman selling them forcefully defies physics and manages to slide them over my hands.

And chai. *sigh* just saying the word gives my body the cue to settle a little bit further down into my seat and warm my belly. Melea and Thomas introduced me to Krishna, of Krishna’s Chai shop. The chai operation is done down in front near the street. Up a couple of steps there are plaster benches to sit and further into the inner sanctuary there is a Shiva shrine bespeckled in roses, marigolds, and red tikka powder. Krishna is a master. His chai is a work of art. A transcendental experience. The wall behind his burner states that he is also capable of making lemon tea and lassis, but why would you ask Da Vinci for a paint by numbers piece? Krishna’s formula is simple: for his winter chai, “ginger for the chest, black pepper for the sinuses, and clove for the mind.” (This explanation was accompanied by the gestures to chest, nose, and forehead). As a right of passage, Krishna taught me how to make his chai. Acacia is a lovely firefly sitting and preparing chai with Krishna every time we come. She shrewdly watches over my ministrations while Krishna takes an order. I boil milk over a single gas burner, squatting on a stone slab behind. I’m instructed to  pour sugar and black tea into the pot. Then to crush black peppercorns and dried cloves on the stone slab with a round flat rock that sits comfortably in my hand. “Full power” is the effort I need to crush into powder. I gather the pulverized spices and toss them into the pot. With a clamp on the rim of the pot, I pick up the soon to be chai and slowly spin the milk around the bowl trying not to spill over the edge. Next is the ginger. Krishna motions  me to cut off a chunk of ginger to pound into pulp. “Shanti, shanti” this time. The ginger is added and now I pick up the pot again to stir the magic potion. Listening to a divine clock, Krishna tells me when the chai is done and I strain it into another container. A couple of pours from cup to container to make it frothy and the chai is finished. Or is it just begun? I’m treated with a face splitting grin, a thumbs up, and a “bole (good) chai” with head wobble. It is delightful chai.

Our second to last day in Bundi, we spent the morning riding old steel frame single speed bicycles through town and out to the rice paddies. I’m in the back of the pack as we snake our way past blue walls, yellow windows, and green doors. Sitting properly upright on English inspired designs. We can’t help but speak in the Queen’s English at first. I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning. The last time I drove in India was a pink moped in Pushkar during my last trip. In comparison a bicycle is slower which is both good and bad. Potential crashes are less severe, but it is also harder to get out of the way of bigger more dominating vehicles. We shared the road with in order of right-away cows, motorcycles, buses, and trucks that liberally rely on their musical horns for echolocation. The ride was oddly peacefully. You seem to become deft to the horns. Dirt roads, potholes, new asphalt, and roadkill (a wild pig that Thomas warned “Don’t look!” for Acacia’s benefit). We sat and had a cold samosa and biscuit (cookie) picnic near a well in the middle of nowhere. I shared the last of my chocolate from my Christmas stocking. After, we returned without mishap and full of fresh air from the countryside.

Bundi was a vortex of Indian “shanti shanti” time. We left Bundi for Pushkar on Jan. 4th in a crammed van driven by two Indian friends who wanted to make a trip to Pushkar themselves. I look forward to returning to Bundi with time to spend.

Next up, the beginning of the Pushkar Odyssey. Filled with sore muscles and soaring heart.

Love to all.

K

Planes, trains, and autorickshaws

When I come to the point in my life when I deem it necessary that I must settle on a vocation, I hope that I can find one that will accurately reflect my skills and accomplishments. Namely my unflappable ability to efficiently take a hot water bucket shower, ride a bike one handed through narrow blue alleyways dodging motorcycles, cows, bikes, people, and dogs while filming with a videocamera (I have the film to prove it), and eat with one hand without making a disaster of my clothes. These are a few of the skills that I am becoming reacquainted with.

As with all journeys in India, my route from Delhi to Bundi to meet friends for New Years was filled with delays, detours, and determination. I found myself at the end of Pharagang, the backpacker oasis of Delhi, staying in the last hotel I stayed in before I left India the last time. The men at the front counter are the same, the room just as dark and dreary but blissfully quiet. I was bound and determined to get out of Delhi asap. My goal was to meet up with Melea and Thomas, their daughter Acacia and Shawna, Jeff, and Kyler. All from home in Alaska. Melea, Shawna, and I are all attending the Odissi intensive in Pushkar together.

Gratefully, I met the end of the protest that resulted in the train and bus halt of Rajasthan. Bus and trains had been canceled for the week before I arrived in India. I made my way down the familiar Pharagang market street to the New Delhi train station. Except for the hiccup of being polite to touts that were trying to tell me that the tourist reservation office was not where I knew it to be, the train booking was uneventful. When the tout was dishonestly explaining the whereabouts of the office, a German man descend on us out of nowhere, grabbed my hand, pointed me in the right direction, and sent me off with a smile and good luck. I smiled back with gratitude. This is the first time I’ve had another traveler intervene for me, I hope I can pass along his kindness.

In the reservation office I heard my first of many “You’re traveling alone?! Is that safe?” from other travelers. My reaction is always a quizzical look and “of course it is.” I’m surprised by the fear many first time India travelers exhibit. I have never felt unsafe here. Traveling alone is brilliant. The biggest downfall is planning bathroom breaks and not having someone to watch my stuff if I’m out and about.

I secured an overnight train ticket out of Delhi the night of the 30th, meaning if the train was running on time I would make it to Bundi at 2am the 31st. Just in time for New Years. I spent at total of 15 hours in Delhi from the time I flew into Delhi and the moment I left on the train. Long enough to sleep for about 4 hours, play tourist and take the high class Delhi metro out to the Qutb Minar, and to eat my first Indian dish, a modest dal makhani and chapati (delicious and triggered a flood of memories).

I made my way to the train station, found my train, stored my bags under the seat and sat waiting for my sleeper compartment to fill up. No one else came. There were about 8 other people in my entire train car and I should have known then that something was up. A samosa wallah came through and I purchased two. The first of many warm flaky moments of delight. I hesitated at first and almost felt ashamed enough to try to hide that I then tossed the plate out the window.

The sleeper compartment was just as I remembered. A two tone blue scheme which had definitely seen better days. The grunge is thick from the exhaust and pollution, but the beds are surprisingly clean. I pulled out my silk sleeping bags, the blanket my dad prophetically purchased for me at the airport in Anchorage (it has been invaluable) and set my alarm for 1:30am. I awoke to see my breath. There are no heaters in these compartments. I put on all of my warmest clothes, few considering I packed for India, and sat and waited for the stop to arrive. At about 2:30am I found an Indian train passenger and asked if he knew when the train would reach Bundi. He disappeared down the car into the mysterious mist of other compartments and returned with the news that we were no longer on the route we left upon. Instead, we were somewhere in northwest Rajasthan. On top of that, we were no longer going to make it to Bundi, but bypass it and head straight for Udaipur. This is ironic because the original plan for New Years was to meet in Udaipur but Melea, Thomas, and Acacia could not leave Bundi to get to Udaipur. Funny universe.

I spent the next 6 hours trying not to freeze or chatter too much as my new found Indian friend taught me Hindi. Vinoth is from Tamil Nadu (the South of India) and works in the oxygen side of a lead factory. I learned a lot about mineral production in India as well as practiced my numbers and verb conjugations.

On a whim, I got off the train at 8am in Ajmer, hoping that I could get a bus to Bundi. Without stopping, I downed a extremely garam (hot) chai to warm up my frozen extremities on the platform and took a rickshaw to the bus station. Forgetting the useful phrase that Vinoth taught me “Which bus goes to Bundi?” I instead wandered through the bus station with my beastly backpack asking “Bundi?” with raised eyebrows and a head tilt. Eventually I was directed to the right bus and we left within 5 mins of my boarding. Five hours, a sore neck, and screaming bladder latter, I arrived in Bundi. I was terrified the bus would leave without me if I got off to use the restroom at one of the few stops. This is one of the moments that traveling alone can be tricky.

Melea had not emailed me back to say where they were staying before I left Delhi. Using my extraordinary powers of deductive reasoning, I had a rickshaw drop me off in the hub of the guest houses and I found an internet spot. I quickly read the email Melea sent that morning stating where everyone was staying and I walked the five minutes to Uma Megh Haveli. At last in Bundi, at last with friends. It was a trip to see everyone from home on the other side of the world. My room was beautiful and spacious full of quirky paintings, stained glass windows and a window bench looking out over the lake! (I have wanted a window bench since I was a little girl). It was here I would finally settle and relax into the shanti shanti time of India.

I will leave it at that for now. Adventures from Bundi to come as I write from Pushkar.

Full Power, shanti shanti.

And it begins….

Here I am sitting in the Delhi smog, trying not to breathe too deeply and inhale the fumes of 20 million plus humanity or the guaranteed unpleasant smells. After 40 hours of travel, missed flights, a shower in the Dubai airport without a provided towel, cold AC naps, stimulating conversation with a Sudanese man working as a social worker in Australia, losing things, finding things, contemplating things, I finally, thankfully, with glee made it.

This entire trip feels like a miracle. Coming to the airport in Anchorage with my last minute errands and seeing people I had wished to see before I left that magically appeared before me, I felt as though I was  holding this entire trip together through pure force of will, like a patchwork model airplane that you hope will sure as hell fly after all of the work you put into it. Everything that you could possibly imagine came down to the wire. My loan approval, my camcorder purchase, my packing, my finalization and delegation of hairy official responsibilities, even whether or not I would have a spot on the Anchorage to LA flight. There were delays, miscommunicatations, serendipitous occurences, and hope, lots of hope.

I am beyond grateful for all of the amazing souls that have continued to surprise and support me in this vision. Each one has been a brick placed on the path before me even before I knew where I would take my next step. There is something powerful and unstoppable about this journey. Even in my most terrified spiraling out of control moments, there has been a beacon of light on the horizon.

It is appropriate that I left Delhi 2.5 years ago on my own, I am returning on my own, and I will make this trip my own. I cannot express how liberated I feel in this moment. I am now somewhat refreshened, energized, and ready to eat something savory and delectable, avoid the cows and rickshaws, giggle at the signs that seem to communicate from a collective cultural conscious (“Creative India” on a construction site for example), and bask in the eccentricities that are woven into the fabric of Indian life.

12-30-2010

Stage II: Home for the Holidays or Why I do not currently live in Alaska

I have never been anywhere more breathtaking than this corner of Alaska where I call Home. Breathtaking in every sense of the word. The frigid air knocks the breath from my lungs with the subtlety of a bulldozer. Promising the immense power of Mother Nature in every captured breath. The lavender wash of early sunset (3:30pm early) splayed across the frosted tips of mountain guardians. The darkness. The ink black darkness. Compelling and coaxing more hours of sleep, more comfort food, and more moments of reflection. The golden orb that hangs suspended in the black velvet sky is larger here, I’m sure of it. Meeting the newest member of my family. Gazing into the portals of the future through the round expressive eyes of countless generations. There is beauty here. Beauty in the land, in the people. Harsh, blinding, bone-chilling, perpetual night, breathtaking beauty.

Two weeks is the perfect length of time to be home. Long enough to reconnect with treasured loved ones and long enough to cherish my time away and on my own. This is where I come from and this is where I leave from. It seems that this trip has been a continual practice of allowing the past to catch up with the present. There is a moment when seeing the face of an old friend after many years when time stops. It takes a beat for the brain to catch up with the vagaries of time, as if each year is a slide in a child’s picture viewer. Your brain clicks through the slides until you arrive in the present and reconcile what once was, with what now is.

The ducks are mostly in order. Except for a few errant details that refuse to be taken care of until after I am out of the county, it seems I have a nice and neat packed away American life. I am amazed at how hard it is to check out of the system. I value the opportunities to step outside of the stream of daily American life and gaze into the inner workings of the American cultural machine. It is such a refreshing and much needed perspective. To see the tapestry of culture, relationships, expectations, contradictions, hypocrisies, achievements, and synapses for what they are. To embody the outsider’s perspective is a valuable place to be. This is where we grow. In the spaces between.

The days remaining are few. The panic that something important will be forgotten, the last remaining to do list almost complete, and the loose ties all satisfactorily tucked away is the indication that change is about to take place. Big change.

I am gulping in the frigid air and honoring the vigil of the mountains with the grace of a black bear in a blueberry patch at the end of summer. Storing memories for the long, sometimes lonely months to come. Thank you Home for cradling my tender heart for this brief time. I may be going forth into the world searching for my own Origins, but Alaska will always be the place I return to in times of sadness and joy. My touchstone. My polestar.

Stage I of take off: Done and done

My life in Boulder has been packed away. What can be physically placed in boxes has, what responsibilities there were have been relinquished, and time has been spent with loved ones. What I am most grateful for has been the time spent with those who give me the continual inspiration to follow my heart and believe in my vision. To say that I will miss Boulder would be a lie. I am grateful for the growth that this place has forced me to confront and the challenges that continue to arise. Like a belligerent obnoxious relative, I love Boulder, but at this time I sure as hell don’t have to like it.

I will miss the deep existential conversations with people who share the same vocabulary. I will miss the casual ease of touch with strangers. I will miss the walks in the chill air, the sunshine on the foothills, and the plethora of coffee shops with almond milk and gluten-free pastries. Leaving Boulder is leaving the past behind. For those of you who are panicking that I am leaving for good, no worries, I will be back for my last year. Boulder is not home. It is a lily pad floating amidst the pond of possibility. I am ready to jump to the next lily pad. To leave behind the self that I choose to no longer identity with. The self who was so caught up in non-egoic ways of being that became willing to concede and compromise values. The self that lost sight of what it means to say no.

While I rode away from the mountains and headed down to the flat plains near the airport, I was torn between the desire to shed tears or give Boulder the bird. I did neither and instead said a blessing and turned my back on the past in order to face the present and future. I don’t know what the next lily pad(s) holds, but I am in the midst of the leap and the air above is refreshing.

The Beloved

I had the pleasure to spend an evening listening to the poetry and music of Turkish Sufi mystics. The musician tonight described the path of a mystic as one who recognizes that the Beloved has created beauty in the world. It is the quest of the mystic to travel the world to find the beauty with the intention of sharing it with others. What an inspiring sentiment. A humming started to vibrate in my heart space when I heard this; recognition. I hope that I may be one to share the beauty I experience in this world during the course of my travels. The written word is such a useful way to communicate beauty with the stroke of a brush, pen, or now computer key.

It feels liberating to share words as they dance across a page. Invoking the spirit of the mystics, traveling the world to discover beauty. Also knowing that the ride will not always be beautiful, at least not on the surface. Remembering moments from my last trip to India, I suspect I will throw tantrums over outrageous discrepancies, real and perceived inequalities, and cultural mis-communications. I also know I will fall in Love. With people, with places, with moments of surpassing beauty. I strive to maintain balance. To share moments of rawness. Moments that stand outside the bounds of dualism, outside the concepts of “good” or “bad.” To allow the beautiful moments to feed me and the trying moments to force me to grow.

I am traveling this time as a different person. In obvious realities, as a soloist and not a duet. In more subtle ways, as a changed body, as a changed psyche. I am proud to say that I have grown (at least I hope) since my last trip. There has been struggle and there has been ecstatic communion. I have allowed the vagaries of life to beat me into the dust at times, but I am now choosing Wholeness. I am not pretending to know what this always looks like, but I am dedicated to practicing wholeness in whatever form it takes.

In the quintessence of the Sufi mystics I hope that by striving to search and find the beauty in the world and sharing it with others, I will continue to rediscover my own embodied beingness. The ugly, gritty, colorful, foul, perplexing, astonishing, ___ness.

Eat your heart out loneliness.

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