Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the aftermath: let's go, so we can come back.

a lesson. a final lesson perhaps? of the many regarding these 3 weeks stolen (and grossly expanded in entirely new disturbing directions) from the daily trials of living.
never. ever.
ship fragile products home from india.
because they will break into tiny little chipped pieces and you will wonder why precisely you were idiot enough to mail it in the first place.
let's blame jet lag.
perhaps i can make a pillow out of that hard-won sewn up cotton.
and sell it on ebay.
pay homage to gandhi.

ive delayed on writing a "conclusion" on india.
yet im prompted now to sit, take my time (in my mother's home at my mother's computer as my own seems to be on holiday itself), sipping my warm bottled water and occasionally screaming at penny to stop barking and shut the hell up.
its a pleasant atmosphere.
more so because i've recently had a bowel movement and nothing suspicious has made itself known to be living in my feces.
india may not have actually scarred my bowels.
i am thankful.
thank you india? (thank you providence...everybody! sing with me now!)

before i left actually - a friend of mine wanted me to explain/find out why precisely (of course) alanis sings these lyrics.
i have no bloody clue.
and i only know the one line anyway.
lets look them up, shall we?


How bout getting off of these antibiotics
How bout stopping eating when I'm full up
How bout them transparent dangling carrots
How bout that ever elusive kudo

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How bout me not blaming you for everything
How bout me enjoying the moment for once
How bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How bout grieving it all one at a time

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

The moment I let go of it was
The moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it was
The moment I touched down

How bout no longer being masochistic
How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How bout not equating death with stopping

Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence

yeah yeah
ahh ohhh
ahhh ho oh
ahhh ho ohhhhhh
yeaahhhh yeahh

and so croons miss morissette.

let's address the first two lines.
and eating.
im not entirely sure why she wants to get off the antibiotics.
i had a special container full of azithromycin held on standby should my bowels feel the need to spray water for 24 hours straight.
fortunately that never happened.
however i felt all the better for having my stash.
im sure its that cosmic rule.
had i actually not had the antibiotics im quite sure the affliction noted above would have occurred.
should one happen to be getting on antibiotics for whatever such reason - one should of course finish the course prescribed.
everyone knows that alanis.
were you taking them for sport?

god why will my dog not shut up?

i quite agree.
let's stop eating when "full up".
here! here!

however a 20 oz chai is still much appreciated.

i have no idea why she mentions carrots and kudos.
please refer to ms. morissette's rep for further clarification.

terror, disillusionment, frailty, consequence, and (ahem) silence.
certainly. yes. noted.
but silence?
should there happen to be a silent spot in all of india.
the cosmos might implode.
someone find it for me please.
and get me a rickshaw man to take me there.

im going to entirely skip the next paragraph as i believe she is dealing with some personal issues there.

The moment I let go of it was
The moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it was
The moment I touched down

now. there is something about this i wholly enjoy.
did i spelly wholly correctly?
a little alteration then.

there is a dream world in that bit right there.
the framework is supplied.
just fill in the gaps to suit your own purposes.
any moment. any era. any place.

referring back to our aim here.
yes. it can certainly be applied to india.

divinity and death.
again. applicable.
particularly the last note.
not equating death with stopping.

i won't go into the overlaps and layers of religion amongst the peoples of india.
as ive mentioned before.
i wouldnt know where the hell to begin.
but even taken out of context; that hot, rich bed of godliness and souls.
this one line appeals to me immensely.
perhaps because i never care to stop.
because if the option to live forever presented itself i would grab it and hold tight. and growl in the midst of my greed for good measure.
and should i grow tired of the cycling - theres always buddhism.
simply choose your religion.
theres a god for every purpose.

and here.
new words. (clever girl that alanis)

i can only imagine.
the sort of skewed contradiction between the first two allowed for the third.
walk the line between perhaps?
never so black and white is it?

and the best part.

yeah yeah
ahh ohhh
ahhh ho oh
ahhh ho ohhhhhh
yeaahhhh yeahh

what i said exactly.

and so.
in conclusion.
as there are those who think india ought to change one's life.
it has in the way that every day of my life has.
no more. no less.
i do quite believe india has enough burdens to deal with as it is.
it does not seek (or need) mine as well.
and i go places for the challenge, to observe and to learn.
learn even the simplest things.
check myself at the door (as best as one can manage) and find another me aimlessly wandering inside.
she's ready and willing to get a bit dirty and shove her way through the day.
forever refining the art of shitting via full squat.

on that note.
my mother is calling.
she insists my already full belly is in need of more eating.
there is christmas shopping to complete.
and naked children wandering the streets the world.

"Come on princesa, I'll get you a latte!
Let's go- so we can come back."


and i've since had that 20 oz chai.
starbucks of course.
its not the same.
not really.

Friday, November 27, 2009


michiko and i have concluded that i will forever smell of old milk.
i have a headache.
and i want my pillow.

you've now been informed of the pressing concerns for the evening.

and so welcome to the second night in kolkata.
to be honest.
we haven't done much.
we're both tired and worn through.
3 weeks was a reasonable time i think.
for india at large that is.
at the pace we have been running and to see as much as we have.
im ready to come home.
ready for home.
or at least find some peace and quiet.
as quiet as baltimore city can be anyway.
it would be a marked improvement over this.
two more days. two more days.
what to do with two more days?
when we've barely survived a half of one.

i suppose i should update.
we arrived yesterday morning to the Sealdah train station and the first odd encounter was the rickshaw.
it was not a cycle construction.
but simply poles.
and pulled by a man.
up to this point we had only encountered cycle rickshaws.
and even then i've felt twinges of guilt as too-thin old men attempted to huff and puff us (and our bags at times) up even the smallest inclinations.
but still.
it is their profession.
and one must work somehow.
at the very least there are no exhaust fumes involved.
(yes in the midst of poverty the environment remains at the forefront of my mind)
rickshaws are also, generally, cheaper than tuk-tuks.
and so our plan (when traveling with more than yourself always discuss pertinent decisions prior to the event and agree on possible scenarios and max pricing or bargaining power will be lost in an instant - this applies particularly to transportation and housing selection)
was to get a hold of a rickshaw (i had already estimated the distance from my map) and make our way to Sudder st - apparently littered with hotels and guesthouses.
we found a man (or rather he found us) agreed on a price and off we went to the rickshaw.
and both froze in confusion when we encountered two poles and no bicycle.

"no bicycle?"
"no cycle madam! this rickshaw!"
and shoved us into the seat.

the entire experience is uncomfortable.
of the inner kind (my butt has long ago gotten used to the lack of suspension on these things) and ive yet to analyze it thoroughly.
and am completely open to some opinions.
but it is.
still. (again) my primary thought is one must work.
and he will get paid.
in relation to this there is that murky area regarding worth.
i don't believe i have spoken of it - not directly at least.
but it has been on my mind often these past 3 weeks-
in the midst of these men attempting to cheat us.
and even the few who are (possibly) honest about the ride.
we have taken to asking neutral individuals how much a ride will cost before actually attempting to acquire transportation.
but then.
when you're sitting atop a rickshaw as that too-thin greying man wearing too-thin greying clothing is working his joints to the grind and the sweat slicks his hands despite the firm grip on those poles-
you wonder how the hell NYC taxi drivers get paid so damn much-
and the man before me gets 75 cents.
for literally hauling two grown women and their bags 9 km.
not that i would belittle the mental power it takes to drive in New York.
but really.
come on now.

and so.
what do you do?
pay as any local would pay?
not bargain in light of the original overcharged price, just suck it up and pay it knowing you are being cheated (the principle of the matter) because in the end - its still less than 1/2 a latte and this man is working his ass off.
yet how does that affect the grand arena of tourism and the tourists to follow me?
or bargain and then just tip handsomely - in the end giving what he originally asked for but in a roundabout way depending on corresponing guilt levels.
or just because.
while still saving face (and making him aware that you are aware you are being cheated).
what do you do? what do you do?

and hunting a hotel.
too many hotels in this place and yet the first 5 we went to were full.
not cool.
lowers bargaining power.
and i could see the other tourists on the streets hunting as well.
so the first place we found that had a large window worked for me (we needed to wash clothes and hence needed a good fan and an open window) despite it's questionable cleanliness (there's something unsettling about extensive smearing of mysterious substances on all 4 walls).
by now i didnt care.
no used condoms or roaches beneath the bed, a large window, working fan, and a western toilet (albeit without a seat and dysfunctional flushing capabilities).
all for the charming price of 250 rupees or $5 a night.
that's shared.
so i'm paying $2.50 for this place.
and aim to not touch the walls.

im trying to remember.
proved rather difficult to obtain.
by now it was nearly 9 in the morning.
not early at all really.
but too many restaurants were closed and we were starving.
and then we found Flury's.
high end.
with a doorman, waiting list, chandeliers, and manager in tailored suit.
Michiko wanted to run far far away (she doesn't have a job - this is understandable)
but i convinced her otherwise - that it was my bloody vacation, it's like buying breakfast in the states and they take credit cards! (i refuse to exchange more money)
in the end the bill came to 800 rupees (including tip).
this is approximately $14 for long-apron servers.
up to this point our most expensive meal was $4.
(though generally we only pay $1-2 which is again - shared and so i've had many a large filling meal on 50 cents).
we were now living it up in India.
a very different India i had yet to explore.

800 rupees will buy you a BLT (really rather excellent bacon they had there), 3 "American pancakes" (though thank god not American proportions as i have no idea where we would have stuffed it all) with maple syrup (they lie), a mushroom cheese omelette, brewed coffee, lime sugar water, and masala tea.
and toast.

i found the entire thing brilliant really.
the other side. the growing middle class
that up to now i had only come to see in small pieces.
in passing.
aside from my first night stay with a live-in maid present Michiko and i were running across Northern India on a very basic budget.
the thing is - this wasn't a restaurant full of Westerners (a handful at most).
it was all affluent Indians.
their suits, designer bags, laptops, jewels crowding the tables for sandwiches and omelettes and American pancakes.
i had to give the pancakes a thumbs down by the way.
excellent BLT though.
oh wait i said that.
but it was really was delicious!
i was tempted to go into the back kitchen and make proper pancakes.
i am american - watch me carefully!
there is an art to the pancake.

speaking of which.
(and Michiko thinks i'm an idiot.)
it is only on this trip that it occurred to me that the word "pancake"
is a union of the two words "pan" and "cake".
this revelation came to me as i noticed many a menu across India stating "pan cake"
(along with "cheze", "soop", and "french frys")
thats right.
the AHA! moment.
i am a genius.

after breakfast we walked.
possibly forever.
to the Howrah bridge.
flower market.
as all the guidebooks talk about.
and by the time i got there i didn't give a damn.
had given up actually.
but as we crossed the bridge there it was.
splayed out below us.
and we had an excellent viewpoint.
for photographs we were supposedly not supposed to be taking as we happened to be on the bridge.
even though.
they were not of the bridge!
(perhaps it was a communication glitch with the police man as we are still confused)
though. when they say flowers.
they mean marigolds.
of course.
a million of them.
loose lumpy hills or already in neat chain formation.
the ground littered with orange and yellow puffs.
im somewhat curious as to how the marigold was ever chosen actually.
perhaps ive shared this question before.
its a matter of grave importance i assure you.
another thing to look up.

a bit more wondering and eventually made our way back to the hotel.
ate somewhere unremarkable. dodged store vendors. survived taxis intent on running us over.
etc etc etc.

this is how i have come to feel.
ive reached that point.
etc etc etc.

stay with me just a wee bit longer.

that was yesterday.
today we aimed to complete a Mother Teresa tour.
or something of the like.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata).
came upon the "Mother's House" (which again reminds me - always always ask for directions from three different people and at regular intervals along your route) which
was her home.
and houses her tomb.
also included a somewhat robust exhibition of her life and story of the Missionaries of Charity foundation.
along with a bulletin board of "How to be a good Catholic"
(i did read this, i'm a failure i tell you - but should i admit my numerous failings, sins, etc i, of course, may be brought back into the fold in full submission as the wretched soul that i am)
and the evils of abortion.
am i being snide?
ill add that to my sins.

my religions hang-ups aside.
she did some cool shit.
(i'm amusing myself. bear with me.)
and im intrigued by some of her more personal statements (i.e. "the darkness within")
yet another thing to add to my book list.
help me please.

down the street from "Mother's House" is the orphanage.
where we came to learn the following important points:
1) you must be married
2) you must be catholic
3) there is a waiting list
4) there is currently no adoption relationship with the United States or Japan
5) should you care to adopt you must show that you are incapable of having children
because (of course) should you happen to be blessed then you ought to be having your own children (never mind the countless already existing beings that need love and homes around the world)

right then.
good to know.
and we strolled out.

Michiko and i then, after this brief stopover, passed on the idea of going to the home of the sick or "Pure Heart".
i think we were done.
and so we found food, another rickshaw, and returned to our charming temporary dwelling.
i napped.
i have no idea what she did.
but the general point was that we had no desire to do much of anything at all.
and that was perfectly fine by me.

we did eventually venture back out.
walked a wee wee bit. ate some more (we are so so good at that).
drew out our meal over tea as we would back home (to the irritation of the establishment which happened to be turning tables like there was no tomorrow- the more westerners the better!).
michiko and i are parting ways tomorrow.
overall. this has worked out well.
i thought we might kill each other.
or at least want to.
we're best friends.
what else to expect?
but i think we have already come to thoroughly know one other's irritations and quirks.
and developed ways to counter them over the years.
so same interactions.
but different scenery.
and hm - smells.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leaving Darjeeling

i had waited four days for heaven to once again appear and it failed me.
god must be running behind.
i had full intention of getting up at the crack of dawn because that is when i was informed that should the mountains choose to reveal themselves at all in these winter months - they do so then.
in the early morning.
upon waking up at 5:30 am.
i was cold. very very cold.
(my little clock stating 14 celsius though i swear it felt colder than that.)
and i had no desire to leave my bedding.
none. whatsoever.
and i felt surely.
the mountains would understand.
we were mentally linked.
and perhaps.
if today were the day.
they would delay their arrival by just a wee wee bit.

eventually we had to get out of bed.
pack up our belongings and catch the 9:15 toy train back to New Jaipalguri.
lots of guidebooks recommend the toy train.
its a UNESCO world heritage thing i think.
one of the UN things anyway.
has a plaque and lots of blessings bestowed upon it.
(by orgs that like to bless anyway)
old old train. old system.
in India.
can you imagine?
the ride down was supposed to take 7 hours.
(the ride up via jeep took 4)
yet we left at 9:17am and did not arrive at the NJP station until 7:12 pm.
in the middle of it all for reasons still unclear to us
there was a strike.
who precisely was striking-
why they were striking-
and how productive said strike was-
is also unclear.
but it delayed us by 2 hours
and then there were repeated back-ups
where the trian literally needed to back up on the track and use a different one
or something of the sort
then there was the time when a bit of metal from our car got caught
some pole flew off apparently
(or some pertinent piece of metal flew off anyway) and with each hit against
something along the trail
said metal kept curling and curling up
eventually getting stuck on a particularly narrow piece of track
and hence we then had to back up just so they could hammer the piece down
with rocks!

when michiko and i had bought that train ticket two days prior
expecting to arrive at the station at 4pm
and noting that our train to Kolkata did not leave until 9 that night
we felt mildly irritated that we had to sit in that same train station (the one we spen a night in the waiting room) for another 5 hours before leaving.
in light of the actual events of the day of transportation.
i must pass on another piece of advice for india travel.
should you happen to be taking one mode of transportation to catch another mode of transportation
allow yourself no less than 5 hours in between in order to insure
that you will not miss the second leg of your journey.
(and still allow time for an omelette meal)

the most important note.
on the way down.
is that that solid white sky did part for some brief few minutes.
and once again the himalaya appeared as they had on our journey up four days prior.
(ill indulge and pretend they were saying goodbye)
its better than the castle in the sky idea you know.
a grander magic.
the top of the world right there
better than pictures or movies or documentaries.
theres that same sense of insignificance when facing an ocean on an empty shore.
but in such a sense you find peace.
your own niche in the rhythm of the world clearer and sharper than before.
and it was just a small piece of them
and so far off
but i could see.
i had needed to see them again as my first look had been a blur-
a sleepy daze.
but there they were
and though still faint through the mist
those peaks were solid-
cutting into the blue.

Darjeeling Day 3

last full day in Darjeeling.
and we decided to make another trek upon the same road (this being the farthest yet) out to the Tibetan Refugee Self-help Center.
the name says it all.
they support themselves primarily through carpet selling which they make right there.
on the premises.
from scratch.
in lovely lovely patterns.
certainly more interesting than the rugs we were shown in agra (though they did feel lovely, they just were rather typical of the rug world)
before that.
i must note the most fantastic bun in the world.
the taifon.
at least.
that is what i think its called.
or taifo? tofu?
there is a t.
and there is a f.
the vowels are still mysterious.
michiko swears its one thing.
and im sure its another.
no matter.
we took photos.
and i will look it up!
because it fucking fantastic.
large steamed bun with cabbage, some possibly not-quite meat and whatever they use to season it!
served with a flavorful broth and pot of hot chai.
its the most excellent breakfast.
at Dawat. again.
they knew us there by now.
lovely people.
back to the Tibetans.
and our long long walk.
should you ever go to Darjeeling.
i really do recommend getting out of the city center.
get beyond the dingy and wet.
though lacking in cows (and therefore lacking cow shit - woe is me) its not precisely beautiful.
taking a stroll beyond all that.
is charming.
and occasionally when the sky clears a wee wee bit you can see the hillsides (though the himalaya had yet to reveal itself again) and all that green and its beautiful.
the houses along the way in bright coloring and fresh paint and porches lined with bag after bucket after pot of flowers -
oh! i loved it really.
really really.

the refugee center was good to see.
however much smaller Tibetan community than in Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj.
600-some i think is the current number.
but we were able to speak with a woman who worked in the hospital/clinic.
i had walked up to ask some basic questions and only after saying that i'm a nurse did she relax, smile, and take michiko and myself around their small facility.
primarily based upon volunteers from abroad.
for example currently they had a doctor from Taiwan who was assisting them for three months.
she did note something interesting in that currently, the tibetan refugees were not the only patients of the clinic. the poor of the surrounding communities also came because the service is much cheaper than in the main city of Darjeeling.
but generally they were only able to provide care dependent upon who was able to work.
again - for example - they currently had no ob/gyn provider and so were unable to focus specifically on those issues including pregnancy.
two Tibetan women worked (and lived in the settlement) as "unofficial nurses" but had done so for so many years i'm quite sure they knew what the hell they were doing, nevermind credentials. (i have credentials and still dont know what the hell im doing but dont tell my manager i said that)
medications were a blend of current and expired and usually provided by donations.
i felt so charmed. this particular woman walking us around and working so very hard with her english (i feel so helpless at times - seeing people attempt to communicate in my language and i not even knowing a word of their own)
but then i think im developing a Tibet-crush.
and i spent a good 20 minutes just attempting to think up who in my life could possibly need a rug just so that i could buy one from them.
we spent some time just wondering the compound which includes a home for orphans, a home for the elderly (though the way those men and women move up and down those steps...) and a nursery.
in the end i grabbed a business card as the woman from the clinic stuck in my mind.
im so so tempted.

the sky had opened up for us a little that day.
but still the himalaya was in hiding.
and i had to laugh - the primary reason for my bothering to endure a 24 hour journey to Darjeeling was for the mountains.
the view.
but thats alright i suppose.
all things in due time.

Thoughts mid-scrub

so it occurs to me - after i just uploaded a few more blog entries.
that perhaps ive been bitching a bit much lately.
have i?
our minds tend to dwell on the negative and so i hope i have not seemed horribly discontent.
im rather the opposite actually.
but there is the worry.
a misrepresentation.
its such a difficult thing.
this attempt at expression.
when for every thought i have a dozen others and truth is annoyingly relative.
concerning my scattered mind and each passing moment.

these are the things one thinks about when squatting on a dimly lit closet of a bathroom occupied by a fair number of cobwebs and feathers (Michiko and i suspect there are pigeons living in the crack of the ceiling) scrubbing away at the grime of a Kolkata day.
ive come to love my bathing via bucket.
water conservation and all that.
when at an acceptable temperature at least.
the luxury of being american.
i can save the planet when it suits me.

back to the bitching.
i only feel the need to clarify perhaps - well whatever i think in my mind might need clarifying but is not actually making itself clear to me at the moment -
that india is lovely.
in that all places are inherently lovely.
ad the onus is on the passing traveler to learn precisely how.
and i have only come to experience (i couldnt even say know - how does someone come to -know- an entire country or even city or even corner in simply three weeks? well perhaps the corner... full of red betel spittings....)
a small piece of this place.
and while i rant at moments. its one subset of emotion in the midst of many.
very very many.
and while my body may feel the need to vomit as we pass yet another pissing man (really the number of men ive seen pissing in the streets is possibly more than ive seen my entire lifetime) and walk over his hot fresh stream flowing downhill - i wonder what it would take to change this.
in an abstract sense i wonder these things.
ive read a little. only a little.
to get a general overview of the government set up. the economy. healthcare.
public health for that matter.
its all a bit of a jumble in my head really.
hard to tease out much of anything.
so dont ask me.
youll get a blank stare.
but despite that.
i get that its hard to run this country.
thats my summary. (clever. why yes i am.)
hard. difficult. challenging.
not that leading any other land is a piece of a cake.
but india is just particularly weird i think.
and so still.
even on a small scale. i wonder what programs can be (or have been) in place.
what it would take for people to stop shitting in the street. (ive also seen one too many bums lately...of the buttocks kind that is)
what it would take for a few more trashcans and for them to actually be used.
(though the "USE ME" statements really are entertaining)
michiko came up with the idea of paying people per bag of trash collected.
give the poor some work. and clean the place up.
i think its genius.
told her to write PM Singh.
if she wont. i will.
who knows how far it will get.
but even then i wonder.
where the hell will all those collected bags go then?
and this leads to the thought of US trash collection.
landfills, etc.
sure the streets are clean (well. relatively.)
but i doubt our consumption is any less.
we just put in in big piles in somewhat out of the way places and cover it up.
at least Indians are honest.

somewhat superficial thoughts.
amidst so many other concerns.
im currently reading a book on India-China relations (wild wild silly shit - love people. wheres the love?).
but then my cynicism rears its latte-addicted head and i simply feel the need to kick back and watch the world destroy itself.
though i think India would manage it in far prettier clothing.

Darjeeling Day 2

good morning to a party outside our door.
laughing. yelling. arguing. trampling about.
by the time we finally forced ourselves out of our respective warm cocoons (and into the bathroom to pee) the crowd had dispersed.
but a 7 am wake up call when we were so bloody exhausted from the trip up to Darjeeling is just not on.
and so coupled with the lack of hot water-
we checked out.
(as in literally)

hunted down a new hotel at a higher price (yet still only 700 rupees = ~$14)
and wondered what the hell happened to the pleasant weather of the day before.
Darjeeling day 2 consisted of the fog reaching further and further into town - surely to grip us tight and into some freezing hell.
fog is really rather strange like that.
(by the way what precisely is the difference between fog and mist? i've been labeling them whatever i feel like it)
ominous. penetrating. encompassing.
some other -ing words.
and still.
only air.
how weak our little bodies must be.
so easily conquered by nature.
and how consistently chilled we felt the entire day.
no number of chais or soups would chase away the shiver.
and to soothe my unhappy head i bought a hat.
knitted of many colors. with little ear flaps and lined in flannel.
god is good.

but before that.
i must say something about singing.
everyone sings.
well. not everyone i suppose.
well i imagine they all do at some point in their lives.
but not necessarily all at the same time.
in that i heard them all at the same time.
my point.
we have heard a great deal of singing in india.
by common people.
who, at times, sound worse than me.
but still.
its all so lovely.
i have no idea what they are saying.
but they have no shame. no hesitation.
its all out singing. (and this is not even inclusive of the chanting - thats something else something entirely)
or humming.
at the restaurant. in the store. monuments. rickshaw drivers. chai makers.
everyone. everyone. everyone.
and it only suddenly occured to me.
in Darjeeling.
as michiko and i awaited breakfast in Dawat Restaurant (which we recommend except for the pancake - big thumbs down - stick to the traditional foods).
two family members (they all ran the restaurant together) were crooning away.
one obviously better than the other. (the sister being superior of course - hail to the sisters!)
but no matter!
it may have been nepali. or hindi.
but the singing itself is soothing regardless.
particularly on this early morning when my body craved any little warmth.

now then.
back to the day. i wanted to see the himalaya mountain institute (HMI).
and so off we went a-walking.
the same road of the day before. away from traffic.
past tea farms and the odd church (of which exist, i feel, a disproportionately high number)
past viewpoints that on a clear day would show the hills and mountains beyond but today proved to reveal not a damned thing.
on and on until we reached what turned out to be both the zoo and the HMI.
very well then.
i suppose we will check out this zoo as well. (i was quite excited actually as its been some time since i've been to the zoo - any zoo)
and it proved to be a rather charming surprise.
between the snow leopards and some sort of orange bird (orange seems to be a popular color in india) and wolves (which for no precise reason reminded me of my dog and hence miss her - possibly because two of the 5 wolves present were in a particularly playful mood and they do seem rather dog-like then)
incidentally himalayan wolves are the oldest species of wolves.
i think thats right.
or what the little description plate told me.
red pandas. michiko's cutest (i still vote for the wolves) animal of the day.
and mr. tiger.
i had thought originally in my plans for india to see a tiger/nature reserve (i.e. seeing a tiger in the wild) -
i dont even remember the last time i saw a tiger in the zoo.
there is no distinct memory in my brain wrinkles so the idea appealed to me.
im rather glad i didnt.
because this particular zoo tiger.

MR. tiger.

was vocal. and solid (you cannot imagine he was anything but pure muscle)
and had very big teeth.
these fantastic roars which half of us watching tried to emulate even if no sound came out, there were mouth movements happenings (myself included) and he was agitated.
pacing pacing pacing.
staring at us then pacing roar pacing roar pacing roar again.
if i had come across such an animal in the open with no fence between myself and all that roaring.
i would have pissed my pants.
i feel the decision to cut out the wildlife reserve from my india itinerary was an excellent choice.
in the end.
i still saw a tiger.
and he saw me.
and we parted ways amicably.
each of us in one whole piece.

the HMI institute was interesting actually.
though somewhat shabby exhibit labeling and descriptions.
still the items displayed appealed. tenzing's equipment used.
the actual flags from the various countries that once stood atop mt. everest with each successful climb.
along with relevant articles and photographs of so many different climbers over the years.
i felt so inspired i grabbed a brief summary of courses offered.
basic mountaineering is a month long course, $650 incl room and food.
im so so tempted.

and that was our main event of the day.

at some point in time we ate at
this ridiculously cute (and cheap) little spot of barely held together painted wood - more like a shed than a proper building - but cozy, tidy, and warm within.
everyone jumping over one another to switch out seats as someone else finished.
michiko and i ended up sharing a 4 seater table with two locals who were particularly useful in that we had the chance to examine up close how exactly they ate their thupka via fork and spoon
(and in turn recreate it somewhat successfully)

after a long trek back to our new hotel we were ready for a hot bucket bath.
and thank god.
for once.
there was truly hot water.

and really random (but entertaining to me anyway) indian programming on tv.
i think a soap opera can be recgonized anywhere in the world.
between the sudden close ups and large moist-but not quite crying eyes india has done its part to add to great tv programming.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Darjeeling Day one

the original plan was to hunt down a hotel outside of the New Jaipalguri train station and continue on to the next part of our trip to Darjeeling the following morning.
that was dependent upon arrival at said train station at 10 that evening.
we took a chance and ventured out of the station past midnight to locate a hotel.
half of which were not even opening their doors and the others either full or just taken by other arrivals (and at double the normal prices).
so we gave up.
and headed back to the station.
after a delightful tour of Siliguri via rickshaw at nearly one in the morning.

a quick meal of fried egg and chai before we fell asleep, exhausted and scattered, on the waiting room chairs.

6 am and enough light in the sky to try this town out again.
getting a share taxi to Darjeeling itself proved easy enough.
and as we meandered our way back and forth up the mountain road for 4 hours, the temperature began to drop as the sun rose, the forest thickened, and little concrete houses in teals and pinks dotted the roadside.
but the kicker.
was that people had flower pots on these hills.
flower pots and new eyes.
and wild marigold and little flags of yellow, white, and green on every pole, door, wire, car, store, bike, and window we passed.
welcome to gorkaland.
(or so they call it. im not entirely sure its official.)
full of nepali-indians and those of nepali heritage.
and sprinkle in a few indians, tibetans and those of bhutan as well.
a rather different world.

and as we neared Darjeeling there was a brief glimpse of the himalaya.
entirely too brief.
and breath-taking.
do these folks ever tire of it?
do they not love it still?
could i grow and live in this land and find it commonplace?
i couldnt imagine.
and i still wonder what they feel.
and see it over and over and over again.


we wandered. after locating a hotel and food and wondering if we really should have worried about the cold considering we both felt rather comfortable on that sunny afternoon (of course we were right to worry). just strolling along. exploring.
the chaos is different here.
still horns and terrible driving. and throngs of people.
but teenage girls and boys stroll along arm in arm.
a dozen different school uniforms fill the sidewalk - of older children and teenagers (not only the littles ones as we have normally seen)
middle aged women in more western wear or some traditional hybrid mix and nepali men in smart leather shoes and gelled hair.
take a staircase up or down from the main road and the world shushes a little.
and its green. so green. thick and misty and moist.
and take a few more staircases up or down and you realize how horribly out of shape you are.
that the old lady hobbling up ahead is moving faster and steadier than you can possibly manage despite being 40 years younger.

we liked this world.
and spent the afternoon walking about, trying the tasty thukpa soup, and admiring the hard work of countless tea ladies and their basket loads dotting the hillside.
as an extra note - it happens to be black tea preparation time.
november being the last month of leaf collection.

all was well.
the air was cool and fresh (when walking far enough outside of the main town - otherwise its all exhaust fumes - only a bit wetter than normal - dripping smoke)
until the sun set and we returned to our room.
freezing and only then did it occur to us that heating systems didn't exist around here. the water would not steam and we were shivering in our underwear, our breath visible puffs in the air.
we dove under the covers, still unclean and dreaming of hot water.
it was over. we knew.
soon to die in our bed. little dirty japanese and american icicles.
and i started actually missing the sweltering heat.