katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.


India Jaipur, India  |  Oct 21, 2009
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  • Celebrated every year in October-November, Diwali is perhaps the most popular of all Rajasthan festivals. It is a celebration of light, both literally and metaphorically. The origin of this festival can be traced back to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, when Lord Ram returned to his kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. The whole kingdom was light up with diyas (earthen lamps) to celebrate his return. To date, on Diwali day, house all over Rajasthan glow with twinkle of innumerable diyas, candles and electric lights. The night is illuminated with the flaming lights of fireworks, creating kaleidoscopic designs against the black canvas of the sky. Diwali festivals give people a chance to decorate their homes, buy new clothes, visit relatives and friends and take time off from their daily routine to gather together and enjoy the festivities. Special food, naturally, is very high on the agenda, keeping in mind the occasion; a wedding , a festival, a celebration to mark the birth of a male child or a good harvest , even good monsoons, are reason enough to celebrate. Women of the neighborhood gather and prepare sweets like Mawa Kachori, Til Ke Laddo, Gonth ke Laddu, Piste ke Launj, Moti Pak, Pheeni, Sohan Papdi, Besan Barfi, Jalebi, Shakarpara- to name just a few.

Wed, Oct. 14th: Mid week

Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays are Hindi classes. Mom drove us to class (which is quite nice because more kids have to pay for rickshaws) and we ran up to class. We are usually right on time or a few minutes late. We learned about habitual verb aspect (used to… ) and then divided up into three groups. I am in the speedy Hindi class, so we will see how that goes… After classes, we all enjoyed the bright sun with lunch out on the porch. I get the feeling that there is a little tension in the group because people are divided by their homestay buddies. The homestay divisions were done quite well since no one was put with their closer friends in the group and so everyone works on their relatioship with their Indian family partner. It reminds me of a marriage, where we all know that we must work on living together. While we ate our lunches, it was interesting to compare what everyone was given by their homestay parents. Marissa and I had the coolest packaging device with a circular cooler that had three metal containers stacked in top. Other people mainly had their lunches packed in tupperware. The lunches all looked the same. They were small portions of vegetable dishes and massive amounts of chottis. I had five to six chottis. That’s a lot of wheat… Overall, even though I do not enjoy living in hectic cities, Jaipur is beginning to grow on me. It is a fairly organized and almost enjoyable city to walk around in and explore, especially the old part of the city. It took 300 years of planning to make Jaipur one of most organized city in nation. After Hindi class, Marissa, Rebecca, and I began walking toward the Northern part of the city. Rebecca nagged us to go into the “city pulse” mall and so we wandered into the air conditioned building. It reminded me of a U.S. mall since there were generic department stores, Subway, and jewlery (Claire-like) stores galore. Also, the prices were pretty expensive… they needed to pay for the air conditioning. Rebecca was shopping for Dewali gifts for her family so she was determined to get her shop on, so Marrissa and I abandoned her to find the old City. We passed the hospital section of the city, which is quite close to where we live. The place is filled with vendors and people lying around… waiting for care? Not sure. We made it to Panch Batti, which is a statue that designates the start of the old city… and of fun shopping streets. Most of the streets in this area were covered in shiny, ornamanetal ribbons (for Dewali). Marissa and I had intended to go on the Lonely Planet walking tour, but we started at the wrong end of the tour and so gave up. We entered the beautifully decorated, pink walls of the Old city. Now I understand why Jaipur is called the “Pink City”, it sure is pinkish orange… I find the buildings quite pretty, but it is sad how many buildings are decaying and aging quite fast without care. The old district was very crowded with many stores filled with colorful goods, such as plastic chairs, straw pots, tirnkets, metal chains, books, generic clothing,fireworks etc. Many shopowners (dukanwalas) were preparing their shops for the new year and cleaning it out, having discount sales, painting their store fronts, and fixing anything broken. The streets in Jaipur seem to be organized by goods and on one maket you can find discounts on cotton and pharmacuticals Oct 2nd (Gandhis bday) to nov 14th (Nehrus bday), as a salute to these two great men. Mainly sticking to the bazaar streets, we were harassed by shopowners to come into their stores and at one point, I was approached by an indian man with long hair, wearing a nice, dark blue blouse with dress pants, approached me saying somehting about how I insult india with my Indian shirt and nose piercing combined with my sun hat and black jeans. My reaction was to ask more about what he was saying, but I knew that the way to approach these remarks was to ignore him. That encounter was hard for me because I find it very confusing as to what role I should play as a tourist. I will never be an Indian, so is it worth trying? Do people think that it is insulting to attempt to mimic the Indian wear? What would be the best In the late afternoon, Marissa and I relaxed in our cave home and studied. We had our dinnerat the normal time, 830pm, and watched some indian soap opera shows with our family. The plot of the episode consisted of a wealthy, married landowner falling in love with his servant. Drama! After dinner, I get pretty tired so I headed straight to beddy-bye.

Thurs, Oct. 15: I slept in pretty late today and immediately got ready for our 10 o’clock lectures. Ten minutes before ten, while Marissa and our mom were waiting in the car for me I was locked in our house. Our rooms have two doors to get out of and both of them were locked from the outside. So, I had to wait for someone to release me. Mwhahahaha… The day consisted of lectures and so our first guest was M.S. Rathore who spoke about:

ENVIRONMENT & INDIA: Climate change and environmental degradation is affected the whole world, but on different scales. India’s huge population size and increasing consumerism and waste is becoming a larger and larger issue. In reaction, the indian government has declared environmental studies as a mandatory course for school children; however, many school do not follow through with this and others do not know how to properly teach this matter. It become difficult to define environment and who holds responsibility, as well as when the resources should be manaaged for the present or for the future. Furthermore, the divide between the North and South (developed and developing) is another matter that is difficult to apprach since responsibility is not being taken by those who can afford to do so. Overall, India shows the two trends: (1) Economic growth, which equates to environmental degradation. India grows at the cost of environment. (2) This impact on the environment is unequally shared by different sections of the population. The poor are impacted more and more vulnerable to the environmental degradation. Brown issues in india, such as waste disposal, are an immediate concern. Consumption patterns are creating the mjority of problems in india today with immense water logging, deforestation, biomass reduction, etc. Water issues are huge in this area, expecially since water is subsidized by the government. Per capita cost of water is 10 rhub and the government charges less than 2 rup. Furthermore, the municipal water supply is less than 50% of area and the rest is private…Hotels are the worst in water management because their guests, like us, are often not conservative of water. In 1947, 6,000 cubic liters per year was available and now it has come to 2,000 cubic meters. Today, there is slight groundwater monitoring that tries to manage groundwater and recharge the supply (mainly done through private companies). Most rivers in india are “dead”. There is a special movement to go on to clean the rivers, expecially the Ganga.

In the world, India has the highest arable land behind the United states; however, 52% of land mass is threatened by soil sickness. More specifically, Rajasthan is a state of transmigratory agriculture thorugh its sheep, cattle, and camel farms. Half of the state is made up of desert and the density popoulation that lives in the desert is much higher than any other dsert in the world. These numbers are increasing because it is a good market, even though the average precipatiation is about 100 mili a year. Jaipur recieves about 450-400 miliper year. Overall, due to the small amount of precipiation the state is uses farming systems that mix crops (cereals and pulses) with livestock. In terms of urban development, sustainable options are suffering because public planners are slow and privates planners are faster at buying lands around the city to develop. Urban areas have highly subsized electricity and water. Urban areas are increasing air pollution through personal vehicles, Solid waste has increased from 490 to 1,000 grams per day. Furthermore, 40,000 people migrate to Jaipur per year for employment, which is increasing the size of slums in the city. The density of forest is low and india is attempting to plant more trees. It seems that for India, villages are the way to go since they are satellite centers surrounded by agricultural lands. This is unlike the U.S. where urban areas (with farmlands incorporated within them) are more sustainable since we have the resources and technology for public transportation and shared living spaces. Resource: Looks into corruption of areas, such as forest management, etc—www.idssuccess.uk We had a chai break and Lisa and I discussed our projects with our advisor. Unfortunately, the talk was pretty ineffective in helping me gain infromation with my topic. I find it hard to steer Indian professors since they enjoy going on tangents… Next, we had a lecture from Pratibha Jain on…

MODERNIZATION OF RAJASTHAN: (1) First stage of modernization began with the Bijoha- Vijay Singh Paltrik revolt. This began the agricultural movement from feudalism to democracy. The peasant struggle aginst the jagirdars (excessive taxes, land ownership, etc) led the way to increased freedom. Following native/Indian rulers and British Agent, democracy was on its way. (2) The non-cooperative movement of Gandhi changed the political style of government. His attitude towards the native states was of non-interference; Gandhi did not want to get involved in Rajathan politics, but he made a deep impact in the region. Nationalism was aroused in leaders and Gandhi helped focus the movement of self-discovery and self-reliance. The Praja Mandal (people’s groups) that desired to establihs responible forms of the government, democracy, particpation in political processes. (3) Gandhi’s constructive program (freedom from social hierarchies)deeply influenced the social equality and self-reliance of the Rajasthani people. It emphasized a creation of unity, political opennes, and self-reliance. Rajasthan outstands in cottage industries and khadis (cotton weaving), as well as untouchable education. (4) In 1949-64, the abolition of Jagirdari (feudal system) was official. People, especially peasants, could now own land. Also, the first election of Rajasthan parliament in 1952 permitted democracy and continuity and change.

What is this concept modernization? (1) pyschological modernity, polar opposites, accepting authority (verses questioning), impathetic, future orientec (versus fatalistic), capaable of imaginng onself in novel situation, independent in judgements, curious, self-directed, ability to imagine oneself out of normal circumstances, as explained in The making of modern man (2) development, societal organization, how communities pass through economic and political stages; in Rajastan from feudalism to mature capital markets, participation in global economy (3) globalization of consumption, power of the media , common lifestyle of consumption, who and how do they desire to emulate

After this series of lectures, the gang went to a crafts fair that was taking place down the road. Today was the last day of the week-long fair and so people wanted to get their last minute presents for the fam and friends back home… not me though, I figured the family will just want to buy what they see fit when they come themselves in december. There were lots of the usual tourist gift items: rugs, scarves, jewlery, bangles, sculptures, statues. It essentially was selling items that represented the “old India”. It was the perfect place for tourists and rich Indians to gain “authentic” pieces for their homes. Rebecca got henna on her hands here and she was charged 75 ruppees per hand. Yikes! (Marissa and I got our henna done for free from Deepali on Saturday morning. Our henna was simpler, but it was also classier… )

 After passing the usual temples and rickshaw drivers, we got back to our humble home. There was a line of parents and children waiting for (and staring at us as we walkied in)Uncle Anuk (the pediatrian who did not live at the house, but had his clinic here, in the front of the house). We dropped our backpacks off and helped the women clean the courtyard and yard for Diwali. (Diwali is like spring cleaning, but in holiday form) Deepoli was feeling a little restlesss, so she took us to the bazaar with her. The rickshaw ride was entertaining, because the streets were intensely crowded due to the holiday coming up. We arrived at one of the bazaars down town and were mezmorized by the pretty lights liting up the place. Deepoli did some errands, such as pick things up at the tailor, buy some snacks, buy Henna tubes, etc. We looked around and stopped in at textile stores that specialized in the tie-dye Rajathani print. Traditional Rajasthan clothing is very colorful, since villagers wanted to add color to the bland desert landscape. Traditionally, vegetable and flower dyes were used to color clothing, but now there is a lot of artificial colors sold for touristts. Then we made our way back home and relaxed. Marissa and I have gotten very good at relaxing in our little abode. We may not be practicing our social skills, but we get a lot of recuperation time. Out late dinner was the usual chottis, dish of dhal, and dish of Indian veggies (made with lots of oil and varying from indian radishes to eggplant to squash to potatoe).

Fri, Oct. 16th: Thunder and Rain in October in Rajasthan?

I woke up to see the courtyard filled with raindrops. Apparently, it has never rained during Diwali… was this a sign of climate change… or was it just an abnormality in local weather patterns? I had anticipated going on a park walk, but laxiness took over. We were running late for class, especially since Willie was running around loose and wanted to play, so he would not allow himself to get caught (reminds me of a little doggie I know). We could not leave without distracting Willie, because the opening gate was being replaced and so one side of the gate was missing. If we drove off Willie would follow us. So, while I distracted Willie with a bone, Marissa and Mridula drove the car through the gate and I jumped in. We arrived at the Hindi class building and ran upstairs. We thought that we were pretty late, but everyone was gossiping when we got up to the classroom. Earlier in the week Hindi classes had been cancelled earlier in the week due to Choti Diwali, but then it had been scheduled back on so that we would not have to make up the classes. There was a miscommunication in the cancellation and uncancellation of classes, so we all arrived on time, but the professors had never been told about classes being back on. So, after a few phone calls, the classes were reaffirmed for the day and the teachers came straggling in. It was ironic because neither party wanted to be in a classroom on this holiday. (some home-stay families were a little upset that we had classes on this day, because all indian children had this day off… in fact, they had five days of school off for the holiday). Anywho, Hindi is slowly coming along now that I know how to do verbs…

We walked home in the heat of the day and noticed how much faster we walked, since we know the route and use the serene Central Park as short cut. In the afternoon, I decided to go on a 12 km run through the park (I did a few laps, there is a longer lap that is about 4ish km long). By the end, I got use to all the men relaxing in the shade and staring at me. I also curiously noticed a large number of couples lying under trees cuddled up next to each other. Were they brother and sister? Or were they a married couple? Or were they not married and being naughty? (speaking of naughty… in hindi you pronounce it like”shiton”… ha ha… ). The park was covered in signs that told you your distance every 0.25 km (a little excess I think). On the longer route, I passed the a polo park and golf course. The golfers were wearing pretty causual clothing. It is funny because golfers are in cadual, but still nice clothing, and people who work out in the park are also in causual, but still nice clothing. When do Indians wear informal clothing? I know that most Indians have a set of pajamas they change into when they get home from work, but do they always dress up when the emerge from the house? When will the sweatpants stage hit? (It’s a good thing J.Lo’s outfits haven’t hit or then there would be a million people in the same velvety suits) After my run, I helped Deepoli decorate the entrance way with a welcoming design to Lakshmi (Shabh-labh, which means “good fortunes”). We also put a swastika on the top of the door frame to signify luck for the upcoming year. As it got dark, while we were painting the doorway you could hear and see some signs of fireworks in the distance. Throughout the night, the fireworks increased tremenduously. By the middle of the night, there was a reidiculous amount of fireworks in the air and in your eardrum . Today was Chhoti Diwali, so the themes of the day were mithai (sweets) and light. The floor had been decorated with kharia matti (esentially dyed sand) in geometrical and auspicious designs and a bench was placed against the wall of the place of worship to seat Lakshmi . Extended members of the family started filtering in during the evening and an informal puja was preformed. This puja was decorated with candles, diyas (miny ceramic bowls with oil and cottonwool wicks), and the earthen hatr, which was placed in the center. After water and teeka (forehead mark) was tossed into the center of the tray holding the puja, a piece of string and pieces of sweets were given to the gods as well. Then, we reiceived out blessed teekat and touched the feet of those older than us as a sign of respect. In fact, all guests who visited would bend touch and touch the feet of the older members of our family. It’s too bad we don’t do that in the States… Lastly, dijas were lit around the house on all entrance ways to welcome Lakshmi into the home.

Sat, Oct. 17th: After a night of festivities, I woke up early, but tired and couldn’t go back to sleep… so, had a little (big) early morning beakfast (aka, two wheatbix, ten digestive crackers, three miny chocolate bars, and a bag of tasty delicuses… actually, stale choclate candies). I was in complete food coma…. I hd become a bit lazy in this homestay setting… but, I figured you had to you had a fridge filled with 2008 sweets. So, in this food coma I did the only thing that I could: sleep. I slept until noon and when I woke up I have a huge ear ache in my right ear. It felt blocked. I felt like crap… which was the first time in a while… Marissa and I watched some Indian T.V. in our newly discovered flat screen (sounds like home… sleep in and watch TV). Indian T.V. is crazy since it heavily consists of music videos, movie advertisements, celebrity news, soap operas with dramatic music, and religious shows. It seems like every other channel was American Idol India style. The advertisements were the most interesting, partly because they were in English and so we could understand them, and were scarcily distinguishable from musical videos. They sold products, such as “arranged marriage rings”, birth control pills, skin litening creams, sodas, etc in very creative ways. The evening activities of Diwali started with the official puja to Lakshmi. The puja was the same as the night before; however, this time everyone was dressed up and looked nice. Many of the fmaily members were obsessed with taking pictures and documenting the evening activities, which seemed so fasinating because it almost demonstrated a mixture of the sacred and profane. While people were praying and interacting to the gods, flashes would go off by someone taking a picture of the process (a documentation of the profane). We then visited family down the road and then family friends who owned a inn. While visiting, we were forced to try Indian snacks and treats. I have noticed that all the hour’deurves are pretty dry (crackers, raisins, nuts) and there are really not many moist snacks. There was one sweet that was quite tasty… it was made out of sugar, ground up cashews, and silver lining (some type of mineral). It looked unedible, but was delicious. We also contributed to the sound pollution of the city by lighting fireworks. As soon as it had gotten dark this day, fireworks were going off left and right. I felt like I was in a warzone since all of the fireworks sounded like bombs. Another tradition of Diwali is to gamble since diwali is a day of prosperity. Around midnight, the fmaily got together and gamblied ten or so ruppes. The game that they played was a poker-like game but with three cards per hand. I went to bed around 1am, but the others stayed up to 4am and then woke up at 530am to do puja again. What dedication! I missed the early morning puja to Lakshmi, as well as the later morning cow dung puja…  (see picture of figure made out of fecal matter). But, a candle was put at the entrance way, so Lakshmi was invited into my room. (For some reason, I don’t think Lakshmi likes me, though… )

Sun, Oct. 18th: I slept in late again since it was so hot and I felt grogey. Once I got up, I read and did some homework… bah, I don’t like this set-up since it reminds me of home… doing homework on the weekend. I sortof had a depressing day because I felt like I was stuck in a huge city with nothing really exciting to do. I enjoy the relaxing and learning part of the homestay, but I really don’t like all the indoor classroom hours and ineffective teaching. My highlight of the day was feeding the cows some vegetable scraps. They were so happy and gobbled the small portions up immediately. In the later evening, Marissa and I went on a speed walk with Annan around the park. (When we were ready to go for the walk we saw that Annan had on his sneakers and midcalf socks on… his running shorts hinted at the possiblity of us going on an evening run… but it was only a speed wlaking session) I have gotten good at tiring out Marissa. On another note, my stomach was so full from all the food I had been eating from the festival and personal snacks that I thought my stomach was going to explode on the walk…I’ill never be the same… That evening we had a traditional post diwali meal, which consisted of a variety of pulses and millet (it was supposed to be mixed with sugar… but it tasted like dog food, so I refrained from consuming most of it… but, apparently it is slow to digest in your stomach and one must drink lots of water throughout the night to aid in the process). The meal was decent, but the highlight of evening was the betel nut leaf/ball that we were given to digest our food. At first, Marissa and I were very hesitant about consuming this ball of minty, sugar brown stuff wrapped in a Betel leaf. Various sources told us not to swallow it, not to spit it, and not to consume certain parts of it that we did not know about. It was hard to chew, but once you got going it numbed your tongue and made your teeth brown. I didn’t like the stuff at first, but than it got into my blood and I craved more… mwhahahahaha… after that experience, I had so much energy. That stuff is lethal. Apparently, Cynthia spend her collage career chewing betel nut to get through exams.

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