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!

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