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.

Wee bit of traveling...

India Mussoorie, India  |  Oct 02, 2009
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Sun, Sept 27th: Journey back

Today we ventured back to our Mussoorie home.  The morning consisted of hiking 10 kilometers to the taxis (since the road was too bumpy and our guide said that walking was good for the body).  This probably was the best part of the trip.   The walk was very peaceful, even though we were all secretly racing to be the first ones there.  (I came in fourth, but I got extra points because I did not take any shortcuts and was hiking with my backpack).  The hike was downhill, but pretty dusty.  Along the way, I was walking with two boys who looked like they were seventeen, but were apparently my age.  One of the first things they asked me was if I had a child.  Now, usually I understand when Indians ask us American girls if we have husbands because it is custom to marry at this age; however, when they skip that question and go straight to asking if I have a baby, I get a little nervous about my appearances.  Do I look like I have had a baby?  Hmmmm…. After passing numerous gapping construction workers and dudhwalas (milkmen) wondering why we were walking down the road, we got to a small little village.  The men there were busy collecting, bagging, measuring and tossing potatoes.  We were in a potato growing region, as seen through the layers and layers of terraces covering the hillsides.  There was also a lot of amrithe growing, since it was a fast growing grain that held a significant amount of protein in it.  After waiting for the group, we loaded in the car and began our 12 hour journey.

The theme of the day was saris.   My sari was my savior in that it protected me from the sun when wore on my head, as well as allowed me to breathe through smog and dust on the drive back when I put it up to my mouth.  I had a sore throat from the amount of dust I have ingested.  We passed more nomadic tribes, known as gujars, lying alongside the road with their cattle and hay stacks.  They lived day to day, selling their cows’ milk and gathering forest products in the area.  Their water buffalos could be seen hanging out on the road or in drainages, as they slept or ate on the side of the road.  Often these tribes would sleep during the day and travel at night when the traffic was minimal on the road.  They looked so different from other any other Indian that we had encountered so far in that they had strong noses and facial bone structure that emphasized the harshness of their lives.  The women were always colorfully dressed and wore beautiful nose rings even while they gathered hay for the horses and cows. 

On the way back we stopped by one of the oldest Shiva temples in India.  This temple was created almost 3,000 years ago and it had symbolized a hiding spot in the Mahhbharata.  The mini-temple house was ornamentally decorated with beautiful wood carvings and a door covered in gold foils.  We entered the small, dark temple to receive a blessing.  We then circumvented the sacred space and poured water over one of the lingas worshipped on the edge of the space.  The area was surrounded by ornamental wooden houses with rugged hills in the background. 

The rest of the ride went by quickly even though it was muggy out.  We passed by busy markets and touristy Indian spots that were hopping this Sunday, most notably Kempty Falls, which is a SeaWorld type place.  We finally got back to our rooms and enjoyed the dinner food that we had missed while we were on pilgrimage. 


Mon, Sept 28th: Last Day in Mussoorie

            Not only was today the last day of the Navratri festival (Festival of nine nights), but it was also our last day in Mussoorie.  We all hurried out to town to finish buying gifts, clothing, snacks, and other extraneous items.  Most of the shops were closed in the morning since the owners were recovering from the festival partying the night before; yet, the bazaar was humming with excitement and visitors from all over.  You could notice differences in where people were from through their clothing and jewelry. Tribal women wore colorfully decorated saris with a nose piercing in between their nostrils.  Hindu women had the distinct chandelier earrings, bindis, and nose rings on with their synthetic saris.   Nepalese women had on woolen garments shaped in a more fitted form and sometimes with big-buttoned jackets on. Since there were so more visitors that normal down town there were flea market (literally, flea markets… the used clothes that were being sold had a high chance of having fleas embedded in them) along the edge of the walk way.  Men and women were shouting for the shoppers to come buy their used saris, jeans and T-shirts.   

While wandering about I encountered the parade for the goddess Durga in all her incarnations.  The parade Hanuman was bopping/smacking everyone in the head with his club.  He was a character.   The parade consisted of unique loudspeakers, decorated trucks, special dances (some resembled techno-raving) and kids dressed as the gods and goddesses.  I got a great picture of Hali, the fierce goddess that is notorious for her stuck out tongue and black skin.  On the way back from the short, but loud and festive parade, Cynthia stopped in to buy some sweets for the cooks as a farewell gift.  Even though the sweets were so colorful and uniquely shaped, I haven’t built a liking to the treat yet.  I stood outside looking through the glass window at the families buying sweets and the men working behind the counter.  Standing there made me a little homesick, since families were laughing together and enjoying each other’s company on this festive day. 

After admiring some trumpet playing (and dancing), Cynthia and I rushed up to the hotel to change for our farewell dinner.  The whole group dressed up in our best Indian attire to celebrate the last night in Mussoorie.  We all headed downtown in our festive garments and made ourselves comfortable on the deck of a restaurant/hotel that we had rented out.  The evening was comfortably warm and the music was pumping with old hits, such as “Bye, bye, bye” and “Give me one more night”.  We had some wine and beer available to celebrate and keep us tied over for the late dinner.  On the way back, we stopped into an open stadium to see the ritual burning of the Ravana.  The burning was to celebrate the victory of the Hindu god Rama over the demon-king Ravana and therefore the triumph of good over evil.  I added a video of the event, which at some points was quite frightening because the firework display that went off afterwards was pretty close to the crowd.  I was shocked that I did not get burnt by floating embers.  Overall, I am sad that I won’t be able to buff up my gluteus maxims any longer with the steep hills, but I am excited to explore other parts of India.  I will most defiantly come back to the Himalayan region.


I intended to update the blog on this day, but because of the festival’s energy consumption the internet, as well as some of the town’s electricity was out for large chunks of time…


Tues, Sept 29th: Delhi Ho

This day was delightful in that we winded our way down the hills (I actually got pretty nausea and sick from all the body twists in the car) and stopped by Hardwar on our way to Delhi.  While driving to Hardwar in the taxis, our driver decided to put “Take my breath away” on repeat for the whole trip.  After two hours, we arrived at Hardwar on the hottest and muggiest day encountered.  Hardwar is an interesting town in that it is located on the Ganges River and is considered to be one of the holiest places in Hinduism.  Every 12 years, there is a sacred festival, mega Kumbh Mela, held in this city that attracts more than 20 million people.  The reason that the festival is so popular is because if a Hindu goes into the water at a certain time and part of the river they will have their sins washed away for seven years.  Har-ki-Pairi (The Footsteps of God) is where Vishnu is said to have dropped some heavenly nectar and left a footprint behind. 

In 1998, this gathering could be seen from space.  And since the last one occurred in 1998 that means that the next one is… this February.  Cynthia, our other teacher, will be attending it. 

With the heat and humidity, I couldn’t help but take a dunk in the Ganges with a few other girls.  Plus, I wanted to purify myself of my sins from the last three years…. In order to properly do that I had to dunk three times while bracing myself on the slippery rocks of the river bottom, so I would not get washed away from the current.  While I was purifying in the river, a few miscellaneous objects crossed my path, including a large and hard cow patty turd. This year, the river was actually really low because the Indian government had diverted the river so that they could clean out the river bed for the festival coming up.  They were extracting extra soil from the bottom is so that there is more room to fit all of the pilgrims that were coming in February. 

After Hardwar the bus ride dragged, since we were low on food supplies and were told that we would have dinner at the hostel.  I jammed out on Will Cushman’s old, borrowed iPod.   Around 1000pm, we arrived at the hostel and ordered some pizza from papa john’s.  Who knew that chain was here in India?  Even though I can’t digest dairy well, I gobbled up the American-like cuisine.  Indians can make pizza pretty well in their unique way.   


R.I.P my open mouthed water bottle that was lost during my sick day driving to Yamonatri.



Wed, Sept 30th: Delhi

            Back in Delhi again.  Bah, I am not a fan of the hotel and its surroundings.  It is a little jail-like.  The morning was hot and humid.  An opportunity to be in an AC room or fan was taken advantage of.   Anna and I wandered to the post office via Delhi’s hectic sidewalks.  It is almost a game to get across the roads here because there are no stoplights.  The traffic comes in waves, so as soon as there was only a straggling motorcycle on the road we would run-stop-run across the road.  A few times we cut it a little close… but at least we entertained the pedestrians peering on the sidewalks. 

            We then prepared for our trip to Amritsar by learning about Sikhism, the Golden temple, etc. by Professor Savyasaachi, a sociology professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia.  We then had a wee lunch and headed of the State museum of India by rickshaws, which means “protection” in Hindi (I am not sure why… j/k).   The museum was exciting since it housed some impressive sculptures, paintings, and woodworks.  Exhibits include rare relic from the Harappan Civilization, Central Asian antiquities (including silk paintings from the 1st century AD), Indian textiles, tribal masks, sculptures, musical instruments, old coins, miniature paintings and weapons.   The highlight of the museum for most people probably was and is…  Buddha’s bones.  The bones are held in a golden casket made in Thailand and are displayed in a large glass box with barely any signal of its importance in the Buddhist religion.  The location of the bones is controversial because pilgrims come from all over to pray to the Buddha and the relics are placed in the middle of a large room with various other south Asian Buddhist relics. It does not get its own little room even though it is one of the most important objects and is given no special attention.  Buddhists from all over the world come here to pray in front of the Buddha, yet they must pay admission into the museum and are not given a silent place or ornamented room to do so.  While we were there a group of monks took off their shoes and began to circumvent the relics in a religious manner.   Our guide believed that this was a sign of disrespect on the museum’s half.  So, while they were praying next to us our guide continued speaking of the history of the Buddha in her booming English voice.

            On the way back I perused a Cottage industry department store with some girls from the group.  I have officially decided that I do not like shopping.  It is a sport to tiring and intense for me.  The store was an escape from the madness and heat of the city.  The store housed more than 20,000 exhibits from around India, including metalwork, woodwork, old silver jewelry replicas, paintings, and terracotta figures.   After suffering in that store for over an hour, I headed back to the hotel to pack for our early morning departure to Punjab, the Sikh province. 


Thurs, Oct 1:  Sikhism

Let contentment be your yogi earrings;

Let modesty be your pouch and begging bowl;

Let meditation be the ashes you religiously wear;

Let consciousness of death be your head-covering;

Let pure living be your vow of celibacy

And faith in God your staff.

Accept all humans as your equals

And let them be your only sect (AG 6, Guru Nanak)


With a five o’clock start, the group was off to the New Delhi train station.  Even though the sun hadn’t even appeared above the horizon, the train station was filled with hundreds of people.  Some were lying/sleeping on the ground of the station waiting for something that did not look like it would come for a while, such as a train.  Others were hustling about trying to get food or money out of the pedestrians.  The porters at the station all wore red jackets so you knew who to ask questions to or at least trust a little in this congested space.  Eventually, we found our platform number and as a large group migrated to that section of the station.  The crowds were thicker as we shuffled through and finally got down to the platform.  People were spitting left and right, brushing their teeth with need branches, lying on the urine stained ground, collecting plastic bottles to resell, and buying snacks from the local vendors.  Across the tracks, there was one mother holding her baby girl over the edge of the platform so that it could relieve itself.  The baby girl was just sitting there sticking her butt out and waiting for her older sister to get a bottle of water so that she could have her butt wiped. 

            We got to the platform at 611am and waited for our train that was supposed to arrive at 645am.  The train was late and we finally hopped on to our C3 compartment at 707am.  It was a little crowded in our compartment, but we were in a 2nd class air-conditioned car.  With scenes outside that resembled a movie, I made myself comfortable for the eight hour journey.   The bathroom was a delight in that it was a squatter that led right to the tracks.  Now, I know why there was so much poop on the tracks.


AMRITSAR:  Amritsar city (pop: 1.01 million) grew alongside Harimandir Sahib, known as the golden temple precinct, and it is one of the holy sacred cities of India.  (The temple has a Hindi name, Hari (a goddess), even though it is a Sikh building).  This city was an important place in the trade routes of the 16th and 17th century.  The city is a whole sale market for several goods, including green tea and coal mines.  It is not clean and is congested—social life is fragmented (like most old cities).  There is discord between Hindus and Sikhs, because Hindus include Sikhs in the constitution, but Sikhs are scared that they will try to overtake the sacred temple place.  There are several other historic places, especially sacred water bodies, many Hindus believe that there are places that were created before the Golden temple.  The city landscape and social life is in dramatic contrast to the precinct of Harimandir Sahib; this area is one of the richest in India, but is surrounded by poverty.  The difference between the outside and the inside of the golden temple has historic continuity.; there is a tension that the external world is taking you away from the truth and this contention is visible in the golden temple.


GOLDEN TEMPLE: Sikhs are known for their free food and lodging, so we ate and slept in the temple.   The Sikhs wake up every day at 4am to clean the temple.  This sacred site is also known as a Darbar, an Urdu word for the king’s court, since it is a court of the spiritual voice, where the voice is heard.  This is the Sikh divine court and is superior to the secular law.  The precinct has been destroyed and rebuilt five times, with the foundational elements remaining unchanged, but with new structures added.  The three temples represent spirit, text/philosophy, and politics.  Your contemplation is to along your mind, body and spirit.  It is this alignment that is important for truth, and this alignment is signified in the layout of the temples in the Harimandir.  The spiritual principle always directs the political principle. Sikhs donate time and money to help humanity.  We volunteered in the kitchen to pay off the free food we got at the langar.


The gate of the court reveals the profile of the shrine and opens straight onto the water.  This shrine has free passage, no locks of gates, a profile of the ONE, and a step down.  There are no doorkeepers to the inside world and outside.  The doors are never shut because you do not shut your inside world to the outside.  All spirituality has to happen here and now in all of the shit that happens in the world.  Unlike Hindu temples that are on raised ground, you must step down to the temple as to signify equality.  Only when one is at the lowest of the low will you find God, or truth.  Shrines of other religions have the closed doors, gates that are only in a prescribed direction, and a direct viewing of the sacred deity and altar.  The top is the inverted lotus. 


TEN GURUS: The work of the Sikh could be seen in the tradition of Great Buddha with regard to the stress on compassion, prakrit, critique of the caste system and adoption of the middle path.  It brings in elements of Buddhism, Sufism, Islam, and Hinduism. The works of the ten Sikh gurus was co-terminus with the beginning and the end of Muslim rule in India.  Their relation to the political and economic system was of dissent.  They were tortured because they were considered a dissenting voice over the Mughals.  During that time there was extreme dualism and violence in the external world, yet the outcome of the Sikhs were of compassion, as seen in the text. 

There are ten gurus who founded the religion.  Guru Grunt Sahid (a word meaning contemplation) is the text that is used as a term of respect with the one inside you.  Guru Nanak was the first guru that founded the religion.  He was born in Talwandi (now in Pakistan) and studied with Brahmins in a village school.  When he was about thirty years old, he was immersed for three days in river barren and emerged with a revelation to tell the world.  (On a tangent, water is a symbolic element for compassion, timelessness, flow, and contemplation). Nanak talked to Sufis, Jogis, Pandits, Orthodox Muslims, at Kartapur, the foundational elements of the Sikh faith and Harmandir Sahib emerged.  The nine gurus that followed his carried forward his works.   There is no difference between the story that he is telling and that Gandhi is telling.  They are trying to find out how the truth actual works in real life by reflection and engagement with experimental truth.  Nanak’s experiments of truth (foundational elements) declared that there is no Hindu and no Mussalman. 


FOUNDATIONAL ELEMENTS:  The word Sikh means “learning compassion” and the religion emphasized Gur Ape chela (a teacher is one who is a continuous student).  Guru Nanak collected his thoughts and verses of his philosophy that contemplated truth in the pothi, the sacred text that includes other saint’s words.  Guru Nanak would sit and tell people of his journeys and in doing so he offered seva (offering to self) and langar (community kitchen to whomever came to his house. He gave up something of his self in order to make it available to the visitor.  People in the neighborhood contributed to the kitchen and provided the free food.  This was because Guru Nanak believed the pursuit of truth was a lonely path and food allowed community gatherings.  He also established the sangat (fellowship in pursuit of truth), which formed a community and exchanged the words of truth that they have learned.  The emphasis was on listening, listening to others and within. Sikhism was a religion of equality and discovering of the inner truth.  Sikhism has transformed from the Sikh gurus messages to how it is practice today.  The flag signifies dharamsal (retreat and safe haven). Guru Nanak offered his self, as praise of the world, in contemplation of truth.  Another component of Sikhism holds that martyrdom is a way of life. 


“Make your mind the plough and your deeds the farming, Let your body be the field and steady work the watering.  Let the Nam be the seed you plant” – Guru Nanak


THE FIVE K’s:  These items are required of all initiated (Kalsa) Sikhs

(1)   Kachh: cotton breeches, signifying how faithful one is, sexual restraint

(2)   Kesh: uncut hair, covered by the turban (Keski), represents disciplined holiness

(3)   Kirpan: sword, worn in a sheath, represents the call to uphold justice and protect the weak; Sikhs sometimes link it to the word kirpa (‘grace’), to underline the fact that it is not an offensive weapon

(4)   Kara: steel or iron bangle, its circular shape is a reminder of infinity and so of God, sometimes it is described as  a ‘handcuff’ to God, or its sound of chinking against desks remind them to use their hands for good purposes

(5)   Kangha: wooden comb, uses his kangha to groom and then tie up his kesh (uncut hair), represents disciplined holiness





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