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.

Mussoorie Cont

India Mussoorie, India  |  Sep 20, 2009
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Day 10-13: Tues Sept 15th - Fri Sept 18th

I got up early around 6ish and went for a little hike/run. It is hard working out in a kameeze and long underwear… it’s also awkward when people pass me while I’m in mid run… Indians just don’t really run. It is so uncommon for them to “work out” like the Americans do. They are either lazy or their workouts are contained within their lifestyles, as seen by some villagers who hike up and down for half an hour in order to get to town and get the groceries that they need. The hike run was successful except for one thing: MONKEYS. They are frickin’ everywhere and they are SOOO scary. Some of them are huge too and when they run, which can be quite fast, they sound like horses trotting. There was one moment where a monkey was sitting on the edge of the sidewalk I was walking on and he started following me. I imagined his teeth and sharp claws goring my neck. That defiantly helped me get a better workout in…

The second, third, and fourth day of Hindi went decently. Our first teacher was running late, as usual. Usually after breakfast, which was usually eggies, porridge, and/or peanut butter toast, I headed up to class with Hannah, Chelsea, and Kim. Hindi comes along slowly, but surely with these intensive classes. We began learning how to write and read most of the vowels and consonants. We practiced how to say “what is this”, “what kind of _____ is this?, and “where is ____” questions. Hindi sentences usually follow a “SUBJECT OBJECT VERB” order, which is backwards from English.

Near the end of the week, we learned more about pens in pockets and pronunciation. The program that we are using is nice because we have four different teachers in four different classrooms. Since I have only four other students in my classes there is a lot of participation, which helps us learn pronunciation faster.

Classes begin usually at 820 and end at 1215 with a chai break in between. By the end of the week we completed the script of the Hindi alphabet, which is very different from the English alphabet with vowels and consonants. After class, we headed back “home”—stopping at chardukan (four shops) along the way for snacks. We have 45 minutes to relax and then head to lunchie poo. In the afternoons, we usually had class sessions about research methods for two hours.

One assignment this week consisted of interviewing a key informant about the political situation in Mussoorie. I discovered that Mussoorie was run by a publicly elected major with 12 different districts. Mussoorie also consists of a cant, which was established by the British as a military base. There are 62 of them in India and this area has four cantons. After classes I explored the area more. One afternoon a kid came up to me asking for money for an orphanage. I was very impressed with his English so I gave him $20 to support his cause. He told me that he lived at the orphanage and only had a father. He went to a Christian school, but was one of the six or seven Christians who went to a school of over 300 kids. Most of the kids were Hindi.

In town, I also tried to send out some postcard and found a sketchy post office on the side of a road. I went into the dark room and asked for a few postcards. The man finally gave me three stamps for one postcard and stamped the stamps I put on it so that no one could steal the stamps.

I also tried to get a bank order send to the WWOOFing organization, but every time I went to the bank they either could not process that request or closed early. Hmmm…. I did get a version of the WWOOFing list and got pretty excited for my options, such as: IND 066 Farm name: Apple Orchard – Badshahthal Contact name: Bhawani Pratap Singh Location (address and description of land): The farm is located at Badshahthal - Ranichauri Uttrakhand motoroad . The farm’s area is 5.62 hectares.

A brief description of organic activities (crops, projects, goals, etc.) : I would like to propogate organic farming in the whole of Garhwal region and make it a hub for organic vegetables in the state of Uttrakhand.

How long you have been doing Organic Farming : 10 yrs approx.

Whether the farm is certified (if yes) name of certification agency : No.

Suggested length of stay for volunteers: 15 days to 1 month period.

Accommodations (number and type) : Adequate accommodation for 10 persons. It consists of 2 rooms and one large hall

Non-farming opportunities/ activities (alternative construction/ restoration project, alternative energy, etc.) : Restoration of heritage sites, collection of manuscripts, running a restaurant providing organic food.

Expectations of work for volunteers: Knowledge and willingness of farm work .

Is transportation available? : Yes.

Languages spoken: Hindi, English.

Can you host children or pets? : Yes

Special diets: Home cooked & nutritious farm food .

And any other specifics for your farm : The farm is located in a beautiful location having spectacular view of Himalayas. It is surrounded by apple and pine trees and is located in close proximity to the famous Tehri Dam, Queen of Hills Mussoorie and Dhanaulti.

Other highlights for the week consisted of going to an Internet café, experiencing electricity shortages, hearing dogs in heat and waking to barking dog gangs…

Day 14-15, Sat. Sept 19th- Sun Sept 20th: Navdanya Field Trip This weekend consisted of a field trip to Navdanya, a seed saving organization that teaches farmers and consumers about the organic movement. We were told to bring many things, including toilet paper to ensure “TP security”. We were driven down to the Dehra Dun area, which is a heavy military area, in five taxis. Along the way we saw many Nepalese in military uniforms. They were recruited to here by the Indian army (they are known as tough mountain men).

Once we got to Navdanya and unloaded our things into our hostel-like rooms, we were given a presentation about the goals of Navdanya, which are to increase self-sufficiency, research, and of organic farmers, as well as to reduce farming external inputs and biopiracy. Dr. Vinod Bhatt spoke of Vandana Shiva’s goal to defeat “patents on life” and loss of biodiversity.

Therefore, Navdanya represents the organic movement with their push to sell local, pesticide free food. Yet, the movement that they symbolize is not as rapidly growing as expected. This comes from a combination of lack of governmental action and aggressive marketing of the international GM organizations. After a nice Indian organic meal, we watched a documentary on Vandana Shiva’s fight for the small farmers and to stop patents on engineered products. I recommend watching it: “Bullshit”.

We went on a tour of the farm to see how their 650 varieties of rice grew, as well as how they conserved their hundreds of other seeds. This organic farm is based on permaculture ideas in that they use a lot of companion planting, increased diversity, and green mulching. For instance, all of the rice varieties were grown with corn in between so that bugs would hang out on the corn stalks instead of the rice. The corn essentially protects the rice from pests. They fed us well with organic food and fresh, local teas.

Early Sunday morning (5am) we went on a forest, which is called “jangal” in Hindi. The walk was interesting because there was only really one species of trees that dominated the forest (sal) and every once in a while there would be some teek trees. This is because most of the forest was cut down for lumber.

We walked through a dry river bed and eventually got to a path through a residential area. People were doing the laundry, eating breakfast, taking baths, sleeping on outside cots, and milking the cows. Many of the kids were really entertained to see us.

Most houses were surrounded by crop fields and had cows in their tiny front yards. They relied on the water buffalos for not only milk, but for fuel (cow dung) and strength (plowing). Most of the cows were often tied up and staring at us as they ate their breakfasts.

Near the end of the walk, one of the Navdany’s dogs grabbed a chicken and ran off with it. The family got pretty mad and started yelling at members of the group in Hindi. Jeremy, who resembles Borat, tried to bargain with them in a Khuzakistanian accent.

Post lunch, we went out to the fields to observe differences in rice varieties. Rice can be identified through height, color, time of ripening, grain size, grain color and clustering, etc. We also observed the herbal garden that Navdanya grew for their teas and meals (all kinds of mints, “strowvery”, chamomile, aloe vera, rosemary, basil, stevia, and a special weight loss herb).

Overall, I enjoyed Navdanya in that is was similar to permaculture methods and seemed effective for the small farmers of India. Yet, they have a resistance against technology and a belief in the traditional methods (one of my goals was to plow with oxen, but I learned that this chore is only a male thing to do—so I couldn’t get on the back of one… Men control plows and women control horticultural activities, approximately 93% of agriculture work is done by women).

Overall, I do not know if the ideas of Navdanya can be applied to the United States, since we rely on so many large farmers and tractors, and do not have a large population of labor like India. Yet, they are doing very practical things that can be applied to any lifestyle.

Day 16-19 Mon-Thurs: More classes…

Monday was a little different than usual because it was the, Eid, which is the celebration for the end of Ramadan. Usually Eid is celebrated the day after the new moon appears and this can depend upon the culture and where you are from. Here, it is celebrated as the last day of Ramadan. Technically, it does not start until someone can see the full moon. Approximately 12% of the Indian population is Muslim, which is the second largest population of Muslims in one country, in the world.

Therefore, when traveling to India it is beneficial to know a little information on Islam… Islam means “submission (act of will), surrender (to a higher power, authority), and peace (righteousness, just action, consequence for acting unjust). Orthodox Muslims identify themselves with an understanding of a faith that is not different from or separate from other world religions.

Islam regards itself as sharing common heritage to other religions of the world with its uniqueness of one and only one god (a sovereign of the universe, neither created nor subsumed, he transcends time, he creates but is uncreated himself), the belief in a revealed set of scriptures (revelation and teaching is transmitted through the written word, such as the Qur’an), and a belief in a day of judgment.

Uniquely, Islam believes that people possess free will (and that is why they are judged) and in the exercise of free will they are accepting the consequences that will be bestowed upon us. Muslims are separated by the prophecy of Mohammed as the perfection of the prophetic teachings of the Old Testament.

Another notable feature of Islam is its concept of umma, which is a transnational concept. As a good practicing Muslim, he/she is more likely to find connections with other people within that same religious culture than other people in their local communities. Two of the five pillars are examples of practices that give Muslims the understanding of the larger community of practice and faith. Islam holds devotees accountable for actions. No Muslim should be compelled to convert others and he/she should respect other religions.

Historically in India, if you look at great Muslim empires, such as the Delhi Sultanate, there are high tolerances of other religions. Even though this did not mean that you could wear what you wanted or not pay extra taxes, followers of other religions were not compelled to convert. The most talked about divisions of Islam consist of Sunnis (95% of umma), Sh’ites, and Sufis, an ascetic version that practices extreme love and devotion to Allah. Unlike as portrayed in the news, Sunnis do not differentiate from Sh’ites (located mainly in Iran) in their basic faith.

Lastly, if you need to review the five pillars here they are:

1. Shahata: “As a Muslim, I bare witness that there is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet”—a profession of faith that is exclusive of all other professions of faith

2. Pray five times a day: traditionally an hour before sunset, noon, midafternoon, an hour after sunset, and midnight; yet, this has changed. Traditionally, the day begins and ends at a point in which you can first distinguish a white thread from a black one. You pray the opening of the Qur’an. Prayers are usually led by members who are highly esteemed or who have more authority. They chant the anan (God is great… there is no worthy of worship except god), which is different between Sunni and Sh’ites.

3. Give to charity to purify community and the individual. It purifies a community because the community is seen as an organism and the health of an organism is seen through the health of its parts. If one part is needy and the other wealthy, the equilibrium is thrown off. Charity circulates resources so that the community is balanced to meet collective needs. It purifies the individual because if one is constantly giving away wealth they are unlikely to live in a way that deprives other people and yearn for a higher position. Mosques are often created with a storefront on the first floor so that the taxes from the merchandise go to the mosque (in Mussoorie this is done… and so they represent more than just a place of worship… yet, they do not allow women into the space). This pillar is a bridge between Islam and Hinduism.

4. Fasting and abstinence from sexual or pleasurable activities, usually during Ramadan—the ninth lunar month. Children, travelers, and some women are excused. This is intended to purify oneself, as well as unite members of umma in common practice that reinforces sense of identity in transnational religion.

5. If one has the wealth and health they should make a Mecca pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is different than Hinduism, but in practice there are a lot of similarities.

Since some of our teachers are Muslim, we had to switch around the classes a little bit today. I had a little bit too much caffeine that day so things were a little crazy in the classroom….

I learned how to say “how much (kitna)”, so that I can use that in town. After classes, we had a dhal lunch and a class on Islam, as seen by the blurb above.

Later, that night the group experimented with drying male cannabis, found at the hotel, under a bulb in the room. We attempted to smoke it, but apparently you can only spoke female versions…

Tues, Sept 22nd: Hindu themes Tuesday was in the middle of Navatri, a Hindu holiday celebrated for nine days, so we reviewed Hinduism basics. There are so many versions of Hinduism, so different people teach different versions of this religion, which can make it quite complicated. Hinduism is unique in that it is a recent and imposed unit from the outside (aka the British). Also, there is no giver of norms. No one or thing sets down the rules. In other words, there is no single bible for this religion. Western scholarship has deemed Hinduism through the British perspective (a small, colonialist one). The British took down information from the Brahmin caste, which was very different from the other Hindu practices. Therefore, the “mindful” Brahmin cal Hinduism is favored more than local Hinduism. The base line knowledge we have of Hinduism is filtered through Brahmins and then the British. The father of Hinduism was the British, but the mother was/is India. The books: Historically there was not much book reading. The earliest sacred books were hymns of prayers to gods, known as the Vedas, which were written down in 2,000 BC. The writers, who were the Aryans, migrated out from central Asia in 2,000BC, which is why all languages in India are related. They created four main Vedas, including one of the oldest texts in the world, the Rg Veda. Today, the Vedas are being looked at to create Hindu norms through the RSS or BJP, political parties. After the Vedas, there are the Upanishads, Aranynkas, and the Brahmanas (900-600 BC). These texts are mystical, contemplative in nature, and they explore the relationship between god and the god envisioned. Modern ideas emerged in these books, such as asceticism, enunciation, reincarnation, castes, yoga, karma, and moksha (liberation). Following these texts, the adventurous epics the Ramayana (love, relationships) and Mahrabhata (war, family) were written. They are quite long and have many side stories, but they are very useful in understanding Indian culture. Before you travel to India you should defiantly check out the shortened versions of these stories because many people regard these stories as examples to live lives. People throughout Southeast Asia use these two epics, along with kinship and cosmology, significantly in their culture. They are models of righteousness, morals, and ideal types. Furthermore, in the Mahabrahata, the Bhagava-Gita is found. This prescribes spiritual action instead of renunciation. In other words, action without hope of fruit. Actions in ones chastely duties, rise of Vishnu as multi-incarnated God. Other texts include the Dharmastras (600BC), which create instructions, ethics and behavior on how each individual should act to preserve cosmic order, such as the Law of Manu. These extensive prescriptions elaborate on how people must act righteously to ensure that the world goes on as it should and it does not topple over to famine, drought, etc. Lastly, the Puranas and Mahatnias (300-700Ad) are written and they contain more mythical stories, religious teachings, scriptural rituals, and specific stories of gods and goddesses. The deities are described in many ways, as well as where they crossed over into the profane world. The Gods: The earliest strata of Hindu divinities were of two types: the warrior gods (Indra) and nature deities (Viou, the wind, or Igni, the fire). People still do Vedic style sacrifices through offerings into the fire. It is also speculated that the Aryans ate cattle, which is a stray from the current cow protecting Hinduism. Pre-Aryan deities of place were also worshipped through yakshas through trees, such as the precious ficus trees, and nagas who lived underground as water deities. These deities are still important today through the neem tree, snake, and stone importance. Then, around the Common Era, a new type of Hinduism emerged. Including the nature deities and Aryan deities, there is a trinity of deities: Shiva, the destroyer; Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver (this trinity was heavily influenced by the British). On the whole, Brahma is unimportant and there is only one Brahma temple in India and no significant rituals associated with him. Throughout history, these deities gained popularity and absorbed with local deities. Many female deities were absorbed into Shakta ones. There is a continuum of deities being appropriated into more mainstream deities. Shiva was originally an outer, prophetic deity. He was associated with disease, catastrophic storms, wild animals, and the destroyer. . He is ambiguous, creative, and wild. His friends are ghosts and goblets. He wears a tiger skin and is not a socially acceptable god; yet, he is beneficial because, even though he does not follow social norms, he is concerned with the liberation of beings. He is a procreated god since his destruction makes way for creation Vishnu is characterized as incarnating on earth as a semi-human person to help restore order when things have gone badly wrong particularly in the two epics. He has ten aviators, including fish, turtle, bore, half-lion, dwarf, guy with axe (Parasa), Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki (which is an incarnation ye to come, riding a white horse). Since Vishnu is incarnated in Buddha, there are many Buddhist art relics that have been absorbed into Hinduism. Lastly, Hanuman is the epitome of devotion and a form of Shiva. He is the perfect devotee. He is the son of wind and helped win the battle against Raman (the demon with ten heads). Beneficial Goddesses: Lakshmi is associated with Vishnu and is the goddess of wealth and beauty. Sharasvati is the goddess of music and learning and is shown with a musical instrument, the vena. She is the one that Hindus pray to to do well in school and is often connected with Brahma. Karvati, who is the daughter of the hills and also known as Uma, is the consort of Shiva. Her main feature is that she turns into Durga. Fierce Goddesses: The gods give and they take away. There are many fierce goddesses, who are often fed blood for sacrifice. Most notably Kali, who has multiple faces, and is considered the “scary mother”, the giver and taker of life, is shown with a giant red tongue handing out and a head in her hand. She is the deities of all deities that is sacrificed to with blood sacrifices. Durga, who is the deity that is focused upon during the nine nights of Narvati, is a form of Karvati and is attached to Shiva. She was a peaceful, naïve little girl and then was blessed by the gods to kill the demon buffalo that was causing mayhem around the world. She meditated for nine days and during her meditation she was given tools of the gods. Eventually, she rode out on her tiger and killed the buffalo demon. In conclusion, there are many fierce deities, with many tantric traditions and loose connections to Shiva. Other Deities: These include animal deities, such as Ganesh, the elephant head (creator and remover of obstacles). He is the god that you first worship during puja. His name comes from Gana and he is the leader of the Shiva’s army. He only has one full tusk because he broke one off to write the Shiva Purana. Khartikaya is another son of Shiva, who is also a young warrior god. There is the patron saint of craftspeople, Vishwa Karma, who is the architect. There are 16 river goddesses and deities for the nine planets, who are set in a square and called the Nava Graha. Interestingly enough, there is a goddess of small pox since it had such as large presence in this area and people worship her to protect their children, Sitalah. Vehicles: Each deity has their own animal accompaniment. Shiva rides on a bull, Vishnu a garodah (man eagle), the Ganesh a rat, Lakshmi an owl, and Sarawati a swan. Now, for current practices: Each Hindu has a specific relationship with the main deity of their villages and/or family. There is still a connection with some obscure deity that other people may not have. There is also a personal deity who a Hindu is attracted to. Of their own free will an inclination they chose a deity. There are regional styles and regional popular deities. Furthermore, fashions of Gods change. In Rajasthan, people are more into Krishna, while in the South Kali is worshipped more. The wife will keep her own family deities as well as perform worship to her husband’s family’s deities. Usually, when people perform a puja, which is an offering to a deity, they offer anything, from food or milk or a section of the backyard. Usually deities are given water, for drinking and for washing; light, in the form of a candle or lit piece of paper; something good smelling; flowers, and grouped in with the flowers are the two most typical, originally sindur (dark red seeds) and turmeric (yellow powder). Among other traditions include a meal and music or spoken words. Some deities are offered bangles, while others may be offered particular sweets, raw rice, or grains. Today, people use a sindur replacement, such as red powder, and turmeric is replaced with sandal wood paste. A bell may also be rung to summon the god. In general, the offered items are taken back as prasad, which are the sacred leavings (or gift back) of the god. The prasad is often ingested or kept on the body to absorb the blessings. Also, arti (morning Prasad) is sung in the morning or evening ritual done around sunrise and sunset. There is a special tune that goes along with arthis with different words to different deities. Darsan is an important component In Hinduism because it allows the Hindu to be seen by the god and see the god. When you appear before the deity the deity sees you and you are blessed by the sight of the deities. Some of the deity enters you. Instead of Hollywood celebraties, Indians gain darsan from fierce yogis or religious figures, such as Ama ji in Kerala or a six-legged, six-armed girl that was born and worshipped in a small village. Dinner was a really funky soup with another dairy dish. I have realized that my body does not digest diary well at all, so my body was really struggling after I ate that meal. Even before dinner I was not feeling that great and I think the dinner topped off my ailments. Therefore, I went straight to bed after the creative meal. Wed, Sept 23nd: Hindi Galore Today was the last day before our Hindi exam. The day was filled with reviewing and studying. In my third class, our teacher, whose mannerisms consist of “hmmm”, “mmaha”, “umha”, etc, read us some poetry from his personal collection. This man seemed so enlightened through his personal antedotes, such as “listening is thinking, believing is doing” or “you must plow the field, irrigate and plant the seed in order to understand the language of another culture”. I jammed out in my room and tried to understand the postpositions and plural endings for masculine and feminine nouns. I can read pretty sufficiently now, however, my vocabulary is still lacking so whenever I read a word out in the market I usually do not know what it means. The nice thing about India is that when your digestive system is not working well and you have a lot of gas, you and just let it out on the streets—instead of painfully hold it—and just blame the sewer on the smell. Speaking of smell, the water tank had caught on fire the night before so the whole hotel needed to conserve water for the day while the problem was being fixed. No showers for us…. Apparently a monkey went into Martha, Lisa, and my room. He went through the trash and stole a banana peel, as well as my jar of Gatorade. At first I didn’t believe the observers, but the jar did have a bite mark on it and was tossed on an outside bench… Today was also Chelsea’s birthday, so we had a mini celebration with some chocolate cake. The chocolate cake stuck to your teeth quite well, so most people had some cake on their teeth while conversing. Day 19 Thurs Sept 24th: Ap Kaise Hai? All of my studying came down to this very today. I woke up early to get in a good run and review dialogues on my C.D. player (which may be old fashioned, but has come in handy). When I go on my loop runs I see many older men in sweat suits speed walking and doing crunches. Also, the path wraps around a hill and has had steep banks, so there is really nowhere to go if you need to go to the bathroom… therefore, there are often many surprises along the run in the morning. The sunrises are beautiful from the paths. Anywho, after that run I eventually made my way back up to the Landor School and took the oral section of our exam. We were tested on our Hindi diction, numbers, and reading. During our breaks, we played with a puppy that had been taken off of the streets by one of the other students at the school. It was teething and would get tired from all the action at the school. Then, we had our dhal and roti. The afternoon consisted of our written exam at the hotel. That was a little bit more difficult since we had to write everything in Hindi script. I have to say, though, that I am pretty impressed that I can now understand the whole alphabet and can read street signs from eight days of lessons. Watch out India, here I come. I caved in. Today was the day that I decided to buy and wear deodorant. I decided to do due to the lack of time and sun I had to process laundry. My three shirts had brown pit stains on them from the amount of sweat and pollution in the air. Therefore, I bought some sweet-smelling, artificial liquid deodorant. After my little investment, I went back to the hotel to enjoy a talk about pilgrimages. During that academic session, I started to feel a little nauseous… the greasy Chinese food that came out of the kitchen was the straw that broke the camel’s back…. Do do do dooooommmm. Day 20 Fri 25th: Boot fest 2009 This day started off pretty uniquely. The gang arose at six and Sheila tallied the number of sick students. About four people had been sick the night before and three more had gotten sick during the night. I was the second person to get ill. After dinner the night before, I was feeling pretty wiped and gross, so I tried to get an early night’s sleep. I ended up tossing around for an hour and finally I just let out everything that had been stirring in my stomach. With a bad case of food poisoning, I threw up all the dinner and snacks that I had ingested that day. I will never look at peanut butter the same. At one point, I deliriously remember getting out of my bed due to fever and dragging my feet to the cement porch, so that I could lie in fetus position on the cold surface. When I was not throwing up, I was dreaming about getting an I.V. injected into me, so that I could flush water through my system… Fortunately, Chelsea was the only one of us who missed a toilet and/or garbage can and booted all over her stuff (sorry, I know that is too much information). That morning, the plan had been to originally leave the hotel at 730 to head up to Yamonutri, a pilgrimage site. Due to the health of the group we delayed the 8 hour drive for another hour. As soon as most of us were a little more rested, we (all of us except for four other who were too sick and would come later) loaded into five taxis to go on the bumpiest, curvy ride of my life. I felt like a sardine being tossed around in someone’s pocket. I was smooched on the side of a van and every once in a while I would feel a wave of nausea rush to me. The eight hour car ride was very interesting in terms of views and the different types of people that we passed, but it was a little hard on my stomach (in case you didn’t pull that out already…). Jeremy told me that I matched the color my green shirt that day. Anyways, the highlights of the journey included seeing a bloated, dead cow on the side of the road, passing by beautiful, nomadic people women carrying hay in colorful saris, lying down at each and every rest stop that we took, and tapping a water buffalo, who was blocking the road with his fellow comrades, with the car. Finally, around four we got to the stopping point of the taxis. I was pretty wrecked from the journey and so the 1 km hike up to the hotel was pretty strenuous. We got to the steps of the hotel only to discover that our rooms were on the third floor. I eventually made it up the room and passed out. The room was subpar with some stains and bugs on the dirty sheets, as well as a bathroom smelling like intense spray paint, but I did not care. It was 432pm and I slept until 600am the next day, with a little break for dinner at 8pm. The dinner break was a little unnerving because when I woke up it was pitch black outside and I thought that I had already slept through the night and was ready for a little breakfast. But no, it was only 800pm and dinner was being served… I probably should have not gotten up for dinner, since they served spicy cuisine. Day 21 Sat 26th: The pilgrimage A pilgrimage combines many aspects of Hindu rituals since you disconnect yourself from the ordinary reality and eventually gain sight of the sacred. It is not just the visiting of the place, also known as the tirtha or peeth (crossing over of the divine), but is an entire sacred journey. It is a divine enterprise from start to finish. Every effort and kindness extended is part of the journey. It is believed that after you return from the pilgrimage you are blessed by the divine and can bless those back at home. Pilgrims come back absorbed form the deities’ sacredness, and in a sense impregnated with the deity. Today, we headed to Yamonutri, which is a sacred site known as the origin of the Yamuna River,. Pilgrimage places come in groups of four, cha dham, and this one includes Yamonatri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath— the whole river is a tirtha and there are about 16 sacred rivers in India. The origin point and headwaters are considered the most sacred, but there are also places along the way that are sacred sites. A pilgrimage contains: 1. Puja; usually a man will stand outside the door with all the works for puja (a thali) 2. Receiving back prasad, a more substantial kind 3. Ritual bathing before puja 4. Charity, throwing rice or coins 5. Consume/ingest the sacred, such as drinking the water from the Ganges 6. Take things away, collect Ganges water or buy things, since it has the nature of prasad 7. Interact with priest of place, which could get violently depending on where you are 8. Participate in special activities, such as dunking a personal sack of rice into the hot springs of Yamanotri 9. Ask for a specific favor , such as success on a new business, want of a son, help for grandmother, etc, and then promise to come back if they receive the favor 10. Music—instruments are played, or sacred songs are sung 11. People carry their local deity, such as a statue or brass mask, to sites (a traveling deity) 12. May contain sacrifices of animals, money, time 13. May be a family vacation, honeymoon, celebration, or a pilgrim may go on behalf of a family member, alive or dead. My pilgrimage: Well, there were no animal sacrifices during my pilgrimage… but, there was ritual bathing in the hot water up at the temples… With some heavy indigestion and a pack on my back, I headed up the sacred route of the Yamuna River. The trail consisted of cement slabs with horse poop all the way. A decade or so ago, the government had supported the development of pilgrimage routes. This meant that they dynamited sides of mountains in order to create concrete sidewalks that the coolies (porters) could walk up the paths easier. Yet, the concrete paths didn’t seem to help since the mules keep sliding around up and down the paths. The 5 km hike up to the temples was an enjoyable workout. We left at around 8am and I think that was when we hit rush hour. There were hundreds of people hiking, riding a mule, or being carried on a seat device or in a basket trying to reach the top of the pilgrimage site. Along the way, I picked up a scruffy dog that wanted to protect and hike with me, as well as two young boys who were very interested in my name. The name “Katrina” is pretty popular in India right now because one of the top Bollywood stars has that name. She is originally from Sweden. Electricity lines ran parallel to us while we hiked. The villages depended on hydroelectricity from the Yamuna River for their electricity. Ironically, the highest structure in the village we stayed in were the two newly built telephone towers. Indians are obsessed with their phones, not only are they used as a watch, but they are also used a way to keep up on recent events and to blast music while walking down the street. After passing many little chai, snack, and mule rest stops along the edge of the path, I eventually got to the top of the journey. When I got to the mini atropolis I was offered plastic jugs, food, pictures of deities, etc hundreds of times. These items were all tacky pilgrimage memoirs… Overall, the temple area was pretty disappointing. Here I was expecting a beautiful temple built within the Himalayan natural surroundings, when in reality, the area was covered in black tarps, plastic bags, and concrete. There was really no visible connection with the temples and the river that was considered so sacred. The area reminded me of how humanity has mastered how to live ON nature and not WITH it. The unique thing about this pilgrimage is that it has hot springs located at it. There were baths in which pilgrims could bath into to, so there were a lot of men standing in underwear around the temples. The men could bath in the main top pool, while the women had to venture down to a dungeon like room. The sauna was HOT. I put my feet in and lost circulation in a few seconds. Hannah and I entered the pool with the topless older women and were entertained by the happiness of the women we were surrounded by. There was one group of women who pushed in the youngest daughter of the group and pushed and rolled her around in the water, with love of course, like dirty laundry. The girl was shocked at the heat at first, but then she started laughing with her family members about the incident. We gave puja to the Devi temple. As a group we bought a tray of goodies that we would offer the gods. The goodies consisted of a picture of the goddess, nail polish, a dried coconut, rice (that was cooked with the hot water that naturally bubbled up at the temple), bindis, bangles, a comb, mirror, puffed rice, henna, and some decorative tinsel. When we went to give puja, we first sat down compactly on the marble floor in front of a little shrine. The priest poured hot water into our hands to “wash” ourselves, then to drink, and then to wash our hands. He then recited some mantras and gave us a blessed string bracelet and red bindi made from dye and rice. We were then given more water and some flowers and rice to thrown into the shrine that sat in front of us. There seemed to be lot of throwing object around during the whole process. Often, our group ended up hitting a priest giving blessings on another family. When that was finished and we received prasad from the offerings, we headed back down the valley. We passed many more coolies carrying pilgrims in baskets (I should add that the baskets were held by ropes attached to the coolies’ foreheads), chair devices, and on ponies. A lot of men going up to the temples were wearing sweatsuits and/or some pretty short shorts. As I ran down the trail with Jeremy and Hannah, I admired all the women who were carrying rice or other products on their heads. After a late lunch of rice and dhal, we explored a village across the river. The village was the highlight of my day, because it seemed like a place I would want to live in. There were houses nestled close to each other, but they all had a yard in which they grew vegetables and flowers. Most of the houses were raised off of the ground because the animals (cows, mules, water buffalo) lived on the first floor. In the cold months, the animal heat would rise to warm the dweller inside. We, the large group of Americans, ventured through the village, admiring the architecture and beautiful gardens along the way. We eventually made it to an ancient Jupiter temple made out of slates of stone. The temple wasn’t open and so while we were waiting for the key that never came, we attracted a pretty hefty crowd. There were kids of all ages surrounding us and admiring our white skin and funny language. They loved seeing pictures taken of them with our digital cameras. It was nice seeing kids so happy to see someone so different from them. Before we left, we popped into a Shiva temple. While we were singing some mantras and ringing the bell in front of the temple to summon the god, we attracted another mob of kids. These kids were pretty cute—one of them was so dirty and chubby that you just wanted to poke its little fat belly. Anyways, of them started to run back home and one of them kept falling, on purpose, and getting up to laugh with us. He seemed so joyful to be hurling himself on the ground and getting dirt all over himself. After we left the village, we visited another small temple and received a blessing from the priests, which is given through a snack and smear of paint on our foreheads. We headed back to relax for a bit in the hotel and then had an Indian dinner that looked the exact same as the previous two meals we had had at the hotel…. hmmm

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