Friday, November 28, 2008

Pushkar: Beautiful Sunsets Among Holy Grounds

So heres a brief run down on Pushkar...Pushkar is a holy city that is pretty much focused around one point, Pushkar Lake. It is a holy lake surrounded by temples and bathing ghats where pilgrims take a daily dip. Certain Gods made appearances here at the lake as well as part of Gandhi's ashes being spread there. Inside the city there are lots of cows, there are around 5000 temples(!), buildings of pinks blues and mainly whites, lots of sadhus (spirital men with long hair and beards) lots of beggars (being a holy city ofcourse there are), pushy salesmen who get pissed if you are just "looking", a loud marriage festival going on which (ofcourse means loud music and fireworks), even as i am typing this a loud group was going down the street blaring music on 5 huge speakers with a following of more people playing various instruments,the worst of all, people secretly trying to sell me drugs! This is a holy city! Respect your own towns rules at the least! (Being a holy city there is no meat, alcohol or drugs)

So, Ive spent my days here either reading, shopping for souvenirs for family/friends, visiting some of the many temples here,taking yoga classes on rooftops, and ofcourse eating. Since Pushkar is a holy city, there is to be no meat, so the multitude of vegetarian options have been at my feet here, and I have been taking great liberty in trying as many of them as possible. Ive came to the conclusion street food is the best way to go. It is cheaper than in a restaurant, and it always blows me away with how tasty it is. Most of the food looks like you wouldnt dare eat it for the fear of the consequences, but I have yet to find one dish I did not devour with great delight! Its hilarous, I eat so much here and I think I am loosing weight, how does that work?!

Upon my first day here I was taken down to the bathing ghats where a "priest" performed a puja for me and my family. I read about this scam, yes scam, in my guidebook but I was pulled into this and just went with the flow of it. I had to repeat a mantra, name my family members, say another mantra, offer flowers, sandalwood into the lake wishing for my families happiness (Dead or alive). Even though I knew it was just to get money in his pocket, I treated it sincerely, even though he might not have. He had a look of disgust when I made a material offering of ruppees for my family, and was in an outrage when he saw how much I gave for him and his family.
"Only 20 ruppees?!?This is for me and my family!!"
"And I hope it helps you all."
Scams...You cant escape them wherever you go here.

My Thanksgiving was an interesting one. I called my parents to wish them Happy Thanksgiving and I was given the news about the bombing in Mumbai which has been targeted at Americans. In my time in India I have heard of a few bombings, given there is alot of terrorism and corruption in India sadly. What is most alarming was that I was going to be there in a few weeks and it shook me up knowing that I was close to being affected by something so drastic. After I got off the phone with my parents, I was speechless and motionless for about 20 minutes. Once I came back to reality, I started my day. I walked to a nice view spot of the lake, where I spent the majority of the day just contemplating various things. I met an Indian man who I talked to about the bombings, he invited me to his hotel where we could talk and have a chai. After we talked about the bombings, he told me about his role at the hotel. He is the cook, and was trying to get me to work there(?) I kindly let him show me around, and the rooms where filthy. A small corridor with a concrete slab to sleep on, and here is the best part...

"Heres a nice room, you got a place to sleep and look, window"

I step in to see the window and it was infact a window but instead of shades it has newpaper that had a mild addhesive to keep it stuck to the window but you could pull it off and enjoy the breathtaking view of dead grass and dirt "garden area". Upon exiting I almost step on a lizard that looked like the Geiko Geko. Upon closing the door the handle broke off, which is your only means of security in a place like that. Classic. I am not even going to mention how putrid the shared bathroom/shower was...Ill leave that to you imagination. He wanted me to work there, where I would work in the kitchen but I would also have to pay for my boarding. Where do I sign?! This is a steal of a deal right....I finished my chai and went my seperate way, bummed that I passed up such a good deal!...

Upon walking around the town after i walk through an alley no larger than for 1 person to get through at a time to get to a main street and I see David, a man that took the Vipassana course ahead of me. We immediatey see each other, start talking, and arrange a meeting time to see a temple up on the top of one the surrounding hills. I go back to my room and read til it is time to leave, met david and two other people from america and were off. Once you got to the hill where the temple was, it was just steps, HUGE steps the whole way. But ALOT of them. About an hour later we reach the top where there is a cafe blasting music, music that I thought was being produced from the temple but upon seeing the speakers, it felt incredibly westernized. I would expect this is America, not in India. I was expecting people gathered around a person on a harmonium with drummers on tablas around them, not a CD you can buy if you wanted. I looked around the temple, took in the amazing views, then went back outside and watched the sunset. This is what I love about Pushkar, beautiful sunsets among holy grounds. Upon leaving we met up with another American who I quickly became friends with. His name is Steve and he has been travelling around india for about 8 months, before that he hit Thailand and Nepal. He just got his nursing degree, and after the temple me David and Steve all went to get some food, I mean it was after all Thanksgiving! David recommended a place that has a killer Thali so we went there. It was good, especially because they kept pouring on the food. I was stuffed! A MUST for a thanksgiving dinner, you must feel like you are going to puke you ate so much. David left and Steve and I exchanged info and went our seperate ways. I was extremely thankful that I was able to share my Thanksgiving dinner with two friends.

So, in any case, my last night here was amazing. The whole day it was cloudy with black and grey clouds I thought it was going to rain all day, but it didnt. So around sunset time I worked my way over to the lake, but the clouds were not letting the sunset through. That is until a few hours later...At the tail end of the sunset, beneath the black clouds pierced the deepest red I have ever seen in a sky before. This sight was truly magnificient because no one expected a sunset, the sun didnt peak through the clouds ALL DAY and then this breaks out for our enjoyment. I ran and got a Chai ofcourse, then sat at the steps of the lake, looking out to see the tall white, blue, and pink temples infront of a black clouded sky, with just a sliver of this deep blood red sky at the bottom. Truly a magnificent sight! I wish I could have taken a picture but I (unlike the other foreigners) respected the lakes rules of no photography (being a holy lake). However, the image is photographed in the memory banks of my mind, wow! This is what I love about Pushkar, beautiful sunsets among holy grounds.

After the sunset a drum circle formed where I rocked out and met some interesting people. The most impactful was a man who had instead of 4 complete limbs, he had 4 stubs, but the truly remarkable part of it was it did not stop him from creating beautiful artwork. I went over and talked to him about his work and he wanted an OUTRAGEOUS amount of money or else I so would have bought a piece (despite the 10 day wait period). Very nice man, with proof that you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

Right now I need to go mail me a carepackage. I bought alot of stuff to mail back. I bought 2 pounds of Chai spice! I made it a pact of mine to buy Chai in each State I goto in India. After I mail it off, its time to roam around the town and eat some good food!

Today I get on a bus back to Jaipur to get ready for another 10 day meditation course for my birthday! (So stoked about that)

I hope you all had a safe Thanksgiving, full of good times with either family or friends.

Much love to you all.
Be happy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jaisalmer:Practicing Patience and Positivity

So we headed out to the desert early in the morning and were accompanied by another glorious Indian sunrise.

We went by Jeep and it was quite the ride. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland, the driving was quite similar.

We met our guide, "Tiger" and it turns out the 3 other people that were promised to be on the tour with me and Sara were a lie to get us to book the safari, just like everything in India.
"What are the camel's names?"
"This one is Johnny, That one is Victor, and this one is Mr.Magoo"
"Mr. Magoo?!? Can I have Mr. Magoo!!"
I call my Dad Ma'Gee and he always says in response to that,
"Thats Magoo to you!"

So as you can imagine, I was a bit excited to hear that one was named Mr. Magoo and even more stoked that he was my camel for the trip. Then we saddled up, and we were off. Each day consisted of about 4 hours on the camel. We were off around 8 in the morning. took long lunch breaks and were at the campsites around 4. Along the way, we stopped at many villages along the way to see their way of life and get swarmed by the villages kids screaming, "Photo! Photo!!!!" They gave the largest and happiest smiles I have ever seen. Its like you are a celebrity coming to their village. Each time we ate, Tiger would make the food from scratch. Before the food was made he had to make Chai.
"No Chai, no power!" he would say. Or he would also say,
"Chai give you power for many hour"
Sara and I would ask him a million questions while he was cooking.
"Whats this?" "Whats that?" "First you cook what?" "Then you add what?" and so on. I came to the conclusion that I am either going to mail me Chai ingredients or pack it in my bag when I leave. I want to buy, like no joke 20 bags of the tea so I can make it for everyone when I come home.

Our main attraction for the day was the Sand Dunes. We were also promised no other tourists in this spot, and there were atleast 6 other groups. It was very quite in the desert after all the small talk was spoken. Whenever Tiger would talk it would be about 3 things which made me see his true intentions. 1. His poor health 2. His familys poor health 3. Money (either how much he is in debt for buying the camels with interest charges, or having Sara and I help him count his tips) It gradually got worse as the days went on.

The Sand Dunes were awesome. They were not as large as I was expecting, but they were infact Sand Dunes. I was expecting Dunes like in the movie "The Doors" where I could roam around and get lost. These, you couldnt get lost in, not big enough. Tea time was in perfect alignment with the setting of the sun, so I got my chai and went and sat on top of the San Dunes and watched the sunset with my warm cup of Chai. Best part of the trip for sure. After the sunset, it was time for food, and by that time it was dark. The food was always so basic but so good. I am used to plain veggie hot dogs with Patrick when I goto the desert thats it. Breakfast was Chai first ofcourse, then toast with jam, boiled eggs, and biscuits. Lunch was normally rice or noodles, curry, veggies, and chapati. Fruit for desert normally, either fresh papayas or oranges. Dinner was similar to lunch just double the size.One time for an appetizer Tiger made Finer Chips. Before cooking they look like noodles but you put them in hot cooking oil and within seconds they are like 15x the sizer and are crispy like chips! Magic food! So cool. Tiger than left to go talk to his other camel safari friends where Sara and I were pretty much motionless and speechless under the blanket of stars and the roaring fire I kept fueling. You know this sfari showed me that I could get used to that style of living. No house, you sleep where you want, cook your food yourself, build your own fires to keep you warm, so free and so open. In any case, I set up my bed in the sand and watch the shooting stars get shotgun'd across the clearest, brightest night sky I have ever seen. There were so many, it was unbelievable. After I realized they just kept coming, I started making my wishes on them. I started making wishes for my family, then my friends. Anyone I left out when the stars stopped flying by, I made my own wishes for them not to leave a single person out. I told my buddy Patrick that I would think about him when I saw my first desert night sky, I knew he would appreciate the sight before my eyes as much as I did. I wish he was there.

Then it was morning, I had a good nights sleep and Tiger made a good breakfast and second days agenda we saw more villages and children. We camped in a dry riverbed where there were more good times with Chai, campfires, silence, and sunsets.

The next day was our last day. We didnt really ride the camels too much that day. We took a really long lunch break where I got lost in the beauty of the tree branches with the bright blue sky background. Tiger would let the camels free at this point, tying their two front legs together with minimal slack so they do not run off. When he would fetch them, he would take either Sara or myself which is where he would have us "help him count his tips", ofcourse not together but Sara and I talked about this when he was gone. Such crap. The other person who stayed back did the dishes desert style. You washed the dishes with dirt. How ironic does that sound? You make these dirty dishes clean with dirt. Suprisingly it worked.

So we get dropped off where the jeep will be bringing us back into town and he tells us that he is going to go to his nearby village (which we were promised to goto as well and see his family) and take care of the camels and gave us the notion that if we were going to give him a tip to do so now. Before the trip I was going to give a tip no matter what, so I gave him the money I was going to give if it was the worst or best expierience Ive had. After Sara and I hop in the car, another man hops out of the jeep takes the camels away and Tiger then hops in the jeep to drive off with us. It was all a lie. This is India. You get lied to no matter where you go or what you are doing. People here only see green in your foreign skin color and will do whatever it is to pull on your heartstrings to hopefully get some money out of you. You have to accept this here or else you will be miserable with everyone here like how Sara was. She had a very short temper with people here because shes been here for almsot a year and is tired of it. But you have to accept it, you cannot escape it.

When we get back to our guest house we were suppsoed to be given a free night stay that was included in the safari price. Well, after I spoke my mind when I was asked "How was the safari" he directed us to another hotel because he knew that if I saw someone trying to make a safari arrangement I would speak my mind again. I was given the dirtest room I have slept in so far in India at this new guest house, but I dont mind. I gave Sara the nice room upstairs and immediately went for my cold shower, which I looked forward to very much, and went to journal, then to sleep. There was a marriage ceremony going on which meant lots of fireworks, music and people til late hours of the night. All that noise combined with the normal street noise and the bed bugs that kept me company, I did not sleep well. I had a bus to catch at 930am to goto Pushkar, Sara had a bus around the same time so we were instructed to be ready to be picked up at 9.

Next morning we were ready well before 9 and never got picked up. We arranged a rickshaw at 915 realizing we werent going to be picked up and first Sara was dropped off and we said our goodbyes. Then I was dropped at my bus station and was told "That is your bus", I pay and leave to find out my bus already left. So I call the hotel and give them hell, get picked up, taken back to the hotel, given a story about how its my fault I missed the bus not theirs, get a new bus ticket for 4 o clock and roam around town the rest of the day. I was supposed to be picked up at 330 for my new bus, bus 330 came and no one around to pick me up. I call and it is now 5 o clock my bus leaves. So 430 comes and I am instructed to go with one of the hotel workers for my bus.
"where is my bus ticket?"
"he has it"
"who is he?"
"that man" pointing to my driver
"I need my ticket, in my hand, right now."
"I dont have, we go pick up"
So we go pick it up from another worker of the hotel who says its back at the hotel. My bus leaves in 10 minutes and my driver has to go all the way back into town and come back...I get dropped off at my bus, and he brings me my ticket in 5 minutes. I tell him,
"You dont leave until I am on that bus."
as soon as I got off the motorcycle and turned around, he left. I found my bus and my seat was on the back row. I laughed, put on some music and tried to just shun everything for a few minutes.

Well, remember my first bus ride expierience? Yeah the bench was maybe 3/4ths as big, but had 3 times as many people crammed in the bus. My personal space has never been so invaded but I couldnt do anything about it except smile. I could be miserable about it, but you cant here. There is so much bullshit in India that you just have to roll with patiently and with a smile for the sake of your sanity. In the midst of all the mishapes I am able to practice patience and positivity. When you do this you attract more positive energy into your envoirnment. For example, soon after this, I met the Indians I was sitting next to. The first thing Indians talk to me about is my tattoos because they are Indian influenced. Next is about my personal life, married, family, kids etc. Then we talked about Hollywood movies/Bollywood movies, Ricki Martin, Michael Jackson, more love movies and more awful pop music. Indians love pop music, its hilarious and love stories.
"I love hollywood movies!"
"Oh yeah? Like which ones?"
"My favorite movie is Titanic."
It is a good movie do not get me wrong, but you ask any American male in their mid twenties what their favorite movie is, you will never hear Titanic. Or when asked favorite artist in music, you would never hear Ricki Martin. We quickly became friends. When our bus stopped I was gonna buy a Chai but one of them bought it for me and bought a beer for himself. I could already smell the alcohol on his breath within the first 5 seconds of talking to him. The smell of booze, especially cheap booze on someones breath as strong as his, seriously made me gag when I would smell it. Putrid.

We started talking about temples, and he told me about a temple in Mumbai. One of the largest in India and he showed me a picture of whos temple it is he had in his wallet. He empties the wallet and says to me,
"I want you to have."
"Im sorry?"
"Gift for you friend. We are friends I want you to have. If you ever goto Johdpur I want you to call me, whatever you need anywhere call me friend"
I take off one of my favorite mala's and give to him.
"I want you to have my mala. I dont have many souvenirs from America but this is my favorite mala and I want you to have it."
"I cant have, I cant wear."
He went on to explain that he cant wear it because it eats meat and drinks. You cant mix the two things. We then exchanged info and told him if he ever wants to come to America he can stay with me, I could pick him up from the airport and show him around. He loved hearing this.

My bus was supposed to be a direct bus to Pushkar but the bus dropped me off at another bus station at 3 am telling me that I need to get on a lcoal bus for 30 minutes then it will drop me off in Pushkar. All the signs are in Hindi and no foreigners around. I see a booth looks like a ticket booth ask for a bus to Pushkar where another Indian is going, we meet, talk and he makes sure I get there okay. When we got off the bus in Pushkar, he walked me to my guest house to make sure I got there ok. Good man, I thanked him and off he went. There was no one in the dark lit lobby, so I call the number on the business card and get taken into their only room. It was a ncie room except the fact that they havnt cleaned the room, I did not care. I was so exhausted, I got my sleeping bag out and passed out in 10 seconds.

Pushkar is a very clean city. Also a really holy city. It is surrounded by mountains and has a holy lake in the center where people bless you (scam) or bathe in the lake. Interesting to watch people do their prayers in the water amongst the white temples surrounding the lake. Here I plan to just relax before mymeditation course in Jaipur on Dec 3. There are many temples to visit and I have alot of my new book to read. That is the plan.

Much love to you all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jaipur: I was just about to pee out of a bus window.

My day of nothing was everything I needed it to be. I am less than 10 pages away from finishing my book, got lots and lots of sleep, and drank lots of Chai, ofcourse.

The next day I met Soni promply at 9. Then we started our historical sightseeing adventure. First, we went to the white marble temple in Jaipur. Stunning. The whole complex was made out of marble. Alot of buildings in India, especially in Jaipur, are made out of marble Ive come to see. The inside had a shrine dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi, and the rest of the temple was open I am assuming for when they give pujas or have ceremonies and whatnot. There was stained glass windows that resembled the Catholic Cathedral stained glass. It had many gods depicted in the different windows. Ganesh, Hanuman, Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, Durga, the list goes on. It even had scenes from the classic Indian text, The Bhaghavad Gita. Beautiful. Outside on the pillars gods and goddesses were carved out of the marble with great precision and detail. Upon leaving, I went to find a bathroom and they were charging for foreigners to take a piss. I always find this hilarious when I run into this because I can walk 10 feet away and pee on his podium because I guarentee someone already has just a few minutes ago.

Then we went to Hawa Mahal Palace (which Soni was very good to explain to me anything I asked) was made by the Indian Maharajas (Indian royalty) for the royal women to come and watch the festivals in the street because being of royalty they have to cover their faces when in public and are not allowed to watch from the streets because of their royalty. Nice views, lots of windows to see the streets, and it was in the heart of Jaipur. "The pink city". Every building was pink because the Maharaja of Rajasthan at the time wanted to create a pink city after seeing the pink city in france and chose Jaipur to be the one. Therefore, in a certain part of Jaipur all the buildings are pink, however alot of the buildings have faded almost to a redish sometimes orangish color.

After this we get into his rickshaw and it wont start. He tinkers with the thing, gets someone to help him and nothing. He walks me to the next attraction, City Palace, and tells me he will call me when he is done in maybe an hour. City Palace was basically a museum of the Maharaja of Rajasthan Sawai Man Singh. It had on display clothes used in weddings, ceremonies, polo (he was a famous polo player, they were very proud of this, I found it hysterical), turbons. My favorite part was looking at the weapons and guns. The guns were antiques ranging from matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, and revolvers. Then they had all sorts of daggers, krises, katars, shields (which were made out of animal hide), helmets, chain mail, spears, mace, you name it it was there and I was drooling all over it. So rad. There was also a very small hallway of ancient hindu art paintings. The detail that was put into these paintings were unlijke anything I have ever seen. Mindblowing. You could see each strand of hair, each fingernail, each square millimeter brushed was taken under great concentration and accuracy. Outside the palace I ran into someone from the Vipassana meditation course. His name was Aussie from Israel. His "room" was right across from mine and he left the 3rd day. We talked for a bit then went our seperate ways. Crazy we would be at the same place so far after the retreat. I called Soni and we met up outside.

Then we went and saw the Tombs of Singh an his family. 3 different kinds of marble from three different parts of the world. One from Jaipur, the other from southern India, and the other from Italy. The monument rested before a vast mountain range and was very serene away from the city noise. I love the way Indian architecture looks. The buildings with the big bulbs at the top surrounded by tall vast pillars intricately designed with religious figures, or flowers, or animals. Whatever it is, it is always almost perfect.

We then went and saw the Water Palace which is a Palace that was build for Singh to come and chill basically. Its built in the middle of a lake in Jaipur, and Soni said he used to just go there to relax, dance, and get away from everything with friends and/or family.

Soni then takes me to handifraft place "to see how they make their crafts" but to really get me to buy some of their stuff. I quickly get myself out of there and say to Soni,
"You know how you said I can ask you anything, to consider you family?"
"Yes ofcourse"
"Dont ever, take me to another place where people try to sell me shit, Soni. Im serious, this is why I hate Delhi. You are a good man and will be compensated, you know what I mean when I say compensated?"
"Yes, paid"
"yes, for your honesty and sincerity, but when you try to get me to buy something you start to loose my trust and become just like every other rickshaw driver Ive dealt with in India."
"no no, I just want you to see how they make crafts that is all. you no buy, you no buy. its no problem."
From there we went to the Monkey Palace which is just an area where monkeys in large quanity roam around. Its a good spot to take pictures of the sunset (and ofcourse the monkeys) and there are a few temples to visit on the way. On my way up to the top, I buy some peanuts to feed the monkeys on the way. This was without a doubt the highlight of my day, having the monkeys take the peanuts out of my hand. Knowing that they are hungry and I am feeding them, was such a great feeling. I love monkeys. I then met a kid on the way, well me more like followed me the whole way, who took pictures of me feeding the monkeys, danced, singed, taught me hindi, all for a price. However, I gave him 10 rs. before he even asked for money, but on our way down he kept hounding me for more. He didnt get any more. I stopped at the two temples, made donations, bowed, recieved garlands of flowers and bindis (marks of different pastes on my forehea). At one of the temples, I made a donation of 10rs. and the lady says,
"10 ruppes?! No no no, 50 ruppes!"
I sharply replied back with,
"Namaskar! Das Rupia!" (Listen! 10 ruppees!)
I thought the lady was going to pee herself she was laughing so hard. She wasnt expecting hindi to come from a young white boy. Granted I dont know much more but I am learning my way around :) The sun was setting at this point but once it hit the cloud of pollution, the sunlight couldnt penetrate it because it was so thick, so I went back.

On my way, I met two girls who were lost from England. I helped them get on the right track and we went our seperate ways. I could tell something was wrong with Soni, I think it was because he did not get a commission off me from the handicraft place he took me to. He took me back to the hotel were I packed my bag, washed up, then I ate. Soni wanted me to write a letter of recomendation in his book ( a common thing for indians to show foreigners about how great their service is) so I just wrote what I felt. Soni truly did want to give the best service he could. He would constantly pull over to explain to me what certain monuments history was and to make sure I was having a good time and "take lots of pictures". He truly did, so I wrote that. I paid him a bit more than I would be willing to pay for a service like his because of how genuine and kind he is. His deal was pay with a closed fist and he accepts with a closed fist then when I am on bus "i look to see what my luck was. how much god wanted me to make today." I put money in his hand and off he went. Then I was talking with Saleem ( the short cook) and he gave me a mala to wear around my wrist.
"Cody, I want to give you this." he grabs my handand puts a mala around my wrist
"Saleem! Thank you so much! I dont have american souvenir but this is all I can give" I then put some money in his hand with the warmest intention of his happiness in my mind.
"Thank you Saleem, your food was wonderful. I will see you when I come back to Jaipur in a week or two."
I then realized that I gave Soni the wrong amount of money because you pay with a close fist. I gave him 50rs. alittle more than 1 usd. I immediately call him and say,
"Soni!!! I gave you wrong amount of money. "
"Oh I dont know you know I accept and dont look til on bus."
"You still at hotel?"
"Yes, I come meet you."
I would have felt so bad if I didnt meet back up with him to give him his proper amount. I am so glad I did, I gave him an american souvenir, a golden dollar and told him
"I want this coin to be on you to attract genuine people like yourself and much more business."
"I will this is a gift. Thank you Cody."
"As for the money, go buy your kids something or your wife or you. I want it to go toward you and or your family, your a good man Soni."

Him and Soni then walked me to my bus and made sure I was completely satisfied before walking back to the hotel. I must have thanked them 256 times. Such warm people.

I had a sleeper bus which gives you an area smaller than a twn size bed to sleep in. you are enclosed by windows on both sides and to my luck my windows would not stay shut, so for 13 hours, I was so cold I thought I might get frost bite. It was warm in Jaiupur so before boarding I grabbed a little blanket I bought in McLeod, but when we started getting into Jaisalmer it got COLD. Its a desert. Now this reminds me of Africa. Desert plains, with hardly any buildings. Lots of camels, pigs, and goats. And somewhere in the midst of my half awake stage, you know where you arent fully asleep but still aware of your bodily senses? Yeah the urge to pee was so strong I thought for sure there was going to be a problem...I didnt know what to do, so the first thing that came to mind was...Go out the window. Yes, thats right, out the window. Its India, no one cares, and besides it could be hours before the driver stops. So there I am on my knees, window open and myself ready to go and the bus stops.
"Thank God" I say outloud
I zip up, put on my shoes, push people out of the aisle, find an alley and ahhhhhh relief like you would not believe. I started cracking up because I was imagining in my minds eye what i looked like and said, "I was just about to pee out of a bus window."

On my way in, I see a girl getting into my sleeper. Turns out we both were assigned the same sleeper. I didnt sign up for this!...But im not complaining :)...All joking aside, we immediately found the humor in it, she got reassigned and we immediately became friends. This was Sarah from Germany.

Today upon the bus stopping, we were the last two out of the bus and we were swarmed like were Britney Spears coming out of rehab with a bag of cocaine in her hand. Taxi drivers, probably about 30 all screaming at us to go to their hotel. I made reservations at one that Saleem arranged and the driver had my name written all wrong, I dont even think it was English. It looked like gibberish, I just remember the name, Himalyan Guest House. Thats funny because this is far away from the Himalayas. In any case, Sarah tagged along because the price is really cheap here. she wants to do the camel trek as well so off we went. We get to the hotel and immediately are sat down to arrange for the camel trek. I told the man,
"Look, Im cold. Im tired. I smell like shit. I need to have a shower and eat something before I get bombarded with arranging this."
So I took a shower, then on our way out the hotel he swarms us to make the arrangements. But he makes us a deal thats hard to offer. He knocked off a good amount of the orginal quote and gave us one night stay free when we come back. Deal. Now food. Sarah and I got some local breakfast, then I came to a internet cafe while she walked around town.

Im gonna meet up with her to get some lunch, then probably walk around for the rest of the day, for tomarrow is one of the highlights of my trip. Ive been looking forward to the camel safari with great multitude, so I am stoked. I go for 3 days and 2 nights.

Much love to you all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jaipur: Time to relax.

So I met up with Gabriel to goto Dal Lake, he stumbled upon me while I was guess what?..Yes..eating, and he started cracking up once he saw this. My cellphone wasnt working so we were unable to meet up with everyone hoped to see them there. We took a rickshaw to the lake (which is always fun little adventure), but Gabriel's humor made it that much better. He would scream at people as we went by and scream at the driver or myself. He is hilarious. We arrive at the lake and it is surrounded by cedar trees in the mountains. In september pilgrims come and take a dip in the lake. I forget why it is a holy lake but it is. This lake isnt to be confused with the Dal Lake in Kashmir. The one in Kashmir is absolutely stunning for words to even attempt to describe from what I have seen just in pictures alone!

We went to find food and stumbled upon a resort hotel that had a restaurant on the roof. With sublime views and cheap prices how could we be anything but stoked? At the end of our meals Gabriel asks if I want a Cappucinno, I tell him that would be delightful and he tells the waiter, "We would like 2 cappuccinos, please."
"2 cups of what?..."
"No no..A Cappuccino..." He then went on to explain what it is and how to make one and the waiter went on his way very confused.
Gabriel and I were stoked to see what we would end up with. So we get our Cappuccinos and they taste more like a mocha. Im not complaining at all, it was a damn fine cup of coffee whatever it was. After we walked around the lake, saw some nearby shrines and guess what? I bought more food...I bought some bananas, they are so cheap and delicious here its hard not to. I tried giving part to a stray dog, but he quickly ran away. We ran into Ashly and Sandra, talked for a bit, exchanged info, then went on our ways. Then it was time for bus.

They had no compartment in the back to store the luggage so I kept mine with me on my lap. I thought it was open eating, but I was quickly told by someone,
"What is your seat number? You are in my seat!"
So I went to my assigned seat that was written in Hindi, and had to keep my 40lb backpack on my lap the whole way. Needless to say sleeping was interesting. No crazy driver I was a bit disappointed to say the least. Met a man from Turkey, we shared a Chai and Indian sweets on our 2 minute food break.

I arrived in Chandigarh at like 2 in the morning and got an autoricksaw to find a room. This took about an hour. Everywhere was full, and asleep. Alot of people sleep in their store. But the fact people were in deep sleep did not stop my driver from violently shaking each person to ask "Room? Room?" It was hilarious, it reminded me the scene in the movie "What About Bob" where the father is trying to wake up Bob violently for like 10 minutes. I think they woke up because of my laughter that was peaking out of my clenched lips. On the way to our 34th hotel he picks up one of his friends for the ride, and he lights up a joint while were driving. So the whole rest of the way I had pot smoke being blown in my face (not too stoked on that). I found the only place in town, who wanted way too much for their concrete wall and floor room, on the roof, and with a shared bathroom that made me laugh that I was going to be paying to stay in a place like this. But I had no other choice. Chandigarh is very exspensive city which I will find out full force the next day.

I woke up early the next morning to get all my sightseeing/errands done asap so I can checkout before 12. First things first, I went to find a bus ticket asap to get out of here to Amritsar. I found a place in my guidebook to be taken to, told the driver the name of the place and where but he clearly did not understand either. He spent an hour cyclying around asking people where this place is. I finally just say stop and I walk to a local travel agency, book my bus, then tell him to goto the rock garden. Not bad price, I haggled and got a reasonable price. I only had an hour left to spend in this 12 acre museum. It was intense. It was a labrythn just trying to stay on the right path. Abstract rock formations of people, animals, and landscape were te sights to see. I wish it would say what some of the sculptures were made out of. Unlike anything Ive seen in America. Looked like a museum in America on LSD. I took many pictures for you all to see when I get back. I wanted to buy souvenirs here, but they couldnt make change for a 100 ruppee note. (thats like 2 us dollars). Needless to say I was a bit let down but its ok, be happy. Awesome museum.

ThenI had to go back to hotel and grab my luggage. I saw a nasty taxi stand that looked and smelled more like a street urinal I see in Delhi that read "Aroma Taxi Stand". I wish I couldve taken a picture but my battery was dead from the museum. Then he takes me back to where my bus will pick me up. He charges me for the time he spent not being able to find the travel agency, but I pay him what he wanted with a hope it goes toward some good for him or his family. Haggling wasnt worth the effort, just get me out of this town, it reminds me too much of Delhi.

My bus then left for Amritsar where I did not have to have my luggage on my lap, stoked. So we stop to get food, I order and I walk over to eat away from the crowd and as soon as I sit down, I am instructed to get on the bus. Seriously like 5 minutes have passed. So there I eat my food in the bus, they were cool with it so whatever. I am if they are. I get into Amritsar around 7pm, get myself a bus ticket the next day to Delhi where I will then have to get a ticket to Jaipur. I was not stoked to have to stop in Delhi, but there is no direct bus unless I want to wait 4 days. Not an option. 1 day is enough in Amritsar. So I try to stay at the Golden Temple but the line was too ridiculously long and I was too tired to wait. I found a guesthouse nearby, cheap, close to temple, and a great view. I take my ice cold shower, then crash.

I wake up the next morning and go to the temple. Check in the shoes and walk in. On my way I am downing my water to throw away at the first trashcan Ive seen in India. There I met a man in an orange suit, orange turbon, and has a sword on his hip. Talking to me in his native language making hand gestures that make no sense to me. After 5 minutes of being totally intrigued by this man, I figure out he wants me to take a picture of him. So I do. This guy was a charecter. So before you hit the temple grounds, there is a ditch with flowing water for your to clean off your feet before entering. After, I then was given an orange srap to cover my head and in the quarters I went. It was beautiful. The temple was around hundreds of feet of water, where many people bathed. Interesting...The golden roof shimmered like a jewel in sunlight. The roof is made of around 750 kg of gold and resembles an inverted lotus flower signifying the Sikhs devotion to live a pure life. 4 priest keep a sacred chant flowing 24 hours which is broadcasted on loudspeakers which I heard clearly all night in my hotel room. After walking around the temple I decide to go in, I dont know much about the Sikh religion so I followed what everyone else was doing. I bowed when they bowed, touched what they touched etc. Downstairs were the priests in the middle, with females on one side, males on the other, sitting in the midst of it all. Infront of the priests were the donations and a man racking them in a slot that I guess lead to a storage box below. Ive never seen so many rupee notes and coins. He was raking like a mad man, and the money kept flowing. I gave my donation, bowed, then continued up the stairs where more people followed along the song with a book. I just sat and listened. Then after some time went up on the roof and overlooked the whole temple grounds. I saw people bathing in the waters, or women just walking around the quarters of all different color saris.Men wear alot of color too, its awesome. Pinks, blues, greens, purples, blacks, whites, all colors. I love this about India, lots of colors. I then leave the temple, get prasad (food offeringwhich happened to be very tasty). I then ran into a Swedish man and his friend from Kashmir. They asked where to enter and within minutes I was getting solicited to come to his guesthouse in Kashmir. Young fellow maybe 16. The swed maybe 35. The kid seemed sincere with actually reasonable prices and the swed said, "I had the time of my life there and they are going back in Feb. There isnt really any trouble there, you just get hassled to fill out alot of papers, I did not have any trouble whatsoever." We exchanged info and might go together. We shall see.

Outside the temple I bought some books on their religion to help me better understand their beliefs. Everyone I met was very warm and inquisitive about me. I then was solicited to go see the border closing ceremony between Pakistan and India. Ive been told it was quite the sight to see and his price was cheap so I accepted, got my reciept, then went and got some food. A nearby restaurant served the best Paneer Butter Masala, Ive had in India so far. Paneer is cheese that has a texture like tofu, so its basically cheese and butter in a sweet but alittle spicy curry sauce. Very tasty.

Outside the restaurant I am flagged down by 6 kids to come and talk with them. Ages ranging from 12 - 18. Its interesting to see the difference between Indian boys and American boys. Indian boys and men hold hands with one another or have their arms around one another alot. They dress up their hands alot. They wear femine gold or silver bangels and have lots of femine rings. They also wear very femine jeans with designs all along the back pocket, that strike me as hilarious that a guy would wear them, and tuck their shirt in them nonetheless. Lets also say that the pants accent certain areas very provactively and prodimently. Aside from their attire, they are very immature in the way they talk and hyper as well. I think american boys tend to age or mature alot faster. The oldest kid there (maybe 18) acted like the rest of the boys who were 12.

Then more foreginers ame to wait for the taxi for the border closing. I met a couple from New Zealand who informed me alot about trevelling tips. I got alot of good useful info from them. Theyve done quite abit of travelling, this is their last stop before hitting Thailand. Theyve been to Canada, The States, Frace, Italy, Egypt, Australia, now India and soon to be Thailand. (I feel like Im forgetting a country or two but yeah.) Nice people. Then I met two women from Poland who told me they were from Iceland when we first met but then when we said goodbye they said "You know we are actually from Poland." I hit it off well with one of the girls but have no desire for anything of that sort right now in my life, so I did not purse my intuition. Then there was an asian lady from Canada. She was your typical asian always add "ah" at the end of every word, with her thick asian accent, and was always ahead of us walking to the ceremony screaming us "Oh..Come on you guys-ah!" While driving to the ceremony we saw a school bus full of children screaming at us, the driver was no older than 12. She could comprehend seeing this. "That-ah driver was-ah like-ah 12 years-ah old! I cannot-ah believe that-ah!!"

The border ceremony was quite the expierience. First off I keep a knife that my buddy Patrick gave me for my trip on me at all times, and I always forget to leave it in my bag when going to public events or sightsn where it can be an issue. Well, it got through a wand metal detector, and 2 patdowns. Just to show you how much they really search or care for that matter. The ceremony was the funniest thing I have seen in awhile. There was a gate that seperated India and Pakistan, where each side took turns cheering, taunting,playing loud music, raising their flags, and screaming at the other side. This is the best part, at one point soldiers dressed in tan military outfits, black boots with a white cuff that covers most of it, and a hat that has a red fan on top that resembles a mohawk, would walk steadfast towards the gates overly emphazing on their steadfast pace and when they got to the gate, would raise their leg straight infront of them and then stomp on the ground so hard I thought their intention was to try and break down the wall with the vibrations of their feet. Pakistan did the same at the same time. It was absolutely hilarious to see. I took videos of it. Their stomping showdowns, made me laugh so hard I thought I would pee myself. Literally. Ive maybe laughed that hard less than 5 times in my whole life. They were so serious with these stomps and serious face paced walks placing much emphasis on the swaying of their hands and stomps on their feet. At one point they opened the gate for 1 second to shake hands, then more stomps, screaming, dancing, taunting quickly followed. I have not laughed that hard in a good while. I cant wait to show you the video.

When we got back into town I said goodbye to girls from Poland and the asian from Canada, then went and got food with the couple from New Zealand where we talked about travelling the whole time. After I went and got my baggage from the temple, ran into the awesome orange clothed Sikh, took a picture with him and waited for my bus. I pulled out my Ipod, and as a side note: Never let Indians see you have an Ipod, they will swarm you in heaping groups wanting to hear American Pop Music putting your earphones in their ears, rubbing their hands all over them etc. Not good. I put my antibacterial hand santizer all over my earphones after that. This bus ride was interesting. I get to my seat and say to myself "Wow, theres alot of room".
I put my music on and try to sleep.

"Can you move your seat forward? How is she supposed to get in like this?! Maybe you should take those out, do you not have a brain?!?"

Little did I know my seat was pushed back. There was plenty of room for an average sized person to get through but his wife was a bit on the heavier side. I moved my seat forward and refrained from making the millions of rude statements that were going through my mind. The bus ride was smooth and I think I was able to sleep a few hours.

We arrive in Delhi, where you get over charged for everything unless you haggle HARD. Im still learning how to and did not have the energy to put up a fight. Its Delhi, it happens and its why I hate Delhi. I got my bus ticket and waited again for another bus to Jaipur. Nice bus, lots of room. However, when I would recline my chair to sleep, my chair would be bumped to upright position from the guy behind me. He was travelling with his wife and two kids, so there wasnt alot of room for them all. I kept it upright for their comfort, however the slightest pressure on the seat would make it recline so needless to say this was a chore. Whats up with my reclining seat situations?

We reach Rajasthan and it reminds me of what I had in my minds eye of Africa to look like. We arrived while the sun was setting in the deepest red I have ever seen. We were surrounded by desert plains, giant foxtail bushes, straw houses, trees, camels, mud huts, and garbage everywhere. Beautiful landscape. I get to the last stop where I get off and get a rickshaw to a local cheap hotel. Perfect budget and nice people and atmosphere. Restuarant on the roof, I am beyond stoked. Such a blessing after travelling steadfast the past 3 days. I unload my luggage, get my book, and head up to get some food. I was highly famished, exhausted, and dehydrated. I met a man whos name I dont remember because I can pronounce it. He was a short warm nice man and would talk to me with one feet twisting a way a little girl's foot would twist if they are shy or embarassed. His food was very tasty and nourishing. He made me Palak Paneer which is mashed spinach and cheese with Rice and some Chapati. He takes great pride that he makes his food fresh. It was very tasty and I could tell it was fresh. Very good. He also can arrange my trip around Rajasthan, he owns many guest houses all cheap prices. I like this. He gave me quick itinerary of how I should travel around then made a good cup of . Oh how I love Chai.
"What you want to drink? Beer? Whiskey?" he said with a giant smile.
"Do you have Chai?"
"Yes ofcourse, no beer? No Whiskey?"
"No thank you, just a Chai, that would be perfect."
"You dont want beer, whiskey?"
"No, I prefer Chai"
"Yes sir"
Indians dont understand that I dont drink or smoke bhang (pot) so its easy to not get into that subject. I say "I prefer Chai" to everything. How can an Indian argue with that?! How can anyone!?!? :)

After a nice meal, I take my ice cold shower, journal, and hop into bed. I start to read and I fell alseep in the midst of the 3rd or 4th sentence.

Today Ive spent the majority of the day on the internet, updating my blog, emailing people, counting my bites from my bed critters, etc. Its nice, I didnt want to do anything today. No sightseeing. Just chill. Maybe finish my book, and lots and lots of Chai. The past few days have worn me out to say the least. I am very grateful to do nothing today. I slept in late and I spent my morning talking to a man named Soni, who offers to be my guide for all the sights around Jaipur. Very nice man, he wants to give everyone the best service to build up his name for more business by word of mouth. "I want you to be happy with my service." as he says. He charges whatever you want to pay because that is what God said "Soni, you are going to make this amount today" and he takes each rupee equally with a smile. I will have him take me around tomarrow, today is do nothing day. Their friendly, helpful hospitality has contributed greatly to my relaxation day. Time to relax.

So my little friend suggests to take a bus to Jaisalmer (ride some camels), then goto Udaipur (check out their palace resort around a huge serene lake), then goto Pushkar (holy sightseeing and shopping) then back to Jaipur for my meditation course which reminds me to say, I cannot serve. They said I had to have taken a minimum of 5 courses to serve, which isnt what I was told in the other center by the main teacher. So ill just participate again, be happy.

Much love to you all.
Blessings and peace.

Friday, November 14, 2008

McLeod: Am I In India or Not?!?

Getting curent:

Dinner with everyone from the meditation course was fantastic. We gathered a group of 16 and occupied pretty much the whole first floor of a nearby restaurant. I did not feel like I was in India here, it felt like Ive known these people for years and I was back at home sharing a meal with em. The restaurant was playing The Beatles the whole time, great music to eat or pretty much do anything in the background of. We arranged for a few of us to get together the following morning for a day trek to a fabulous view of the foothills of the majestic Himalya Mountains.

I wake up, go to Peters room to wake him up and in 10 mins we are off to meet the rest of the crew. Turns out Duncan met up with a coworker from France (whos name you pronounced FX, crazy huh?) to come along on the trek, so Duncan, FX, Ashly, Peter, Sandra, and I all went for the trek. So stoked, Sandra was able to make it. Sandra also took the course and we have seen her, as well as many others from the course, multiple times walking around the town because of how tiny the town is. So stoked she made it, she is from Spain and always has the biggest most beautiful smile on her face. We leave for the trek around 8 after getting a nice omlette and chai for about 50 cents! (so rad huh?)

The trek was absolutely gorgeous. I dont know how to describe the scenary to capture its beauty, Im not even sure my pictures I took will do it justice. It didnt feel like I was in India. No horns. No smell. No millions of Indians invading your personal space, just beautiful mountain scenary. At parts there was rock formations that reminded me more of the sceneary I would see in Ireland, not in India. The air was so fresh, no pollution, just so delightful. The whole way up we had stray dogs following us up. Literally, the whole way up. They knew better routes than we did and were so friendly. us. At one point two dogs almost fought to the death about 5 feet infront of us all. Out of no where, they started fighting...Ive seen staged dog fighting in movies but never real, it was horrible...Im glad neither dog did not get hurt...The whole way up there were many shrines in the middle of no where, just on the mountainside or off the road. I went in, bowed, rang the bells, bowed, and then donated money at each one. Ashly kept teasing me about ringing the bells, "Hey Cody, there is another shrine, you should go ring the bells! Ill take your picture! ahah" But it was so awesome that they are in the middle of no where. Speaking of middle of no where, there are little Chai shops on the way up. Needless to say that was my favorite part. Sitting up in the mountain scenary drinking a nice hot cup of Chai. (Thats the picture I uploaded as my main picture on my blog) I even bought a Twix candy bar, I saw it and went "You gotta be kidding me! How much?!?!" It was rock hard, but nonetheless very delicious. On the way we saw houses made out of stacked rocks below us and I asked a local and it was their house and they lets us go see inside and check it out. There was even parts for the stray animals to come in and get away from the cold at night. I wish I could have slept over in one of those houses, that would have been awesome.

So after many breaks and many hours, we reach our destination. Just a huge green flat ground but at the end it drops like a cliff, but all around you were the snowcapped himalayas. We got a couple of nice group pictures, thanks to propping up our cameras on nearby rocks and the timer on our cameras. We arrived with the sun beating on your face and backs, and within time clouds both gray, white and black were creeping through us. We reached about 3000 meters and it got cold when the sun went away. You had smoke breath at 1 in the afternoon. There was our group and about 3 groups of Asians there. We all got to be friends while we all ate at a nearby restaurant. (By restaurant I mean a man in a space no larger than an apartment bathroom, with tarp walls, and amazing food.) We all got the Vegetable Thali. So amazing. A Thali is a little mixture of a bunch of things and has grown to be my favorite Indian dish so far also because it varies from place to place and is always fantastic. It comes with the indian staple (rice), chapati (bread), and 2 kinds of vegtables each with a different type of curry. Shortly after a group of 3 Tibetan monks arrived (2 girls, 1 guy). We all quickly became friends, taking pictures together talking and laughing. The one male was the teacher of the 2 girl monks. He gave every single person his address to make sure we send him the pictures that were taken of all of us. So cute. Tibetan people I believe as a culture are the most compassionate people I have ever ran across. Being in the center of where the Tibetan goverment is in exhile here in Dharamsala we run into alot and seriously I have not met one that had an inckling of anger in their bodies. Always happy, and always have a big genuine smile on their face. They dont need a reason for it, it is just there.

They trekked down with us about half way when we stopped for a break beacause my knees felt like they were going to break. After meditating for 12 hours a day, they are quite sore and trekking did not help them one bit. Where we took a break there was paragliders jumping off the flat run way below us. One of the paragliders upon landing looses their grace and ease and lands on their back falling from a height of probably 20 feet and tumbles a good 30 feet. Upon seeing this, the male monk bolts it down a rocky mountain side to see what he can do to help the person. The fallen paraglider was already being looked after by 4 other people but he darted as fast as he could and he gets down there and sits next to person and after a few minutes he waves at us, knodding his head with great enthusiasm inferring the person was ok. What an inspiration. After, we left to get back. What an adventure, we took a wrong turn, got lost, but nontheless found our way back.

A nice hot shower has never sounded so good. Then we all met up at a local tibetan restaurant where I tried my first Tibetan dish. Momos. I have fallen in love. They are basically dumplings but with all different types of fillings. So good! Then we all went back to our rooms and crashed.

The following morning I went to Peters room not to wake him up but for us to have a nice little meditation session before we all met up again. It was nice, I can already tell a difference not practicing even for a day. Then we met up with Duncan and FX at a local coffee shop then headed out to the Dalai Lama Temple, where beggars lined the walk way up. People with no limbs, or limbs with elephantitis, or horrible burns and rashes begging for money. The temple was small. We got to take a glimpse at the morning tibetan monk ceremonies in action. Drums, Bells and chanting in the most beautiful gold and saffron room I have ever seen. The next room was huge gold statue of Buddha, a beautiful statue of Avalokiteshvara, which is the tibetan god of compassion, also what the Dalai Lama is supposed to be a reincarnation of. Outside the temples were old ladies bowing and chanting silently with great devotion, love, and grace. Captivating and inspiring. There was also a prayer wheel along the side of the building where you walk with your right side to the wheel spinning the little cylinders, that have the tibetan mantra Oh Mani Padme Hum. "The jewl is inside the lotus" the most common tibetan chant you will hear. I went around spinning them, wishing for everyone to be happy. Be happy.

Duncan than had to goto the bathroom. We then look at a room with seriously 1000 lit candles. It reminded me of a scene in the movie Baraka where a monk is lighting each candle with such patience and love. It was a remarkable sight. Duncan comes back with the biggest smile on his face. This is what I love about Duncan. He has a great passion for the little things in life and gets so stoked to tell us about it.
"That was the best bathroom expierience I have ever had you guys!"
"Oh yeah? What happened, were they giving out prizes in there?"
"No, even better. It was so clean! You know while you are peeing you look up and there is a big window that just overlooks those mountains over there. So beautiful and when I was done I walk out and I see tibetan monks playing a board game. They were having so much fun! This truly was the greatest bathroom expierience of my life!" I love it, his enthusiasm is both inspiring and contagious.

After that Peter had to get on a bus to Manali. Before we depart he makes us a cup of Turkish Coffee. It was the BEST cup of coffee I have ever had. No joke. I need to find this imported coffee. It had no cream, little sugar, strong, but not bitter and very tasty. Literally the best cup of coffee Ive ever tasted. Normally I drench my coffee with creamer and sugar, this needed barely anything and was better than anything Ive ever tasted. Drinking this fantastic cup of coffee looking out at the himalayas from our hotel, didnt feel like I was in India. Then we walked up to town and in the midst of our circle saying goodbye a cow comes right in the middle of our circle and walks stright through us, and then it hit, I was in India! It could have gone around, there was plenty of room, but it wedged itself between me and FX and proceeded through without hesitation. Absolutely hysterical.

The whole rest of the day I spent shopping. Ive bought serisouly like 20 books here. Its a disease I have developed in India. They are so cheap and I just mail them back to me. Its an addiction!! ahaha

We all meet up for dinner at a place called Jimmys kitchen that had a sign that tempted me to steal it! ahah it read "Please do us all a favor by not smoking" There was Bob Marley, Aerosmith, and Jack Johnson playing. Once again it didnt feel like I was in India. I ordered waffles with icecream and chocolate syrup on top. So good!

Today Ive spent the day roaming the town buying my bus ticket, getting my laundry done, buying a sweet Black Sabbath shirt for 4 bucks (seriously im not in india, black sabbath in india?!?!?), but then I look to my side and see a kid no more than 3 years old popping a squat right next to me taking a poop in the street, than reality hit, Hey I am in India! Ive also spent the day eating at the food stalls on the street. I never did not have some sort of food in my hand. Gabriel says, "Geez Cody, you are always eating!"
Normally I wouldnt, I would think I would die. But no, the food is better than in the restaruants and at a fraction of the cost. I found a lady that Steve told me about, she makes the "best momos" and he was right. So good. I love trying new food, new tastes, some bad some good. Here in India ,each time I order food I order something different to make sure over time I try it all because it is all so different and so so so good. So easy to be vegetarian here, so hard in the states, how fantastic is that!?? Anyhow, I then get swarmed by beggars with children asking for money, and I hold out my plate of momo's "No money. Momo?"
Some say no just money, then I know its not hunger its greed. I dont give money to beggars only food. Ill buy them food even but never give money. One begger takes a momo than before a blink of an eye I have no momos. I was robbed by 16 beggars of my food, Yep I am in India, but I know it was going towards a good cause. I went and bought more, no worries. Be happy. Then I found an awesome chai shop that made a great omlette and Im sitting, eating on a little bench no larger than 4 inches x 4 inches and I look to my side again, and a mother is holding her childs penis while uses both his hands to hold up his shirt up, peeing in a ditch that runs behind me. Yep, I am still in India! ahahah

Today I met up with a man named Gabriel that I met from the meditation course. Hes also in his mid thirties and lives in new york. Hes going to Thailand in a few weeks, only costing him about $300. If I didnt land in India only one month ago, I would so go with him. One of the most jolliest, funniest persons I have ever met. In the course, his room was next to mine and on the last day of silence we are resting during a break and all of a sudden in the midst of pure silence someone sneezes 3 times and coughs in a period no longer than 1.5 seconds and I thought to myself, "what in the world was that?...that was possibly the most weirest thing I have ever heard." holding back my laughter I hear a "hee..hee....he....hehehehehe" no louder than a mouse fart coming from next to me, it was Gabriel. Upon hearing this I let out my pentup laughter, he laughs harder which makes me laugh harder, which make others in the tent begin to laugh and in a matter of 5 mins the whole tent was in a uproar of uncontrollable laughter. The mere fact that we were supposed to maintain our silence just fueled the fire. This is how I am whenever Gabriel talks. We are supposed to meet up with Duncan, FX, Sandra, Ashly at a nearby lake that is supposed to be absolutely serene. We shall see, its already 1 and I have to be back by 430 to board my bus to Chandigarth for the rock garden. I cant wait for the bus expierience, Im sure it will be an expierience in itself, they never disappoint.

Much love to you all. I hope you are all doing well.
Be happy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Untying The Knots: Meditation Boot Camp

So for the past 11 days I attended a 10 day intensive meditation course. It was without a doubt the most challenging 10 days of my life but also the most rewarding.

So I arrived in McLeod Ganj around 3 am and a man came up to me when I get off bus,
"You need room? Very cheap! Come!"
"No, I wait til sun comes up then I goto Tushita for Meditation course."
"Oh Tushita? I don't know much bout that, but there is another place right next door a man from Israel stay at guest house go, I introduce you and you two go together yeah? Come"
So I go to the guest house and surely enough next morning I get introduced to Peter. The course was the next day, but I went to register that day. I went to Tushita but they were offering Introduction To Buddhism courses that did not interest me so I went next door to the meditation center that was suppose to be open at 4pm. I arrive at 4pm. Doors are locked. An employee sees me waiting, comes up to me and tells me he will get the guy to open the office. He returns 20 mins later telling me,
"Uhh..He asleep...Or meditating, something like that ahaha" Ok....So there I wait for him to wake up and come down when he feels like it I suppose. I dont care Ill wait 10 hours, if that will get me into the course, this is why I came to India. So he stumbles down around 5:15 and I get put on wait list. So with a good intention I hope for the best.

The next day I go to the center for the registration time and Im in! Stoked! Once again, my intentions are perfectly inline and somehow magically come together. I considered myself extremely grateful. However, I wasnt too stoked that you had to turn in anything that could distract you from the course. Phones, Ipod, money belts, books, passport, jewelry...Naturally the first thing that came to mind was No way! That is madness! But everyone else was doing it, so once again with a good intention I hope for the best, then let the possibility of theft go.

Attending the course you had to abstain from the following.
No intoxicants
No sexual misconduct
No lying
No stealing
No killing

I then get assigned a laundry bag, and a bed number. I got to my corridors and started laughing at how it was put together...The walls and roof were propped up with wooden trunks from trees, the outside walls were made out of a tarp that was ripped and torn, was once white but natures corrosion made it brown. I shared my sleeping space with insects, rodents, and dust bunnies. My sleeping space was no larger than an American bathroom stall. My bed was a rod iron table with a poor excuse to call a mattress on top. My pillow was once white as well. But was so filled with dirt that it was mostly black. The dividing walls were curtains that did no justice for sound or sight privacy. I was put in the very back corner with one other young man from Israel. I did not get his name. The sleeping corridors reminded me of a boot camp that you see in the movies. I smiled, this is ironically the type of experience I yearn for here. Give me an uncomfortable, dirty bed and I accept it with a smile and gratitude. I would have slept on the floor outside if that would have made me able to take the course.

The whole rest of the day I spent talking to the rest of the male applicants. Males and females were segregated. I met a man named Duncan from Washington D.C. He was 34. He has done alot of humanitarian work, worked in the peace core, works in the medical field all around the world helping people. What a life. This was his first meditation experience in general. WOW! How inspiring. Ive been practicing for 3 years and he stuck with it without any previous experience. How inspiring! I sat next to him in meditation and at the end of the silence we immediately started talking.
"Well hello Siddartha! Wow, you were incredible. So composed, such a straight back. I was so envious but it was helpful hearing the teacher say do not compare yourself to other students because I looked at your practice with such inspiration!"
"It may look like I am composed and full of bliss on the outside but there is alot of work going on that isnt so pleasant ahah Look at yourself, you achived this course without any meditation experience. Your determination is what is inspiring!"
I hit it of the most with Duncan. We exchanged info and will definitely keep in touch. I want to get involved with some of the peace core work that he is in. He might come down to California for a retreat in Joshua Tree, awesome! Id love to be in his company!

Next impactful person was Peter from Israel. Long haired and thick beard, he was placed in my path for a reason. Peter is trying to break free from his past drug abuse with more positive tangible ways of experiencing the bliss he was seeking with such destructive ways. We have similar storys and stayed up til midnight the last night talking offering him insight on how I have remained sober with a background of drug abuse. I could see the pain in his eyes, the want to break free from this pattern of drug abuse and I offered every single piece of advise I have used and found useful. I know exactly what he is going through and pray for his success.

Next was Jesus.
"And whats your name?"
"Not Christ right? ahah"
"No of Nazarene."
I turn to Duncan to laugh with him and when I return my sight back to ask where he is from he is gone. Within 10 seconds he vanished.
He spoke with a thick accent and a lisp. He looked like a cross between Gandalf from Lord of The Rings or one of the village healers in Kevin Costners Robin Hood. He was thinner than me, long brown hair and a beard that pointed off his chin that reminded me of how Shawn had his beard. He always walked with a walking stick that he would twirle between his fingers around his head and back. He has been travelling around india for 11 months. Backpacking and from the looks of it resembles the life of a homeless person. Looking at this man made me laugh, not out of anything other than love. He tickled my sense of humor because of how different he was. Always had to break the rules too ahah. He would feed the monkeys food when he was instructed several times not to, go over course boundaries, and on the last day he was playing a guitar while playing a flute like device. The instructor came over put his hand on the guitar telling him no and he kept playing with such a smile on his face as though he was playing the most remarkable love song. A truly remarkably funny person who was a blast to "people watch".

Then I met Steve. Steve was originally from Los Angeles, but moved to Singapore 3 years ago. He is 34. He is a chef there in Singapore, and is heavily tattooed. Needless to say we got along well. He and I were very similar. He was sober, had a past of drug abuse, broke free from it and lives a very positive life. He loves and follows the punk rock scene and rocks it. After the retreat we spent the majority of the day talking over a good cup of coffee. We exchanged info.

I met another man named Ashley. He is from Sri Lanka, a country near India an island off India. He also is living a sober life. How wonderful! For so many years I have looked so hard for sober friends who do not surround themselves with such negative means of getting happiness. He might go trekking tomorrow to a nearby town tomarrow. After coffee with Steve we saw Ashley and we went to get food at an amazing vegetarian Japanese restaurant. So good!

Then I had small talk with everyone else. Many people from spain, israel, argentina, filand, england, from all over! Such a expierience of so many different backgrounds. It really influenced me to start learning other languages.

So around 7 we have dinner which was a slop of cornmeal and beans. "We serve very basic vergetarian food here" was what they said in their opening speech and it couldnt be more true. Most of the food looked like slop, was bland in taste but I was greateful to have every spoonful. You only ate teice a day. Breakfast and lunch. We also were blessed to have a cup of Chai, needless to say that was my favorite part of everyday which I will describe in further detail a bit later.

So after food, we have meeting about the course and the "Noble Silence" begins. You are not to communicate in any way with any other participant. Whether it be with eye contact, verbal or non verbal gestures etc. The only people to talk to are the servers, and teachers. Thats it. Lights out around 930.

Next morning a gong gets struck promply at 3:50 followed by one of the assistant teachers walking around the whole place ringing a very loud high pitched bell. Morning meditation started at 430. But I was normally up right away and in the hall at 4. The daily timetable consisted of the following schedule:
4:30 to 6:30 - Morning meditation
6:30 to 8:00 - Breakfast and rest
8:00 to 9:00 - Meditation
9:00 to 11:00 - Meditation
11:00 to 1:00 - Lunch and rest
1:00 to 2:30 - Meditation
2:30 to 3:30 - Meditation
3:30 to 5:00 - Meditation
5:00 to 6:00 - Tea and rest
6:00 to 7:00 - Meditation
7:00 to 8:15 - Teachers explanation of the day
8:15 to 9:00 - Meditation
Lights out


So the tequnique as I understand it as follows.
First you start with the awareness of your breath beacuse when you do this your mind becomes sharp and over time notices sensations whever you place your attention. The teaching of Vipassana means to see things as they really are. So over time, we build an awareness of sensations throughout the body and then practice the actual art of Vipassana. Each sensation that arises in the body you must understand is impermanent. Pleasant or unpleasant. Its very nature is to arise and pass. Each sensations needs to be observed without judgement, without craving to keep the pleasant sensations, and not to pull away from the unpleasant sensations. Just observe with awareness and equanimity. Like a scientist without attachment to the changes who puts his experiment under a flame and sees "Oh look, the chemicals are changing!" This in time, reaches the sub conscious level of the mind, the deepest level of the mind, which is always intune with the sensations of the body and changes the habit pattern of the mind to not run away from pain but to observe it objectively with calmness, and not to crave pleasant things but to observe it with even mindedness. Over our lifetime we have created a pattern of reactions to pleasant and unpleasant feelings whether we are aware of it or not and this is the main cause of our suffering. For example, one gets addicted to alcohol because of the sensations that arise from when they drink. Maybe they have a bad day at work so they go pound a few down unknowingly creating a deep destructive habit pattern to seek pleasure in these times of unpleasantness.

Every emotion we feel gives a sensation to the body. We get angry, and our heart paces, we fill up with heat energy, start sweating, we become tense etc. and while sitting in meditation for sometimes up to 2 hours at a time, naturally your body begins to ache you feel alot of pain from being stationary for so long. But staying equanimous, looking at these sensations objectively with the understanding that the sensations nature is to arise and pass away, in return the pain gets neutralized it and will feel the very subtle sensations in replace of it. But you must keep in mind that just like how the pain subsided it will arise again and pass, and the pleasant sensation will infact too arise and pass. Just be aware of the change objectively, and maintain your awareness and even mindedness. Dont develop clinging or abortion of the sensations because then you create another reaction habit pattern. By dealing with this pain with a calm mind, accepting the reality that this sensation has arisen and IT WILL PASS, you are changing the habit pattern of the mind to look at pain this way. So in return in your daily life somethings happens where you normally would react with hatred, violence, ill will, you in return dont get affected by it and return it with metta (which I will explain later). Fantastic! Such a positive means of developing ones self!

Now with pleasant sensations, you are too as well look at it objectively knowing that this sensation like everything in life is impermanent and will pass, you are changing the habit pattern of your mind to cling, be addicted, and crave pleasant sensations. Now this in return does not make you not appreciate life. Oh no, It teaches you real happiness, real peace. Real happines it to expierience what is happeneing without the attachement of the moment. Part of the suffering arises when the desire for these emotions are not fulfilled because then you crave and cling for untangible happiness.

What Buddha taught was that this was his way to being fully liberated from suffering. He is not asking you to change religions oh no. There are Christians, Jews, Cathlolics, Hindus, Jains, people of every religion practicing Vipassana. Buddhism isnt concerned with changing your religion. Keep your religion. That is good for you. Buddhism is concerned with eradicated suffering. Everyone suffers, so be free from those chains and devlop love and compassion for every being and live a proper and moral live by the abstentions. That is the essence of buddhism. That is the essence of Vipassana it teaches you how on an expieriential level. Not on an intellectual level but an expiereintuial level. This way you see for yourself because if it is only an intellectual understanding you wont fully understand. The scientist conducting the expieriment of burning the chemicals only understands that the chemicals are changing on an intellectual level. No personal expierience there. Buddha said, "All I ask is try for yourself, see what change happens in your life. If you understand the tequnie properly and work diligently you will eradicate all your suffering. " Aside from insight, Vipassana after each meditation you work on metta, which is to develop loving kindness for ALL beings. Developing the compassion to pass on your wisdom, and love to benefit others so that they may be free from their suffering and be happy. Be happy.

One of the most entertaining parts of the trip was that the center was in the moutanins and as a result there were wild monkeys. Yes, monkeys! How rad is that!!?! They provided much needed entertainment. To see them interact was such a wonderful sight to witness. To see them climb and evade each other is quite humorous. They are daredevils! Leaping from high heights jumping far lenghts between building etc, I found this along with pretty much anything they did hysterical. Also, quite often during meditation they would get alittle rowdy outside. You would hear them scream and run all throughout the mountains, jumping on the roofs etc. A truly remarkable sight was seeing the baby monkeys no larger than a baby kitten. Their little verbalization was so adorable. But not all expieriences were so nice. After meditation one day a flock come walking by me so I stand still and watch them pass with eager curiosity and love for these animals, ive always loved monkeys. They stop infront of me and sit down and have no intention of moving, after some time I know I must get back to the meditation hall, start to move and one of the monkeys and I make eye contact and he shows his fangs and charges towards me! A scream belches out of me as I flee in the opposite direction ahaha. They would be quite agressive (the women were advised to carry sticks ahaha), Jesus would give them food and would fight over it as a result.

One of the most enjoyable was guess what? Yes, enjoying a cup of Chai. Chai time was perfectly matched with the setting of the sun. So I would get my warm cup of Chai, sit on these steps that gave me perfect view of the sunset of lavish purples, pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, every color, slowly going through the tall towering trees and resting upon the snowcapped mountains behind me in a shade of a glorious majestic purple that Ive never seen before. It was different everyday and everyday I sat there, with my warm cup of Chai, feeling the greatest sense of gratitude to be experiencing this. This is where I would play my favorite songs in my head to accompany this unimaginable beauty with such vivid memorization that I wouldnt miss one note or word and for a minute, I would close my eyes and sink within myself, and it would feel like I was back home with my friends at my favorite place, a friendly vegetarian restaruant Follow Your Heart. It never failed, everytime I would start crying because I was overwhelmed with so many beautiful loving emotions. Ive never expierienced such bliss in my entire life.

Like I said the past 11 days were the hardest but must rewarding beautiful days of my life. I went from meditating 30 mins twice a day (if I was lucky) to meditating almost 12 hours a day for 10 days. I meditated in 10 days what I would meditate in 120 days ahaha. I am a firm believer that the hardest muscle to work is your mind. It takes great diligence to sit even for 15 mins because your mind becomes so agitated you cant focus, then pain comes and each second seams like days. Needless to say what its like for 2 hours and then you get a 5 minute break which was barely long enough to stretch your legs and have to start all over again. My original goal before my first day was to sit the 3 1 hour sittings without moving, no matter how unbearable the pain is. With diligence, a calm mind, and this wonderful technique I was able to move moutains with my mind. Not only did I compelte my on day 4, but I exceeded it by eventually not moving almost all day. Anyone can do this, I am one of the thousands and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone see for themselves and see the change it brings within them. Just sit for 5, 10 minutes and try to observe your breath with awareness, any thoughts that come up just recogize they came up and let it pass without judgement. See how long you can hold your attention. Then when you throw some pain in the mist add like an hour and a half of not moving in the mist, put that in your pipe and smoke it ahah. But serisouly, even 5 mins of this basic meditation will provide such a massive positive change. I looked at how I felt the first day, so angry, so angry, so irritable, so tense, to sit for so long but that is my habit pattern ingrained in me. My mind would come up with anything to have me not do this and when I wouldnt give in I would react with such anger. I wanted to back out because of the intensity. Im not gonna lie, the thought crossed my mind many many times. But that is another habit pattern in my mind to lead me away from what is good for me, but what is extremely difficult. To work on bettering yourself as a person takes much diligence and in no way am I fully eradicated from my suffering, but I am taking the right steps in becoming a better person which is my goal everyday. I pushed myself harder than anyone will ever push me and I saw and expierienced the results first hand. I am untying the knots of my destrutive habit patterns that are blocking me from real happiness, real peace, and real harmony. You can do anything if you work diligently for it. Those ten days were the most difficult and most challenging days of my life but like I said were the most rewarding. Being in silence for 10 days in itself was an expierience too. When silence is accepted between everyone, it was very comfortable, very nice. There is a comfort is silence. Ever cared to wonderful how much idle talk you spend each day? You realize when you stop for a bit. Normally in America someone who doesnt talk is suspected of the next Columbine shooting, never as noble.

It was interesting on the last day they showed a movie called, "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" where in jails throughout india they have made arrangements to teach this meditation to murderes, rapists, drug dealers etc. and the results it has given are unimaginable. The results in the testimonals that are given are such an advancement of such love and positivity. Taiwan and the U.S. are the only other countries besides India making this available, how wonderful! Be happy!

Tonight I meetup with a bunch of people from the course to get some drinks and food. Guess what drink for me? Yes, thats right Chai! Cant wait! It is such a blessing these people that have came into my life. For so long I have been needing a community of like minded individuals, who live a sober and spiritual life. I am extremely greateful.

My plans for the few weeks is to maybe do some trekking tomarrow, then go north to a town called Amritsar to see a temple made out of Gold! (I dont know what percentage but it is supposed to be quite magnificient) Then work my way down to a town called Chandigarth where there is a "fantasy rock garden" where its more of an art museum. In this garden is a huge array of art compiled from what we would think as garbage but given the right mind, pieces of art were created. It is supposed to be quite remarkable so we shall see. Then I work my way town to the West part of India, Rajasthan. I want to volunteer at a meditation course like the one I took for my Birthday. I know not of a better way to spend my birthday than in the service of others who are trying to benefit themselves not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of others as well! If before I have time I would like to fit in my camel desert trip before, if not after for sure.

Thank you for all your emails everyone. Each email I get brings the biggest smile to my face.
I love and miss you all.

Be happy.