Honeymoon in India
text by Emily, photos by Preston
WE LEFT FOR THE AIRPORT 12/16/2005
The malaria tablets we took a week in advance were the 1st clue we were about to start an adventure. We packed light, and said big goodbyes to our 5 kitties, leaving them multiple pans of water and food. Late that afternoon, Preston and I left for Chicago's O'Hare International airport. We didn't wear our coats because we didn't want to drag them around in India, so we were a bit chilly. It was 22 degrees - not bad for December. My hair was still wet from taking a shower before dashing out the door. On the el-train we said a prayer to bless this, our sacred, long-delayed honeymoon (we've been married more than a year, awaiting this opportunity). It took us over an hour to get to O'Hare via the el train, and we made our way through the maze to the international terminal. On the tram I called my son Justice to say a short hi and bye, not sure when we'd be speaking again. But knowing that I would be half a world away from him - literally - next time we spoke.
There were 8 of us going to India together. Preston and Mona J. are in an Indian-influenced band called Karma Sutra, and when the Jethmalanis heard we wanted to go to India for our honeymoon, they graciously invited us to accompany them on their semi-annual holiday trip. At the terminal we met Mona and her boyfriend Joe (who we fondly call MoJo), Umesh (Mr. Jethmalani) and his elderly mom (in a wheelchair), plus Mona's brother Anish and jos girlfriend Michelle. There were so many Indian people in the terminal! After chowing on McDonald's, we went through 2 security gates before getting on the plane. It was a 747 - huge! We were right in the middle.
The plane lifted off at 9:15pm for the 1st leg of our journey: 3,946 miles, approx 7 hours. The in-flight "entertainment" was sitcoms. Ugh. We tried to sleep, but were too excited. We arrived in London at 9:30am, the middle of the night Chicago-time. We had to deplane to a no-bathrooms waiting-room in Heathrow airport. Apparently, air travel has become a lot more strict since the terrorist attacks, so we were not allowed to wander at all. Worse, the vending machines were in Eurodollars only, which not a single one of the 300 of us had. All we could do was eye the food and water. Bureaucracy in action.
The next leg was 4,186 miles. It took nearly 8 hours, and, since we were traveling against the clock, my sense of time was completely disoriented. I took a sleep-aid pill, but drugged sleeps are often not restful, and this was no exception. We landed in Delhi where many people left the plane, but not us. We were on to Bombay, or Mumbai as it is now called. Preston and I were pretty psyched as this was the last leg of our loooong journey. There were only 1 hours to go and our butts were SO sore!
WHAT HAPPENED TO DECEMBER 17TH? 12/18/2005
We arrived in Mumbai at 6:00am local time, Sunday morning. When you travel to the opposite side of the planet, you lose an entire day in transit. The only time December 17th existed for us was for about 90 minutes as we had the short layover in London while the plane was cleaned and restocked. At this point, it was 7:00pm in Chicago, and our adventures were really about to begin. It started so unexpectedly...
You see, after such a looooong plane ride, I really had to pee, so off I walked into the first bathroom in the Mumbai airport. There they had "local" and "western" toilets. When I peeked in one of the stalls for the Indian toilets... it was merely a hole in the porcelain floor. Conflicting thoughts crossed my mind ... "When in Rome", quickly followed by "I'm an American". The latter prevailed. Fortunately, I had a roll of TP with me.
We were told "Drink no water but bottled - ever" and "No uncooked foods, ever". I was told I would really be sorry if I did not heed these warnings. Punishment would be severe - brutal intestinal distress (that was the nice way to say it).
This was my first time through customs. Umesh handled it. He had the paperwork for all 8 of us, and we were grateful to not have to sort everything out individually, though it put a burden of responsibility on him at every airport we went through.
The airport's janitorial staff wore purple saris. It was dark, just before sunrise, when we stepped outside the terminal. It was pretty quiet, but there was a chaotic energy in the air, and we were very jetlagged... a great recipe for confusion. Our hired driver was late, giving us the opportunity to watch the traffic on the terminal strip build slowly over the next hour. The vehicles looked very odd to me until I realized the steering wheel was on the wrong (right) side of the cars, not the left. There were little cars called "rickshaws" but not the same as the Asian ones. They had 3 wheels and were powered by a motorcycle engine, and steered like one too. They had 2 seats in the back, or space for 2 passengers anyway. The rickshaws were covered, but there were no doors. It was OK since the temp rarely dropped below 45 degrees (F) in Mumbai, or Delhi. That's about 10 degrees C since India is metric.
With my inexperience, I did not see differences in people except that they had lighter or darker skin, dressed western or ethnically. At one point, a young woman and little boy about 3 years old were pushing a luggage cart past us - right in the street - with a huge plastic bag balanced on it. A little girl about 6 was pushing a similar one behind her. When they went past us, the big bag fell from the girl's cart. Joe started walking over to help the girl, but Mona stopped him "Don't - that's garbage". It dawned on me then that this woman and the 2 children were "untouchables". Members of the lowest class... the beggars. In the street, the woman helped the girl get her bag balanced back on the cart, which must have been 3 times her size. Their clothes were tattered a bit, but the woman wore a deep green sari which wrapped her small frame. And despite the frayed edges and smudges, the brilliant color came through. None of them wore shoes, but that did not seem to matter as the skin of their feet resembled leather.
People were looking at us, at our hair in particular. Blond hair is not common in India. It was fascinating to hear the birds, and the foreign tongues being spoken as the sun rose. We saw mostly Indians, but also travelers from a few parts of the world, many with backpacks. Our car took a while to arrive, so it was full daylight when we left the airport.
We loaded our luggage onto the rack atop the car, and piled in to go to Mona's Aunt's condo. The traffic had really thickened in the last hour. Our driver (bravely? recklessly?) launched headfirst into traffic, and instantly many things appeared wrong - the least of which that we were driving on the wrong (left) side of the road. There were vehicles of all sorts - cars, SUVs, buses, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians - all weaving chaotically, at varying velocities, and always within touching range of each other. Every vehicle with a horn was honking wildly, gentle non-stop beeps, constantly saying "I'm to your left", or "I'm right behind you", or "Get out of my way." The stoplights, stop signs, and lines on the road indicating lanes appeared to be suggested guidelines only - nobody heeded them. It seemed like utter chaos to us. (Preston said another prayer for all of us to live through this seemingly insane traffic!)
The speed of our car, lurching forward whenever there was a little "daylight" in front of us, then stopping suddenly as a bicycle or truck crossed our path, was disorienting. The other vehicles speeding around us in all directions at once it seemed... it all created an odd adrenalin rush. The vehicles wove back and forth and around each other, usually missing each other by mere inches... or less. Most of the time you could have stuck your hand out and touched something else sharing the road with you - that close! People would just walk out into traffic without looking to see if there was a break in the rushing cars, expecting the cars to slow down. Which they sometimes did, but usually the drivers simply tried to go around any human or vehicular obstacle with out changing speed. A thousand times a day our driver would miss hitting someone only by inches.
That was the way everyone drove, or walked, or rode their camel or bicycle. Even motorcyclists drove this way. We'd even see families of four on a motorcycle cruising down the highway, the woman in a sari sitting sideways, with children before and aft. Instead of slowing, cars honked as if too say "Watch it, I'm here. At intersections, our car would slow down a few mph and weave around any other vehicles passing through the intersection. At most intersections all the cars simply moved forward toward whatever other road they wanted - all at once. No one stopped and yielded, but they all charged through confidently, narrowly missing each other. It was, indeed, a harrowing experience.
Most of the driving in India was as if there was a Cub's game letting out of Wrigley Field, and a Bear's game about to start at the same spot, and as many people were leaving as were coming, all struggling to get in or out as quickly as possible, all at the same time, constantly jostling for position. But this was with taxis and Jeeps and pedestrians and oxen and bicycles and motorcycles and beggars. It was astounding to witness, and frightening to be squeezed into the back seat of a careening vehicle! On day three, Preston moved up front next to the driver to really experience the thrill, and it all changed for him. He actually started to enjoy the craziness, like being in a live video-game. From then on he road up front regularly.
Everywhere I looked there was human activity in SO many forms. I noticed dilapidated wood or corrugated metal shanties erected in every nook and crevice, between other buildings, in front of them, around trees, between lampposts... Any place there was a small patch of land - say 6ft by 8ft and larger - not in the road, someone had erected something. Many buildings were incomplete - whether they were not yet completed, or had been abandoned and were in a state of decay was impossible to tell. Nearly every building was equally filthy on the outside, new or old. Why were there so many huge high-rises sitting empty, surrounded by make-shift shanties? In many places families were sleeping on blankets, on the few patches of sidewalk and empty lots, always barefoot and oblivious to the never-ending activity surrounding them.
Jetlagged, dizzy and fatigued after weaving through the rushing cars, we arrived at our first stop, Mona's Aunt's 4th floor condo. Going up a narrow stairwell, the texture and color of the tiles on each floor was very different. Some doors had gates, all had different front doors. Streets and buildings were not clearly marked, or even marked at all. We learned that mail may be delivered to "The brown house across from the gas station on Currie Road" for instance. We relaxed in the condo for a bit, teetering between excitement and exhaustion, but grateful for the chance to finally stretch our legs. After a few minutes of rest, and impatient to witness this strange new land, Preston held out his hand to me "Let's explore". We headed downstairs with camera in hand.
At street level, we were met with more stares. I guess that it was blatantly obvious we weren't in Kansas anymore. I took a picture of our building we so we wouldn't get lost - with no addresses to go by, we could easily not find our way back. Turning left, our senses were assaulted in new ways. While driving, every thing had been an exhaust-filled blur of seeming chaos. But now we were seeing the colors immediately around us in all their texture and décor. With eyes of wonder, we saw this chaotic street from a new view... strolling rather than hurtling.
There was no clear boundary where the sidewalk ended and the street began. So we just stayed out of the way of traffic. We knew the people here were deeply spiritual, it was obvious and all around us. There were images of Ganesh, Shiva, Hanuman, Krishna, Radha and more... everywhere... on buildings, cars, trucks, temples, on the various shrines and shanties we passed, even on the trees. Most, if not all, cars had some religious symbol on them: hanging from them, glued to them, written or painted on them. Garlands of flowers, tiny plastic statues, Hindi writing, and more variety of design and iconography decorated them. A popular decoration on the trucks was a piece of string tied to the front grill with peppers beaded on it, ending with something like a small lime.
There were street vendors selling colorful food items: fruit, herbs, and vegetables mostly. Sometimes we would smell the garbage coating the streets, other times incense from the small shrines that were on the sidewalk, sometimes manure from the cows we saw walking calmly along - or in - the road. But mostly there was a mixture of pollution and mild rot that had no specific source, and hung heavy in the air.
We noticed a fascinating habit among locals where many of the people would look at us and move their head in a "bobble head" fashion when we smiled at them. It may have been the equivalent of a shrug or nod for them, as we would see this gesture a lot from many of the native Indians we encountered.
We walked a couple blocks and crossed the street to return. It was not easy for us to cross streets in India. We looked to our left before we stepped out, only to realize we should have looked to our right. Even looking to the right was questionable in India. Vehicles mostly stuck to their side of the road, but like all transportation "rules", this seemed to be ignored at will. So there would sometimes be vehicles going either direction on either side. Preston remembers being in the front seat at night when we drove around a long walled corner at high speed only to see a car backing up toward us in our lane!
The 1st thing we saw upon crossing the street was a temple being constructed, well on its way to looking majestic. We gazed at the carvings in the walls of men on elephants, and got to see some décor for a wedding being prepared on the grounds. The hanging flowers were beautiful. A group of uniformed women marching in formation passed us, all gazing at us before turning into their academy. They were followed by men marching, but in casual clothing. Some were very serious about their marching, others were very out-of-step and seemed to be having the time of their life pretending to be soldiers. An interesting parade it was.
Preston and I returned to the condo, and a car took all of us to the hotel. Each couple had separate rooms each night of the whole trip, whether in hotels, or at Umesh's friends and relatives. We gratefully showered and then collapsed into sleep for a couple of hours. We arose somewhat refreshed and hungry. Our driver took us to a restaurant where we had our first Indian meal (besides Air India). Outside, we were approached for the first time by a beggar. He was a little boy, no older than 3, who met our eyes and made a beeline for us. Persistently tapping our legs, he put his fingers to his mouth in a sign that we would see frequently, asking for food or money. We smiled at him and just looked, not sure how to react, though we'd been told that if we gave any money we would be suddenly surrounded by dozens of beggars; that we both - with our blond hair - were clearly a mark.
Around 10:30pm our next stop was Ju Beach. It was a blur of activity with markets, vendors, many young people... all abuzz at this late hour of the evening. We walked along the shore and the beach which was covered with litter. We heard a wedding party behind a wall, and saw fireworks a bit farther down the beach. The breeze was cool and very damp, what a nice winter this was.
Returning to the market we stopped to have some really tasty kulfi (Indian ice-cream), followed by another fast and bumpy car ride to the hotel. Our room had no clock in it. Little did we know there'd be a certain timeless energy to our journey, and this was just the beginning.
We watched a bit of Indian TV, what fun! It put a smile on our faces to hear conversations in Hindi peppered with English phrases... and with a British accent to their English. The sleep that came to me that night was almost staccato. I'd drop into a deep sleep, only to awaken to full attention having NO clue as to the time. No clock, you see.
ON THE ROAD TO BOMBAY - 12/19/2005
When the sun did come up, we went downstairs for their continental breakfast. I totally spaced on the "no raw foods" rule and got some tomato slices with my eggs. Anish and Michelle reminded me just as I was about to take a bite of the tomato, and I left it untouched.
When our driver arrived, we piled into a car to go to downtown Mumbai. On many of the drives we had 2 cars. On some of the others, only 1 - so there would be 7 of us and a driver all packed in to a small SUV hurling at high speeds through traffic. (Umesh's frail mother stayed with relatives as the rest of us visited India together.) Even though the road was super-duper busy, we were only in a suburb of Mumbai, not yet the even more congested city itself. That was to come.
We passed many shantytowns, and what seemed like thousands of businesses, some only a few feet wide and deep. Vendors and beggars approached the cars even on 6-lane highways as the traffic flowed like water through the streets.
Whenever we slowed down we were approached by children selling newspapers or books or dvds, and young beggars. I looked into their eyes and at their faces, noting that many of them appeared to be the same age as my son Justice. And even though Justice is on the skinny side, these children showed clear signs of malnutrition. We rode by their "homes", shanties erected in any and every place they could be erected... in alleys, next to buildings, sometimes whole neighborhoods of filthy shanties with rusted tin roofs, all in front of 3-story homes and 6 story apartment buildings.
During this ride, Umesh talked about the deep corruption in India - in the police force, in the government. He spoke of the maltreatment of beggars, saying that in most of the shanty-towns there was a mini-mafia that would deliberately injure the beggars so they appeared more haggard and desperate, thus earning more rupees from tourists. After what seemed like an hour of this talk, I couldn't help it, I started crying. I leaned into my husband's ear and said "Isn't there anything good about this place?" He got the message immediately and asked Umesh "Can you tell us something good about your homeland?" Umesh seemed to understand. Perhaps that is why he was living in the USA, though he clearly loves his native India.
By this time I had lost my appetite but knew that I needed to eat. We went to a restaurant which had an animatronic life-size Santa Claus in it. The food was of multiple cuisines, but like in America (where we Americanize everything) this place was "Indianized". Between the strange (and not always wonderful) smells, seeing the dismal poverty everywhere, still hearing Umesh's tales of the strain and struggle of this culture, it seemed like more than I could bear. I felt my mind wanting to say "No, that's enough", but I did not find that refuge. What I did find was that in a very short period of time, this place that had occurred for me as a beautiful and mysterious mythology was now very real, and it was thrusting itself fully into my consciousness, whether I liked it or not.
I was trying to process everything I had taken in. Maybe culture shock was the accurate description, I'm not sure. This land, which I had read a lot about, heard of in many stories both written and oral, and seen in many movies, was confronting every part of me: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
Not having an appetite at the moment, I needed to feed my body. I ate the most unthreatening item I saw on the menu... veggie shish kebabs with curry sauce. It tasted good, but I know I did not enjoy it as much as I could have. There was an overwhelming undercurrent of fear about eating the food - any food. When Preston and I would go to a restaurant on Devon Ave. (in Chicago's "Little India"), I never encountered the fear I was now feeling. Even in the less-than-perfectly-hygienic restaurants on Devon, I was never in fear of what I was eating. This fear of food was an entirely new sensation, and it was uncomfortable to say the least. But we'd been warned by numerous people that the hygiene around food was sorely deficient compared to US standards. Therefore it was easy to catch an Indian bug we had no innate defenses for. Heeding these warnings, we had no fresh (uncooked) food for 2 weeks.
We all walked to the Gate of India in Mumbai. A little boy of about 3 approached us asking for rupees. What set him apart from the other beggars is that he was wearing nothing, absolutely nothing.
I fought back tears as I gazed at this small naked boy. He was very thin, with skin like toughened leather, and no sheen to his matted hair. He followed us for a bit asking each of us for rupees. Like all children beggars, he put his fingers to his mouth, then to his tummy, then held out his hand. Over and over, he - and all the beggar children we met - carried on this ritual, with sad, sad eyes. He gave up on us and turned back as we approached the massive Gate.
Gate of India was a beautiful structure, high and proud against the backdrop of the sky. We walked to the boat docks on the other side. There were a few small diesel engine boats, similar to the tour boats that bank along the Chicago River... and for the same purpose. We and about 40 other people boarded 1. There was a sign, posted in English, which read "Absolutely no picture taking allowed", which people ignored. I was still getting through my culture shock and did not want to talk or interact with anyone else. Preston and I had never left the American continent before. We'd never even had passports. How does one process some foreign change of this magnitude, especially the poverty amongst the wealth and beauty? (and the fear of food.) Suddenly I felt a great deal of admiration for many people I know (and those I don't) who'd given up the comforts of our culture to dive into missionary/world assistance work.
btw: One such person comes to mind: Danny, who used to live at our home Section X. He is in Africa now, helping people build and maintain bicycles (made from scrapped parts gathered in the States and shipped to Africa in huge bulk containers) so that the Africans have both transportation and a skill. What a powerful and amazing self-less sacrifice on his part. I also felt very small. Here I am, a healer, talking about "healing in the world", and having a hard time after just 24 hours in a foreign land. I was outside of my Self. More on that later. Back to the boats
Our boat passed a line of similar boats tied together, tied to buoys. One of our crew jumped over to another boat as we passed. We putt-putted steadily from the dock into the sea and I noticed 2 things. The first was why there was a "no pictures" sign: I found myself looking at a real live aircraft carrier! And it was SO big! As the thought "I wish Justice could see this" raced through my head, I saw a battleship in the water. There were several very, very large ships there, silent and foreboding: the Indian Navy. It simultaneously gave me a sense of apprehension and security.
The other thing was the garbage floating in the water all around us. It was just like the beach we had walked along the night before. Empty water bottles and refuse everywhere. People on the boat would finish a bottle of water and just toss it over the edge to bob and ebb in the sea. Strange.
We saw many ships of battle on this short water tour. On the way back, we saw an island fort, a concrete mass in the middle of this bay, with guns and turrets on it, and a guard who circled the edge, looking like a large ant from our distance.
Pulling back up to the dock amid a cloud of diesel exhaust, we stepped onto land and into a crowd of Indians wanting to board for the next tour. We walked through the square by the Gate of India, noticing the horse-powered carriages for hire, along with the little taxis. Preston asked if I wanted a carriage-ride, but I wasn't too interested.
Crossing a very busy street, we walked into The Taj Mahal Hotel. It was very lavish and luxurious - high end. They had a beautiful cascading waterfall sculpture with bronze statues of deer bending down to drink. The entire interior was marble, inlaid with more beautiful and colorful marble. Further inside, we found a bookstore that carried a ton of local Indian CDs. We marveled at each price, automatically converting to $ in our heads and getting our first taste of how mighty the dollar could be. Hoping we had hit jackpot, we bought a lot of interesting sounding titles and headed out to find the rest of our party and the driver.
A beautiful crimson and orange sunset lit our way as we cruised on a highway that reminded me of Lake Shore Drive - it was in fact called Marine Drive - and we were right on the shoreline for much of it. I was out of my shell-shock a bit by now. Gazing at everything we passed, I noticed more buildings in various stages of building or decay (it was always impossible to tell, since all buildings were soot-stained) mixed in with the shanties and the high rises. This ride was as dizzying as the 2 before, cruising through traffic made up of all forms of vehicles and modes of transportation. Back at the hotel, Preston asked the staff if we could switch rooms hoping for a front view of the street below, and they accommodated us, yet still no clock. After surveying the strange street scene, we watched a bit of TV and sank into a deep, but not necessarily restful, sleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night, I did not know if it was much later or only a bit. Once again the room had no clock, but the street outside was dark and mostly empty, a huge difference from the day. The room-service menu had Southern Fried Chicken. "Why not?", I said. It was fried, should be OK right? I watched the darkened street through our new front window while waiting for the food, seeing some human and canine activities continue even this late into the night, both looking through the garbage piles. Occasionally a rickshaw or a motorcycle would barrel through, and then there was silence. It was comforting to know that Mumbai sometimes sleeps. And the Southern Fried Chicken tasted good. : )
FLYING THE GOOD TIMES TO DELHI - 12/20/2005
Our 5:00am wake-up call had us bolting out of bed even before the sky began to lighten. With sleepy eyes, we headed back to the Mumbai airport. I didn't even know where we were off to, just that it was time for the next leg of our adventure. The 3 couples amongst us didn't have airplane seats together, so what we called "seat drama" began. We all agreed to switch seats to be able to sit with our partners, and on many flights we'd ask a stranger to move so we could sit with our respective "honeys", and mostly they obliged. We breezed through security, only my 2nd time being searched since arriving in India. We were on (trumpets please) Kingfisher Airlines! Yep, we got to "Fly the good times!" in a brand new super-clean airplane. With glamorous flight attendants serving excellent food, and a very good in-flight music selection, we found Kingfisher to be the greatest airline experience we've ever had.
Delhi was very foggy, and the city had a very different energetic feel to it. It was a bit hushed compared to Mumbai, less tense. The driving, however, was no less crazy. This style of mad-herd driving was becoming normal to us, as crazy as it was. After weaving through traffic, we pulled into a driveway and saw Mona's Great Aunt's home... a 3 story house in an enclave that felt more like a US city. She was a kind woman, and we had fun trying to communicate since she spoke little English and we knew no Hindi.
After a cup of tea and some toast, we stowed our baggage and headed to the first Indian temple we would have the honor to experience. It was the new Swaminarayan Akshardham temple just outside of New Delhi, (http://www.akshardham.com/, check out this website!!!). Opened to the public a mere 6 weeks before our arrival, it was not yet quite finished. We shot a few pictures outside the great edifice because cameras were not allowed beyond the front gate. From a distance, with a bit of fog as the foreground, the temple loomed high, and the energy of it was beautiful. We were searched on the way in. From the start, the sheer magnitude of this beautiful temple amazed us. It was so tall, and seemed to go on and on farther than we could see. Details of the stone and marble came into focus as we drew closer, and we could now see the intricacies of every part: from the pillars, to the insides of the domes, from the stone and marble on which we walked, all the way to the top of the spires... The detail was immaculate, perfectly symmetrical in arrangement, but with tiny, subtle, unique differences. It had all been carved by human hands, with no electric tools. One dome had dozens of bells hanging from the inside by thin chains. Seeing the sunlight twinkle off of them was absolutely beautiful!
The main part of the massive temple was surrounded by a frieze of 144 huge carved elephants, in assorted storytelling positions: washing themselves by the river, playing with their children. We were directed to a small window to check our shoes. How thrilling to feel the cold-but-very-sacred ground beneath our feet. We entered the temple to see an 18ft gold statue of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (who we'd not heard of). (http://www.akshardham.com/ photogallery/monument/index.htm See the pictures at the bottom of the page in the middle... it's the golden statue inside). There were statues of many of the Hindu Gods, of vibrant color, and the decoration took our breath away with its stunning beauty and magnitude. We were told 300 million man hours of work went into building this temple. Suddenly this temple held a new meaning... it was a living example of the devotion of these people.
We meandered around the outside and admired all of the carved elephants and peacocks. Each statue or relief had been hand carved from solid stone, and was perfect in form. In silent awe, we walked through this massive building complex and back to our car. Whew. Off in the car to the Gate of India in Delhi, and the Parliament! On the way we were again approached by beggar children. One ran up to us when our car was gridlocked for a bit. He did the usual gestures. Preston decided to take a new approach rather than just shaking his head "No. He looked directly in the young man's eyes, put his hands together as if in prayer, and said "Namaste" to the boy. His little dirty face lit up! And he offered the same to Preston: "Namaste" ("I honor the Light within you; it is the same Light that shines within me".) Preston's relationship to beggars started to transform, but there were more lessons to be learned.
Eventually we pulled over and began walking. We saw vendors selling all sorts of wares. More accurately, they saw our "tourist posse" and made a beeline for Preston and I in particular. One vendor caught my eye - a snake charmer! This is where I found out about Preston's fear of snakes. This snake charmer walked up to us with a little round basket and set it down. He took the lid off and drew a flute out of his bag. I'm sure it was theatrics, but dang what great theatrics!! When he played the flute, the snake - a very real, living cobra - obediently rose from the basket, spreading its beautiful hood. I told Preston "Go hold it!!" while I readied the camera to take pictures. Preston knelt down carefully and held out his hand. I said "smile!" to him, as he warily touched the snake. He said "I can't smile!", but I got some good pictures anyway. Then I handed the camera to him and got down next to the snake itching for the chance to hold (!!) a live cobra. I was sure that the handler or charmer' milked the cobra daily (at least I hoped so). He would not let me hold the snake myself. We gave him 100 rupees for the experience, and were very happy to do so. Touching a real, live, snake charmer's cobra? Priceless! After seeing the Gate of India and the monkeys on the Parliament building (yes, real monkeys live on the high roof!), we grabbed a bite to eat at... Pizza Hut.
The Indian version of Pizza Hut was appealing, and not too different from our pizzas back home... just with local styles of topping combinations. Very delicious.
The sun began to dip in the sky just a bit and we went to a tomb which we found later was also a mosque called: The Quwwatu'l Islam, or "The Might of Islam". We took a LOT of pictures, as did MoJo, because this place was rich beyond belief with stone arches, carvings, towers, columns. Our professional photography friends would have had a field day in this mosque, as the opportunities for beautiful shots were abundant. http://www.boloji.com/architecture/00016.htm.
Preston said he'd never before encountered such a beautiful visual feast! Astounding textures of ruins, stones, gateways, paths, arches, windows... Many of the beautiful pictures (20% of the total we took during the entire trip) we took are in the folder called Impressions of India, by Preston. One picture that was fun to take was when he balanced camera on a stone wall and asked me to pose in a dozen places in the same scene. Then he Photo-shopped them together... (it's India Impression # EK insert here)
The arches that rose tall and red were a sharp contrast against the sky while Umesh spoke of the history. He walked us through a lot of it, telling us what the writing on the arches meant, what these grounds had preserved. It was fascinating hearing him weave the tales.
The complex symmetry was astounding to us. The organic stone felt cool beneath my hands. Running my fingers over the carved words and beautiful designs, I thought "My God, this is 800 years old". There was a wild energy to the place, feeling at once both manic and reverent. I imagined the flurry of activity witnessed by these relics. I placed my hands on the stone and closed my eyes. I saw images of figures moving and shouting in darkness. I don't know if I was picking up the energy of the place, or projecting it based on the history that Umesh had illustrated with his words.
We didn't get to see the whole tomb/mosque because the sun was setting. One short and hectic car ride later, we arrived back at our host's house and crashed hard.
Once again, I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night. The streetlamp cast a very odd light on the drapes, and for awhile I thought it was dawn. When the light did not change, I rose and looked outside. Beyond the streetlamp, it was still the deepest black of night. As usual, no clock. I ate a granola bar and went back to bed, praying for sleep. I woke up again later, noting that the light in the front drapes had not changed, but we were on the go again... off to Agra!
THE ROAD TO AGRA! 12/21/2005
We piled into 2 cars, hitting the road at dawn for a very long day. Yes, the Taj Mahal! The mist was heavy in the air, casting the country under a blanket. Our first stop was a small rest stop where we enjoyed omelets, toast and tea. A man with a monkey was on the grounds, and a few men with an elephant in the parking lot! MoJo and Michelle climbed aboard, and the huge mammal, led by one of the men, carried them around the yard. It was my first time being close to creature like this. Preston videotaped it, walking around to include the scenery as well.
Back on the road again, our next stop was the Tomb of Akbar. It was a beautiful day, very warm and pleasant. (http://tdil.mit.gov.in/CoilNet/ IGNCA/agra039.htm) "December, without even a jacket!" I thought to myself. We met a guide there, a man about 5' 5" who spoke many languages, just like Umesh who speaks 6. He had an old voice, not many teeth, very bad eyes with thick glasses, and he started telling us facts about the tomb, sounding like a warped tape recorder on replay. Which was, perhaps, how he learned to be a guide: pure repetition. We listened to his words as we walked through the tomb's gate: a high arch, topped with domes signifying how many years it took to build the tomb (14 I think). The entire structure, inside and out, was covered with beautiful mosaics... designs, writings, images. We spent a good portion of our entire India trip with our jaws open in awe, amazement, appreciation, shock, or simply processing. This place was no exception.
Once inside the main gate, we were on a walkway separating 2 huge fields. In these fields were gazelles and monkeys, grazing leisurely. How perfectly symmetrical the structure was! We listened to our guide as we walked. He told us who was buried in the tomb, the family of these royal figures. We walked down a long hallway to the main tomb, which was deep inside the structure, and its large windowless inner room was lit by a single hanging lamp. The acoustics of the large room - plus this single small yellowish light - created an eerie energy. Preston, Mona and Joe sang a chord a few times to see how long the sound waves reverberated. I believe it hung in the air for 3 full seconds!
Back on the road to Agra, we passed small towns that sprang up on the sides of the road. I saw a man, wearing only boxer shorts, splashing murky water from a 55 gallon drum over himself. In the countryside I saw school children walking along the road, realizing that they would have quite a ways to walk since we saw no buildings for miles. The dust and smog in the air flowed like a heavy fog on a humid morning. We could actually see it moving in wisps through the trees and over the country fields.
The ride to Agra was long, about 3 hours, but the country highways were not packed with vehicles like the cities. When we got to Agra, most of the roads were like dirt covered alleys... very narrow and bumpy, also ever-twisting. Traffic was bumper to bumper again, but with only 1 or 2 lanes. We got to see many people, including a truck packed with about 50 men of all ages and backgrounds, some wearing turbans, many without shoes. They smiled and waved. The traffic often moved very slowly because we were nearing the Taj Mahal, so street vendors approached our cars to sell us all sorts of trinkets: carved jade elephants, peacock-feather fans, marble chess sets, etc. We pulled into a near-full parking lot. Our driver told Umesh that we could not drive to the Taj Mahal, but would have to take a rickshaw for security reasons. A beggar crawled up to our car, he could have been no older than 13 or 14. I noticed that his feet were gnarled and disfigured while his knees were callused and tough, like his hands. I smiled and shook my head to his outstretched hand and he crawled to the next car.
We met a young Taj Mahal guide, likely in his early twenties, who spoke excellent English, and impressed Umesh who hired him. He ran alongside our rickshaw and met us outside the security entrance. We were growing used to being searched. The men went to one line, and I and the ladies to the other. This search was a bit different. The woman who patted me down started at my sides and went up, patted the front of my chest, then placed her hand on my left breast. My eyes widened and I looked right at her and said "Hello! My name is Emily, maybe we should be on a first name basis!" while smiling at her. I think she got the message because she immediately removed her hand, smiled at me, bobbled her head (the familiar Indian trait) and said "Thank you". I don't think she knew what I said, but I got a good laugh out of it.
Besides being searched, I was starting to see the major differences in security between our two countries. India had seen major fighting and invasions on its land for centuries, plus recent terrorist acts. The United States had a few wars on its soil (forgive me for not knowing our war history, I find war depressing, and didn't pay attention much to those sections of history class)... mainly with Great Britain, then Mexico, and a civil war. But India had seen a lot of blood shed on her own soil, been subjected to rule by other nations, and was still at major risk, with potential enemies much closer than ours. One of the temples we visited later had actually been attacked by terrorists, with 13(?) terrorists dying in the fight. On our trip, many of the soldiers and guards appeared to be relaxed despite the rifles they had slung to their backs. But as lax as the guards were, I felt that they were ready, if needed, to spring into action and use the weapons they had beengiven.
Inside the security gate, we were met again by our Indian architectural friends... symmetry and intricacy. Every structure - and there were many - was immaculate - even the areas where the builders of the Taj Mahal lived as it was built. (http://www.angelfire.com/in/ myindia/tajmahal.html) The outside gate of the Taj was made of the hardest marble in the world, and inlaid with semi precious stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite, turquoise, and more. It was built by a king in honor of his second wife. Our excellent guide spoke nonstop about this story for 45 minutes - and he was the rare guide who actually knew English (rather than memorizing a spiel) so we could ask him questions. A romantic king spent 22 years building this massive and beautiful tribute to his wife. As we walked to the Taj itself, passing green grounds and water-ponds, I kept touching surfaces as much as I could, taking in the cool marble with my fingertips, tracing the designs. In one of the gutters
I managed to find a small chip of this hard marble, about the size of my pinky fingernail, as a gift for my son. I pocketed this little treasure for him as I gazed in appreciation at one of the Great Wonders of the World.
Inside the Taj, we were only able to see a replica of the tomb (the original was on the ground floor... we were 1 floor up). The public is not allowed to see the actual tomb, as it is decorated with precious stones of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and the Star of India... a beautiful stone that always shows a star in it when the light hits it. Our group was silent as we walked through, full of wonder.
After leaving the Taj Mahal, we went to the Agra Fort which is within viewing distance of the Taj. Made of red stone and marble, this fort was built to imprison the king who built the Taj Mahal! We had a new guide, someone who did not speak very good English. When I asked him "Does it rain here a lot?" he looked at me, bobbled his head, and nodded, smiling. There was not a hint of recognition on his face. I suspect he memorized the English he needed for the tour, so we loosely followed his guidance.
This huge Fort seemed to go on and on and on. Inside the fort's walls there were more buildings, and lush gardens that were very colorful despite the fact that it was winter in India. There were many spots near the edges where the railings were really low, about knee height for me, with a drop of 80 feet to the valley below! I got a bit of vertigo standing by the edge while Preston was taking pictures. It was easy to imagine how an army of men could defend this position.
There was even a room for the king's massive harem. Apparently (according to the guide's memorized spiel), the king had a harem of hundreds of women. So he was with a different woman every night if he wanted. And if one became pregnant, she was beheaded. I found myself wondering with macabre amusement what the pro-choice and pro-life camps in the US would have to say about that, but didn't say anything.
Again, there were monkeys on the rooftops, and they gazed at us with boredom as we left. I'm sure they were used to people's cameras being pointed at them by now! We stopped at an Indian restaurant on the way home and I got to have butter chicken there. With enthusiasm, I found that the butter chicken served in this fine restaurant was exactly like the butter chicken I ate at our favorite restaurants on Devon Avenue (aka Little India).
The 3hr night ride home was long and bumpy. It was dark and little was visible in the countryside. We were exhausted from walking all day, and with so much new information. Mentally I was processing all we had seen and heard: the structures with their attached dramas, romance and tragedies. Physically I was recovering from the walking. Emotionally I was still overwhelmed by the intense beauty of India, offset by its severe poverty in the midst of wealth. (In the cities there would be an "Internet Café" next to shanties, a nice hotel with a dirt road in front, with cows and dogs meandering between the SUVs and motorcycles.) Spiritually I found myself powerfully humbled by the solid spirit lives of these people.
We fell into sleep from exhaustion, with full bellies from the delicious food. Later, Preston told me how he opened his eyes for a few minutes during the ride to see a man jump off a moving bus (which had slowed down a bit). He landed on the hood of a car - in the dark of night. The bus driver yelled at the man - who just jumped off the hood, waved and kept running. Crazy! We trudged into the house to find that our bed had blessedly been made for us. Preston and I took a quick shower after getting instructions from our driver on how to turn the hot water heater on (it's not always on like in America) ... "When you turn it off, do it with a dry hand or you'll get quite a shock!" speaking of the standard European 220 lines that came into the home, not our meager 110! Then we crashed... hard.
AIRPORTS, GANDHI AND MCDONALD'S - OH MY! - 12/22/2005
We woke up in the darkness before dawn again on this Thursday morning to find human activity up and running in the household. After a light breakfast we headed to the airport. We were off to see the Golden Temple. The drivers took us to the airport, cutting through fog as thick as smoke. This fog - the thickest that I had seen in my life - was like driving through a cloud at 70kph (kilometers per hour). We'd see cars in front as only tail lights... then suddenly as brake lights.
We arrived at the airport, and had that familiar feeling of getting close to the security agents (at least I didn't feel the need to be on a first name basis again, as she did not get as intimate as the last her one). We got comfortable in the terminal, waiting for our in-country flight. I glanced out the window noting that there was NO maybe 10 feet of visibility at most. Many flights were delayed, and the airlines had started canceling flights too. As we sat in the terminal for over an hour, a fight broke out between an airline employee and a passenger. The passenger's wife had asked the employee a question, and he said something insulting back to her. By now we'd noted the pride in these people, and although we'd not seen anger or road-rage, they were quick to defend honor. So this passenger stepped in to defend his wife. The employee reacted by hitting the passenger and it escalated from there. Everyone was watching the incident with great interest, as there
was nothing else to do since we were all stuck waiting for the fog to lift. Nothing else happened, but it left hundreds of us collectively in a state of high tension. We were on edge, with no outlet for it and still tired from getting up at the butt-crack of dawn.
Two long hours later we were told our flight was cancelled due to fog. Being American (or maybe just being Us), we thought "It is what it is" and gathered our things to leave, grateful that we had not checked any baggage. While waiting in line to get our money back, Umesh heard that a news camera was outside talking with people about the fog. He said to Anish "Hold my place in line" and went outside. 1 minute later, he was talking into a microphone with the news camera on him, gesturing wildly. When he came back inside, he got back into line with us and told us that he spoke of the unrest at the gate, how the airlines didn't know what the hell they were doing, and how they treated people unfairly. I thought "Well, I affirmed this to be an adventure from the get-go, and I am TOTALLY not disappointed!". How cool is that?!? Our guide to India made the nightly news!
We figured out a new itinerary for our un-expected day in Delhi. Umesh decided that we would see the Gandhi Memorial first, then the Red Fort.
We arrived at the Gandhi Memorial (http://www.gandhisamadhi.org/). Just outside, with Umesh's help, Preston bought all the peacock feathers a vendor had. There was a wide entrance gate that said "Rajghat" on it, with Gandhi's Memorial inside. The path ahead of us was long and narrow, and very clean. This was the cleanest place we had seen in Delhi. The area was calm, free of the incessant honking we had grown so accustomed to. A guard was next to a sign that said "Please remove shoes". As usual, we took our socks off as well. We wanted to feel the ground beneath our feet, with nothing in between.
The cool ground felt good. Just inside, there was a plaque called the Gandhi Talisman. I thought of the song "One Tin Soldier" which spoke of a tribe's greatest treasure being their commitment to peace. So spoke the "Talisman". It is Gandhi's greatest words carved in stone, treasured by these people (and others).
I remember a story Preston told me about Gandhi... A woman came to Gandhi and asked him to tell her son to stop eating sugar. He said "Come back with him next week". The following week, she returned with her son. Gandhi, true to his word, told her son to stop eating sugar. She looked at Gandhi and asked "Why couldn't you just tell him this last week?" His reply... "I had to stop eating sugar".
We walked into the Memorial area. It was not a statue, but an eternal flame in the center of a square that was approximately 50 yards long and wide. The walls' surrounding us were 1 story tall, with walkways on top so people could walk see the center of the Memorial from any side. Plaques on the walls, engraved in Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, English and more languages, were the words of Gandhi for all to see. There were a couple of trees, and a wild looking male devotee with long braids was busy taking care of the property.
In the center of the Memorial, set on a black marble base, was the eternal flame in a rectangular glass box. There were fresh flowers and incense in Gandhi's honor, and people steadily came in, paid their respects and left. A plaque on the front of the marble said HEY RAM in Hindi. These were Gandhi's last words. I felt the energy of love, appreciation and reverence there. We strolled around the wall, reading the plaques as we could, gazing at the foreign words of the others.
There was a man grinding stones for one of the paths. Preston wanted a bit of the residue to make a paste from the dust of this sacred place, as it held the energy of Gandhi's Memorial, and the reverence of the Indian people. We brought a small bottle's worth back to Chicago to use in a ceremony.
While we were taking pictures, a bird really let a load go on Mona's camera bag! I think it was the nastiest bird bombing I have ever seen. It is a wonder she didn't get any on herself considering Preston noticed it when she had the case slung over her shoulder. The guys did their best to decontaminate the bag. As we reverently left the Memorial, I got a really beautiful shot of Mona with Joe. I realized that we had not been searched for a change.
We headed to the Red Fort. We did not hire a guide, but wandered through the Fort ourselves. This one was even larger than the other fort. These people took their forts seriously! It completely beat any sand castle, snow fort or couch-cushion fort I had ever built by a long shot. : )
The inside seemed to go on forever. There were whole buildings inside that had been barracks. There was a huge field in the center where troops used to line up and march, and a large throne-like structure where - you guessed it - the king would sit and address the troops. We got many beautiful pictures. In some of them you can play "Where's Emily?" because I hid in a distance window, or I would poke my head out from behind a bush.
Just inside the gate was an interesting complex with many vendors. We bought some bindhis that Umesh haggled for us... we got price from what the woman was asking! And the price we got??? Even the initial asking price was a fraction of what we have paid on Devon. These bindhis would last us for awhile. They also had Hindi statues, masks, meditation bells, instruments, jewelry. Later we wished we'd bought more items there as it was the best "souvenir" market place we saw in all of India.
We were feeling pretty hungry, so we hit... an Indian McDonald's! There was a guard searching bags. He poked through mine as I tried to read the menu. When I got to the counter, it was fun to see the prices in rupees, and the alternate menu. I was hoping for a Big Mac, but no such luck anywhere in India. The cow is sacred, so any "burgers" listed were really veggie burgers. They had the "McAloo" which is a potato burger. I ordered 2 chicken sandwiches and a coke, saving 1 sandwich for a late night snack.
We returned to Umesh's aunt's home after dark. Because of all the walking, the remaining jetlag, and the pollution, we were exhausted. We all showered and crashed.
AGAIN I woke in the middle of the night. This timeless-ness was becoming the norm by now. How funny it would be if we never have a working timepiece in our rooms on this trip. (I could have been a psychic.)
Our gracious hosts were Umesh's aunt and uncle. They were very kind. Her son is in the U.S. getting treated for bone cancer. We saw pictures of their family among the paintings and sculptures they displayed around the house. One room had a hospital bed. Apparently their son had stayed there. I said a silent prayer for them to get through their challenge. They had a pet boxer dog named Tyson, which was the first pet dog we had seen in India. All the others were strays. Our hosts' driver was very friendly, and they also had male and female housekeepers. None of them spoke much English, so most of our communications were simply "Chai?" and friendly smiles.
A BEAUTIFUL STORY... BAHAI AND THE BEGGAR GIRL DECEMBER 23RD 2005
After waking and crashing as usual, I woke early and called Justice. I knew what time it was in Wisconsin because I brought my cell phone and did not change its time. In fact, I set the alarm for when I knew Justice would be at my mom's house in Two Rivers. We talked for 3 minutes. It was great to hear his voice, telling me about school, punctuating his stories with knock-knock jokes. I missed him dreadfully and thought about the distance between us. My mind could not wrap itself around the concept of 11,000 miles.
We headed to the Bahai Temple in Delhi. We spied a music store on the way and tried to remember where it would be located on our way back - not an easy thing to do with few addresses or street signs. The Bahai Temple is shaped like a 200 foot tall lotus, standing high and majestic against the blue sky. Our drivers dropped us at the front gate. We were not searched, but welcomed to the grounds. A white marble plaque at the entrance described the Bahai faith. After 25 feet on the path we turned a corner and there was the Bahai Temple about mile away, bursting from the skyline. As we approached, it loomed larger and larger. The landscaping was beautiful, with colorful budding bushes and flowers lining the path. The energy was so loving. It reflected the unity of the Bahai faith which encompasses all spiritual paths.
We removed our shoes and socks and noted that the ground here was really chilly. Walking up the steps to the base of the lotus, we were met by a lovely female devotee. She had a lovely smile and welcoming eyes. Her energy seemed to say "Welcome to my spiritual home!" as we do at Unity in Chicago when we meet someone who is there for their first visit. She informed us that speaking out loud is forbidden inside the temple.
As Preston and I entered, the temple had a heavy reverent silence. The inside was just as beautiful as the outside, with rushing edges flying to the peak, as the walls inside the lotus. There were metal and marble signs posted depicting more phrases of the Bahai faith. As I walked around the podium, I felt a small chill run though me. I thought of the honored persons who've stood there, and who will stand there in years to come.
Preston and I sat down in silence to pray and meditate. I don't think it's possible to avoid meditating; the vibe of silence was thick. After awhile, 3 people walked up and approached the podium, 2 men and a woman. Each took turns chanting or singing for a moment, then walked back in silence. We sat in loving appreciation.
The heaviness of the silence lingered with us as we walked out. I was quite struck with the beauty of the place and the feelings it generated. I looked at the people around me with respect and happiness. A man chatted with us on the way to the temple's information center, which we entered and walked all around, reading the history of Bahai and their quotes. I bought a Bahai Parenting book for Myke (Justice's father), and Shannon.
When we left, we had the drivers find the music store. Preston and Joe were eager to see what instruments India had for sale. Once we got there, we realized that beyond the very large store window, there was a little itty-bitty storefront about the size of a bedroom. They had some guitars, a few mandolins and 3 harmoniums. That's about it. Preston tried a harmonium, loved it, and was impressed when he saw that it was about 2,500 rupees. That's about $56 dollars! Umesh talked the staff down to 2,300 rupees, which is $52, but what a bargain! It would have been 6 times as much in Chicago, easily. Happy with the purchase, we left with Preston cradling his new musical toy like Justice does on Christmas.
In India there are "cottage industry centers", which are the equivalent of small department stores. Since they are regulated by the government, the items for sale are of higher quality, not the imitations and knock-offs that the street vendors have. We were on our way to one when a beggar girl approached our car stopped in traffic. She wore a green dress and was 8 or 9yrs old, with braids in her hair, and had squeezed her way between cards and rickshaws and motorcycles to get to us. She did the gesture we had grown used to seeing of someone asking for money or food: the hand first to mouth, then to belly, then palm out to us - always with a sad face. Instead of feeling frustrated and helpless around the beggars, Preston did something new: he started making silly faces at her! Instantly her so-sad face erupted into giggles! She peeked in the car window and Preston snapped her picture on our digital camera. She shared more giggles as he showed her the picture he just took. We realized that being as poor as she was, and living always on the street, it's likely she had never seen a picture of herself! She had the sweetest eyes we had seen yet, and giggled with a joy that lifted us all up. I missed my son dearly at that moment. Soon we could see the vehicles start to inch forward. We were so scared she might get hurt. Indeed, a rickshaw driver kicked our little beggar-girl to get out of the way. Off she ran, never to be seen again. We will never forget her and the bright light she shared with us, and the lesson we were learning.
We shopped for a bit, and got a statue of Ganesh and some jewelry boxes. We returned to our host's home for the last time, packed our bags. Outside, waiting for our posse to show, Preston and I saw a rickshaw that a woman was getting out of and asked her to tell the driver we just wanted to go around the block. She said give him no more than 10 rupees' and we bounded in. I noticed how skinny these bicycle guys were, and thought their muscles must be as hard as iron if they bicycle all day and all over Delhi. He leisurely brought us around the block and back to our host's home. We gave him 100 rupees and thanked him graciously. Then we said thank you and good by to our hosts, and began the usual crazy drive to the airport.
We took a short flight at nightfall from Delhi to Ahmedabad, where we would be staying with friends of Umesh. Ahmedabad was not a city that was normally visited by tourists. It's like Minneapolis, a big city, but simply not as much of an international destination as LA, Hollywood, New York, or Chicago. (Sorry Minneapolis, nothing personal).
Joe and Mona managed to sit together, but the rest of us were spread all over the plane. There was no seating drama - we were all pretty tired, and it was a very short flight. The woman next to me got and spent much of her time in the bathroom. When she returned to her seat, I offered her some of my anti-nausea/diarrhea medication. She must have recognized the bright day-glo pink color said thank you in Italian.
When we deplaned at the Ahmedabad airport, we realized that in our hurry to board Umesh had left an important bag sitting in the Delhi terminal! It had ALL his cash in it, and we waited a bit to see if they could locate it, knowing that the odds were it had by now been stolen. We all felt bad. Poor Umesh was always hard at work getting us onto our planes via the tickets and passports he had, and we let his bag slip away unnoticed. We were reassured that the airline was looking for it, so we left the airport and headed to the homes of our hosts in Ahmedabad, hoping to get a happy call from the airline. Preston and I were able to stay in an empty apartment unit on the 8th floor, using one of the bedrooms and Umesh the other. Mona and Joe, and Anish and Michelle, stayed in other unused units.
Amazingly, our room had a clock in it! It read a quarter to 9 as we laid down our bags and set our new Ganesh on the end table in the bedroom. Ten minutes later, when it was still quarter to 9, we laughed and said "It figures". We took the clock down so it would not confuse us further and looked outside. Ahmedabad was pretty dark so we did not know what kind of view we had, or which way the building faced. Knowing that it was later than 8:45, we crashed.
I awoke at dawn to find that our window faced east, and a beautiful red sun was pouring its light all over the sleeping city. We heard a train go by a few times, and noticed the tracks about 50 yards east of the building. Drifting back to sleep, we were awoken by a very, very loud drumming-and-ringing noise. It carried on for a couple minutes, then abruptly ceased. Sleep found us again until quarter to 9 that morning. Well, not really, that's just what the clock said. : )
HOLIDAYS WITH MONKEYS AND GANDHI 12/24/2005
We awoke to the sounds of urban living, which was comforting despite the fact that it was in a language other than our own. Seeing the trains go by on the 4 sets of train tracks fairly close to our building was relaxing, and it was fun watching the varying speeds of the trains... 1 was a commuter train, 2 others were long distance routes, and 1 was a freight line. Looking across the river from 8 stories up we could see Gandhi's Ashram, about a mile away, to be visited later.
The Delhi airport found Umesh's bag! They sent it to Ahmedabad, so we headed to the airport to retrieve it. Now the question was: would the cash still be inside? With fingers crossed, Umesh signed for his bag and checked the contents. Everything was present and in order! With a collective sigh of relief, we headed to a Hanuman temple up the road.
This temple was close to the apartment. We were delighted to see real monkeys running around a temple to Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. It became apparent that we were among the first tourists they'd seen recently. Being much taller than most women in India, and with bright blond hair, I noticed that most (almost all) of the people there were gazing at me. Again. After days of this, the whole "staring at the blond girl" thing was really getting to me. At this point (and remembering our experience with the beautiful beggar girl) I figured that if they're going to stare, I might as well smile instead of glaring back and see what happens.
The transformation was miraculous. Neither Preston nor I will forget it. Instantly, people started walking up to us saying "How are you?" There was a group of young boys, right around Justice's age who started crowding together for pictures. Their faces were gleaming, full of smiles. I shared the pictures of them with the children. They laughed and jabbed each other with joy. I no longer felt separate from these people we were visiting. I suddenly - and for the rest of the trip - felt welcomed as a guest in their country. As we walked around the temple looking at the various pictures and sculptures, they asked as best they could in halting English why we were here. A devotee walked with us translating what I was saying about our honeymoon. A few of them said "Merry Christmas!" and "God Bears" with heavy accents. One of my fears about India was now dissolved in love respect and commonality.
Preston ate some Prasad and was blessed by one of the devotees. He was fascinated by the animatronic sculpture of Hanuman who opened his heart, ceaselessly, just as these people had opened their hearts to us.
On our way out we saw an ancient, tanned, wrinkled swami dressed in white. He had huge twinkling eyes. When he smiled, every part of him smiled... his face, his eyes, his energy. I've thought of that Hanuman Temple often, and I smile when I do.
Next we went to Gandhi's Ashram. Across the street was a vendor selling India's version of Coca Cola, called "Thumbs Up". It was sweeter and spicier than what I was used to. In the street a little shrine was set up decorated with flowers and incense. Witnessing the devoted and consistent spirituality of this country was amazing. It popped up in many unexpected places. Turn a corner, and there was a picture or sculpture or words to remind one of ever-present The Divine.
Gandhi's Ashram was not a "living" Ashram, but rather a memorial for Gandhi. (http://www.indcast.com/ms/ ASHRAM%20HISTORY.htm) In one area, his quotes were listed everywhere. In another area, quotes about Gandhi by his peers - many major world leaders and civil rights leaders - were displayed. I have a true and genuine appreciation for a lot of his teachings (but I don't buy any of the asceticism stuff). I love the story of how he had to give up sugar before he could advise someone else to do it, and one of his most famous quotes "Be the Change you want to see in the World". In fact, hearing the stories of how consistently and powerfully he walked his talk caused me to recommit to my path. I believe that his practice of asceticism served him well through his causes. But I also believe that the secret to living this life... is to live it full out. God did not give us these bodies with these senses, these spirits, these talents, only to have us deny them. He did not give us a world full of wonder, magic, and delight only that we might deny it from our Selves. Preston and I read through one of his quote booklets muttering "Sorry Mr. Gandhi, we love many of your teachings, but we cannot, in good consciousness, condone or teach life-denying asceticism."
As we leisurely walked to another part of the Ashram, I noticed a small group of teenagers snapping a picture of us with their camera phone. I shot them back with our digital camera. We compared pictures, smiling and laughing. With so many people coming to appreciate him, Gandhi's Ashram had an almost palpable feeling of peace throughout it. The sun was shining and it seemed to be a beautiful spring day - in December. I saw a familiar face as we ran into the sick woman that I sat next to on the plane the night before. She looked much better, but still pale. We smiled at each other and nodded, not having the common language to communicate.
A large bronze statue of Gandhi sitting cross legged sat on a small grass covered mound. We took a few pictures of a 2 yr-old girl named Priya who had walked up and was gazing intently at Gandhi's peaceful face. Facing the river, there was the small building that housed Gandhi's room, and his wife's room (Preston and I have separate rooms too; I guess if it was good enough for Gandhi... ). A simple mat and spinning wheel he used were there.
After perusing the Hanuman Temple and Gandhi's Ashram, we went back to our host's home and took a nap. When we woke up, it was a quarter to 9... again. It just so happened that a friend of Preston's from the USA was getting married in Ahmedabad that very weekend. So our driver dropped us off at the pre-wedding party while the Jethmalanis went to visit some of their relatives. At that party I saw some of the most beautiful saris and suits that I've ever seen. They were of all colors, shimmery, embroidered, beaded and bejeweled. The bride and groom were simply stunning. (www.theknot.com/ourwedding/ShivaniPatel&ParasMehta) I was in awe of the mindi that was on the bride's hands. Seeing her decorated hands brought me back to my wedding, when my hands and our feet were decorated. At their celebration, we got to see many musicians and vocalists perform. A few people gave speeches that were in Hindi and peppered heavily with English, and one friend of the groom's, possibly a best man, gave them the gift of rickshaw mud-flaps with their names on them! I guess that is some kind of tradition, because people laughed and cheered when the gift was presented. We were a bit under-dressed - make that way under-dressed. While the other guests were in such gorgeous garb, we were wearing jeans and sweaters. Despite our dress, we were very welcomed, and we thoroughly enjoyed the celebration.
As we were waiting for our driver, we had a chance to talk with a couple of the musicians. One was a man named Riccardo, originally from Italy, now living in Ahmedabad. And Mukesh Gandhi, a kind man and excellent mandolin player who owned a music store in Mumbai.
After the Jethmalanis picked us up, we had dinner at Pizza Hut. Although it was tasty, it didn't stand a chance against the pizza in Chicago.
That night, we slept and when I woke up at a quarter to 9 (he-he), it was still dark. As I drifted back to sleep to the sound of trains far below, I thought "Hmm, I could get used to this insomnia".
MERRY CHRISTMAS! 12/25/2005
A couple of hours later, at the crack of dawn, we were once again yanked from sleep by the very loud sound of bells and heavy drumming, even at 8 stories up. After listening to it for a moment, Preston remarked that though it sounded like actual drums, it must be mechanical because of the rhythm. Mechanical drums? He got up and looked down from one of our windows to see that there was a tiny temple right outside our building. Wondering if the sound came from there, or if we'd missed some kind of parade 2 days in a row, we decided to investigate later.
Saying Merry Christmas to each other, we rose and joined our hosts for breakfast. They served chicken sausage with omelets and another malaria tablet for each of us. They also served some really tempting slices of tomato and cucumber. We had not eaten raw fruit or vegetables for 8 days, and were really fiending for the fiber, roughage and carbohydrates that we had been missing. Umesh assured us that the fruit was OK to eat, that is had been cleaned with safe water, but I was still leery of it. Preston ate quite a few pieces with hesitation, his desire for fresh vegetables being greater than his fear of the local raw food. Still, he told me later that there was little enjoyment in eating food when filled with fear.
We asked one of our hosts about the temple downstairs. He led us to the tiny marble building, which was erected in honor of Shiva. He spoke of how people come to pray. We entered the temple - sanz shoes - and he showed us how to pay respects to Shiva by pouring water over a small statue of a flowered cobra. There were brass pots in the temple for that purpose. He told us of how people were happy for their karma, for the life given to them by Spirit. We found the source of the loud drumming in the form of a real, physical, drum machine. There was an electrical motor that made 2 mechanical hammers furiously strike a large drum. It erupted into life so abruptly that we jumped even when we saw it switch on. No wonder we heard it clearly 8 stories up!
We set out to go to a new temple. It was another Swaminarayan temple just outside of Ahmedabad. And older one that had been attacked a few years ago by terrorists (all India's temples and sites were more easily accessible until recently). While waiting in the security line, I noticed I was almost a full head taller than all of the other women there. I loved seeing the many varieties of brilliant saris on women, with such vibrant colors. Seeing a crowd of sari-clad women was like seeing a rippling rainbow walking along a sidewalk. It turns out that Sunday is also a day many in India take off of work, so there were long lines of parents and children spending the sunny, warm day at this temple.
A beautiful, ivy covered terrace covered the walkway almost to the temple itself, and to our left was a small amusement park on the grounds, adjacent to the temple. As always, we removed our shoes and socks to feel the grounds beneath our feet. I tried to imagine the people who've walked here before me, but it would be more than I could possibly imagine.
This temple was immaculate in beauty and detail, like the other temples and landmarks we had seen. Here I was able to touch some statues (in the others I could not due to barriers). I touched as many as I could, including the columns with small statues carved into them, all created by human hands.
Since tourists were a rarity this far out from the bigger cities, we were approached by a few of the devotees who told us the history of the temple, and about Swaminarayan. They were so kind, and one wove beautiful stories about how Swamin was the reincarnation of Vishnu. When we returned to Chicago a week later, I sent a thank you email to that temple. That same night I got a response! They remembered us and told me the story-telling devotee was named Jagrut Patel. It was wonderful to experience their delightful hospitality once again.
On the way out, Preston asked Mr.Raisingani, a silver-haired lawyer and our Ahmedabad host, if he came to this temple often. He wisely replied "No, rarely - only when I have tourist friends visiting. God is everywhere, why should I go to a temple to find Him?"
We stopped for some kulfi at the snack shop. Preston tried kesar pista, which is saffron ice cream. It had a spicy flavor to it, stronger than anything I'd ever tasted before, like incense mixed with the smooth cream. We commented that nearly everyone we saw here was typically thin, except for some of the tourists. We passed the amusement park which was in full swing now, with kids and parents playing in the sun.
I love the idea of having an amusement park on the grounds of a temple! I could almost hear the voices of my fundamentalist upbringing saying how wrong this was in so many ways: A temple worshipping the reincarnation of Vishnu, plus it was a tribute to the many Gods of this spiritual path. Now and then the voices of my past teachings pipe up. But this fleeting pang of disproval passed immediately, and was replaced by a sensation of delight. This place was about celebration. How fitting to celebrate devotion to one's spiritual path, and have an amusement part to further enjoy this life experience. Preston and I have been to a Krishna temple in Chicago, and marveled at the outright celebration of spirit there. Same reason why I've enjoyed kirtan chants.
Since it was Christmas day, we inquired if there was a Christian church we could. Umesh found one just outside of Ahmedabad, complete with small manger scene in front. The front doors were locked, but one of our guides found someone to let us in. We entered the church, which we think was Catholic, removed our shoes and sat down at the altar to say a quick prayer of thanks, of blessings for our hosts, traveling companions, and our families. We investigated the manger scene. It was set in a desert (with no snow). How beautiful it was to see Christmas in this country so much closer to the Holy Land.
We went to our host's country-club for lunch. That's when Joe ran into difficulties. In an effort to curb the motion sickness he had been suffering, he took a Dramamine. I've never taken one, so their effects are unknown to me, but it hit him hard, causing him to feel drugged and disoriented. Our guide suspected the malaria tablet was contributing to the effects of the Dramamine. All we could do was wait it out.
Umesh wanted to see another old friend, so we stopped at a high-rise apartment following lunch. Joe and Mona waited in the car while we went up. The elevator played an electronic version "It's a Small World" when the doors were open. What a bizarre, yet coercive method of insuring the elevator door was always left closed.
We noticed that many people in Ahmedabad had little wads of cotton in their ears. We were told that it was "To keep out the cold air". A bit puzzled, I said "What cold air?". I was reminded that it was indeed winter, and December. Apparently the cotton worked as earmuffs, protecting their inner ears from the cold. I found this amusing, especially since the temperature was 22 degrees F. when we left, and this was a warm, sunny day. It was also 22 degrees here, in Celsius - an almost 50 degree difference.
Driving back from the country to Ahmedabad to pack for our flight to Mumbai, our driver stopped for gas. A huge plastic Santa Claus stood between the gas pumps. Santa was very disturbing. Instead of smiling, he appeared to be sneering with intense eyes. This Santa was lacking in those qualities which made Santa Claus appealing. It was outright creepy. Michelle made the comment "Gives new meaning to he knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake' and Silent night - deadly night'". And though we laughed, and posed for a picture, we didn't want to get too close.
We returned to our hosts' home, packed our suitcases and said goodbye to their wonderful, loving family. Joe was feeling very sick. Not only was he reacting to the adverse effects of the medications, but he had also contracted some kind of food poisoning. There was not much we could do for him but head toward our flight.
It dawned on me that airports have a narcotic effect on me. Now (3 months later), if I suffer insomnia, I imagine that I am in an airport. This quick knock-me-out works like a charm. We listened to the drone of the announcer speaking in Hindi, Gujurati, and English. We headed to the gate when they announced our flight. On the tarmac, our hearts rose to our throats when we saw our plane: a twin engine propeller plane that looked like it had been in service since the 70s. It even had ashtrays in the armrests (they'd been screwed shut). This was Air Deccan, and was the opposite of our Kingfisher experience.
We boarded from the rear of the craft, and it was open seating. We made sure Joe had a seat near the bathroom, and then we got 2 seats next to each other, stowing the harmonium safely in the overhead compartment.
The propellers roared to life, taking me back to my flying lessons so long ago. This airplane had the feel of that student craft, mostly because of the small space we were all packed into, but also hearing the sound of those propellers. It was both exhilarating and frightening. As rose above the night lights of Ahmedabad, I bid farewell.
Landing in Mumbai 100 minutes later, we welcomed the warm night air on our skin. It was about 20 degrees warmer - maybe in the lower 70s even after midnight. The car jolted and bounced to the hotel. I'd grown accustomed to it. Exhausted, we all checked into the hotel and found our rooms. The first had no windows, so we immediately switched. The next had a view of the street, which we both wanted. Watching the constant ebb and flow of this culture was fascinating. It was more interesting and dramatic than TV. We quickly dispatched the cause of the strong scent in our room: moth balls. They were placed everywhere -in drawers, in the shower, under the desk!
It was still Christmas day at home, so I called Justice to say Merry Christmas. I missed him very much, and my family's crazy holiday party. I had an already regifted grab bag gift from 2 years before (Electronic Yahtzee!) that I was planning on regifting to some other family member - who knows how many years it will be passed around? Justice reported his gifts - 20 toys! He was anxious to get back to playing, so I told him a bit about the elephants and the cobra, and let him return to his toys. Feeling hungry, I ordered a pizza from room service, then jumped in the shower. The hotel was pretty luxurious, and included piping hot water in the bathrooms (at certain times of the day) with impressive water pressure. Every surface was cut from beautiful black marble. It was the best shower since leaving Chicago. I savored the shower, but the pizza was pretty far from Chicago "pizza". I give them credit for trying, but I come from a land where this staple of my diet is abundant, and of the most delicious quality, so this was no contest.
As usual, I woke during the night having no clue of the time, and no clock in our room. Laughing to myself about the utter timelessness of this adventure, I gazed out the window. The buildings seemed to sleep, as the street below still crept with activity.
WATCH OUT FOR THE KABOBS! 12/26/2005
The following morning, Preston and I slept-in peacefully. We ordered breakfast, and I had a chance to check email in the lobby. I sent an email glimpse of our adventures to a few of our friends. Mona reported that Joe was feeling better, and that we would be going out for some shopping later. Until then, Preston and I had a chance to explore the streets a bit.
As soon as we stepped out the front gate of our hotel, all our senses were assaulted. This was our first venture without our guides or companions. The streets were teeming with people enmeshed in their busy-ness. Students walking home from school, men and women working, driving... everywhere there was a flurry of activity. There were vendors on the street, set right in front of stores that were fit so tightly together that some had spaces just 10 feet wide. Every gangway and narrow street showed even more stores with cashiers calling to us to see their wares. Many of these narrow streets were no wider than Chicago's alleys. We found a nice shop that sold women's clothes. They had saris and pre-made women's suits, and sari fabric too. Preston and I looked through the clothing, but only a few stuck out. One top in particular screamed YES when I tried it on. Quickly converting the price from rupees to dollars, this beautifully embroidered and beaded top was merely $18, and included a lovely scarf and pants. Not feeling like haggling, I bought the top and left.
Feeling good about our little adventure, we wondered if we could find our way back to the hotel. Noticing that all the streets curved, we walked in the direction that we thought we should, but we'd lost our sense of direction while looking at everything around us. Getting directions from a passerby, we walked some more. None of the streets were marked with signs. There were large marble signs at intersections, naming the intersection (not necessarily the streets), but nothing that resembled a street sign. With a more assistance we made it back, then had a bite for lunch. I ordered veggie kabobs, but they did not resemble any kabob I'd seen. Turns out they are totally different. I didn't have any, but - as fate would have it - Preston did. We are certain those kabobs were the culprit for Preston's adventures that would begin later that night.
We all piled into a car went to a men's clothing store with Umesh's cousin Sonu. Preston bought a long pyjama-shirt to wear - beautiful and simple. Anish picked out 20 shirts (give or take a few) to buy. Then we headed to a CD store, picking out a lot of music to get a good taste of the Indian music scene. The little bit of money we brought to spend was going a lot further than we originally anticipated.
Whiel on this journey, some beggar children approached us again, this time 2 young girls, maybe 7yrs old. Preston and I were in the rear of the SUV, and these girls came right up against the back window glass, tapping on it. They were both so cute, looking like they were trying to suppress smiles by wearing sad faces. They seemed to be best of friends. Preston had one last chance to bid Namaste to these lovely people, so he did so - and both girls broke out in huge smiles and giggles! They smiled our car-full, and waved, and bid Namaste back to us. It was very touching. Both sides had gotten past their "act", ours: rich English tourist; theirs: poor Hindi beggars. We met, clean and clear-eyed, simply as humans. After a bit of giggling, which we also succumbed to, the girls began begging again, but with full smiles instead of fake sorrow. Preston tried one more approach. He returned their gestures of begging, with a smile, putting fingers to his mouth, to his belly, and then an open palm out to the 2 girls. They stared incredulously, then squeeled in delight! Hopping up and down, the clasped each-other's hands. Unexpectedly, one reached down and picked up a bag of Cheezits(!) as if to hand it to Preston "the beggar"! We all got a big laugh as our car suddenly lurched away, the girls running happily off to another tourist vehicle. They had touched our lives. I can only hope we touched theirs.
Joe was bouncing back from his bout with bacteria, so we decided to shop more by going to a store that sold lots of costume jewelry. I had fun saying yes to much of what we looked at, knowing I could sparkle and jingle with every movement. We walked out the door, and that's when the veggie kabobs struck Preston.
His face got suddenly pale, and he rapidly broke into a full body sweat. Finding a place to sit down, he yelled "Empty your bag, quick!" I dumped my jewelry and he proceeded to throw outside the store while our driver was summoned. Apparently Preston wanted the full India experience, and he got it. We drove back to the hotel quickly, and Preston took a quick shower before collapsing into bed. I ate some chicken - in fear - , now picturing the food coated with toxic bacteria, ready to invade my intestines. This was a perfect example of how we Americans have over-sanitized everything. We both crashed, restlessly.
This time, I didn't wake up in the middle of the night. Maybe I was finally starting to get over the time difference?
A DAY OF REST 12/27/2005
When I woke up early the next morning, Preston was still ill and wanting to do nothing but stay in bed. I checked my cell phone for the time back home and saw that it was still evening in Arizona. I called my father to say Happy Birthday. He was surprised that I called from India, while my mind was blown thinking of the miles between us, and modern communications.
Fantasizing about a McDonald's salad, I went out shopping (with Preston's blessing) with Joe, Mona, Anish, Michele and Umesh's sister. We stopped at a small store and noted the price of most shoes was the equivalent of $4-5 per pair. I bought 7 pairs of really beautiful sandals. This shoe store was right next to yesterday's women's clothing store, so I bought another shirt, and took pictures of the school children walking by. They loved posing for the camera and seeing their picture afterward. I missed my son Justice even more. These kids with their laughter, their smiles (with a mix of baby and adult teeth), had me laughing along as I snapped shot after shot after shot.
We headed to a street market called Linking Road. Here I found a good collection of bindis and shirts. I got Umesh's sister do some haggling for me. She would take a stern look at each street vendor and ask their price. Then she would respond with an amount of what they said. They would argue weakly while she would respond with another stern glance. In the end, I would pay her price to the vendor while she followed the transaction with another stern look to make sure they were giving me the correct change. It was awesome to watch!
We perused this market for a bit, until Joe started feeling dizzy again. Rather than risk further discomfort for him, our driver whisked us back to the hotel. Preston was so disoriented that he thought I had been gone for just a few minutes. In fact we had been out for a few hours bouncing down the streets of Mumbai.
I was showing the small treasures I brought to Preston when we got the news... Mona was feeling ill. I was the last one "standing". Id seen everyone go down like dominos. I watched some TV while Preston tossed and turned restlessly next to me. It was an uneasy sleep that night. Waking up frequently, I would run my hand over my husband's sweaty shoulder during the night, wishing I could do more for him. This was sour 2nd-to-last day.
WELL, HE GOT THE FULL INDIA EXPERIENCE 12/28/2005
The next morning, Preston was still feverish. It was now over 36 hours into his fever and he related to me how he had a bout of hallucinations during the night. As he described waking up with no clue as to his name or where he was, I fought back my own panic. Not knowing much about the culture, we asked Umesh to call a doctor for us. 30 minutes later, a young doctor was in our hotel room, examining Preston. Wanting to know that he was a legitimate doctor, I fired some anatomical terms at him. He must have noticed my ulterior motive as he answered easily, examining the area I of Preston I had described and firing more terms right back at me. After giving Preston a prescription for antibiotics, powdered electrolyte, probiotics, and a fever reducer, he relayed the instructions for taking these medications. I tasted the electrolyte. It didn't taste very good to my mouth, but my body craved it.
If we had known we would be eating zero raw fruits or vegetables, I would have brought powdered electrolyte to keep our carbohydrates up. "Good to know for next time!" I thought, drifting quickly to sleep since my worry for Preston had kept me awake for much of the previous night.
Dreaming of a Caesar salad, I awoke a few hours later to Preston getting his shoes on to go for a walk. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was feeling better and did not want to spend his last few hours in India in bed. I told him where the shoe store was so he could buy some sandals, and I stayed in bed, exhausted. I was dehydrated, and my blood sugar was very low. My digestive system seemed to be on the defense - I was wary of all of the food I saw, and did not have an appetite. I had seen so much of this intense country, and was, frankly, ready for the trip home.
That evening - our last - Preston was determined to go out and find a market. Umesh arranged for a car to take us to a local store that had clothing and statues. We were so happy! We picked out small sculptures for our friends, larger ones for our home, some beautiful skirts for me, and gorgeous long sleeved shirts imprinted with the Hindu gods for Preston. It was a real release for us to get some last-minute shopping and gift-buying in.
(The whole group was to have done more shopping the day before, near the Island caves, but too many of us were ill.) While Preston was tallying up our purchase, I sat on a wooden swing with a couple of the men who worked there. One of them said "Take my picture!" as he handed his cell phone eagerly to his friend. Returning to the hotel, we rode in a small rickshaw, enjoying how powerfully this mode of transportation thrust us into the busy-ness of the streets.
We arrived at the hotel and packed our bags. With our last-minute purchases in them, our suitcases must have been 25 pounds heavier. We planned to carry the harmonium on the plane to protect it, and sleep through the trip.
We napped until it was time to head to the airport.
GERMANY, AND THE LONGEST DAY EVER 12/29/2005
It was 1am when we quietly loaded into the cars, steeling home under the cover of night. Riding to the airport, I gazed at the street, this time with a new respect for India. We bid farewell to the shanties, and the people we saw sleeping on the sidewalks.
Even that late, the airport was surprisingly busy. Umesh got all of us seats together, and close to a bathroom. I took an over-the-counter sleep aid in an attempt to knock myself out for the journey home. There were 3 legs to the flight: Mumbai to Delhi, Delhi to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Chicago. The first flight was short, about 2 hours with a quick layover. The next 2 legs of the journey would be 7 hours each... give or take hour. Preston and I were armed with eye masks to block the light, earplugs to drown out the sound, and half of a glass of wine to soften the edges of the sleep aid. We conked out all the way to Frankfurt. Preston wanted to talk about one of the events we produce back home, but I was too self-medicated to be of any use. The woman next to us was very nice. She spoke no English and I no Hindi, so we smiled and laughed a lot as we traded food on the airplane. We stopped in cold, gray Frankfurt while the crew changed. A new crew cleaned the airplane, and refueled and restocked the food and beverages.
Once again we were not allowed to leave the waiting room in the terminal. We watched the crew spray de-icer on the wings. I got some nice shots of foggy Frankfurt, beyond the fence that surrounded the runways. After re-boardeding the plane, we had numerous false take-offs as they de-iced the wings again and again. It was disconcerting to say the least. Finally we were glad to be up in the air, on our way to our home, family, cats, roommates, friends, to Unity, to the events Preston and I produce... to the tornado-like busy-ness that makes up our wonderful lives. (Just 2 days after returning to Chicago we performed for a New Year's Eve party at a huge yoga studio downtown.)
The plane dipped for landing in Chicago and my appetite suddenly picked up. Preston and I went uneventfully through customs and immigration, hugged everybody goodbye, and jumped in a cab for our ride home. It was a relief to feel the fresh chill of Chicago air on our cheeks and in our lungs. The cars were back on the right (left) side of the streets, which were incredibly empty compared to India's. As soon as we got home, I ran in to pet our 5 cats while Preston ran to the grocery store and bought lots of salads and fruit and vegetables. We stuffed ourselves silly! It all tasted SO good and healthy, that night and the next few days!
It was 4:55am on December 29th when we left India. 20 hours later, upon arrival in Chicago, it was 7:00pm on December 29th, 2005. This was my first 32 hour day.
SO WHAT *DID* WE BRING BACK?
Before we embarked on this journey, we saw India with her beautiful saris, her make up, her jewelry and her perfume. We saw her in pictures, in film, on TV and in books. We danced with her, felt teased by her. We were in love with India, and through this trip we felt India love us back in her own way.
This was a virgin voyage for Preston and I in many ways, as it was our first trip out of the United States for both of us. It was also our honeymoon, a much belated personal celebration of our wedding and happy marriage. In our 12 days there, we had seen beautiful images come to life before our eyes, the fantasies transform to reality, the stories take form and overwhelm our senses. We saw India without her makeup, we saw her real face.
We saw the eyes of her people, undiluted, in all of their glory and tragedy. We saw the people smiling back at us. We were met with open arms that said "See? We have nothing to hide from you, come and explore, if you dare".
Many times, my own mantra - "Heal the World" - would repeat in my head. It seems we all have our work cut out for us, and I look forward to the day when the healing energy I create with Preston will reach this country.
We came home from this Hero's Journey battered, worn, thirsty, and very thankful for all the blessings in our lives, and for our friends. We returned with more beauty in our hearts, and a renewed commitment to the Work that is ours to do.
Someday... we will return for a 2nd honeymoon, perhaps.
Maybe a 2nd wedding 10 years after our first wedding?
Are you available for a wedding on the first Friday in August, 2014? : )
This is done...
At least for now.
We love you,
Emily (and Preston)
When we return to India, I assure you, we will be better prepared. When we go back for a 2nd honeymoon, I promise you I will smile way more than I did last time. I will take more lessons from you, rather than reacting from my place of fear, and trying to convince you that acting from love was wrong. The memories I'm taking from our honeymoon are of the intensity of the beauty, the tragedy, the life, the spirituality... of the people, and the laughter in them, despite their busy desperation. I will take the lessons I've learned, and keep the memories of hardship, to bolster my commitment to world Healing. (And boy! I've got work to do!)
It seemed that I needed the rough loving from India to take the edge off my "spear" enough for me to truly hear the simple comment you made about the spear. My commitment to laying the spear down (for good) is still steadfast, and I hope the spear comes up much less now. Thank you for being patient with me. I am blessed by God to have been chosen by you - such an awe-inspiring spirit, and every day with you, since we met, is a gift.
"So scared ... "
"One of the beggar kids who broke our hearts ... "
"We visit Gandhi's Memorial, and his Ashram ... "
"Emily posed, I kliked, she posed again, I kliked ... "
"One day later, on NYEve ... "