Monthly Archives: February 2012

India, isn’t it?!

Let me start you off with the highlight of my week. We are about to board our train to return to Jaipur and my friend and I both have to go the bathroom. We board the train and head straight to the eastern toilets. I was about to go back to my seat when Audrey flings open the door laughing, yelling, and hopping on one foot with only one shoe to be seen. What happened? She took a wrong step and fell down the toilet shoot and lost her Birkenstock to the tracks! Dying laughing, a few of us spill out of the train alongside Audrey, still hopping on one foot, creating a hysterical scene for everyone on the platform. The shoe could be seen under the train, and after a minute, another citizen who was riding our train generously hopped down climbed under and retrieved her shoe.

It was too funny.

Our journey home continued with not enough beds for all 20+ of us, so a few adjustments were made with two people in on a beds and blankets on floors!

Anyways. Another week in India has passed, only a day away from one month! Last week, we started out our travels at  Vendana Shiva’s farm, Navdanya (nine seeds or new seeds), which I will dedicate an entire blog post to later probably. It was interesting how many of the same sustainable agricultural practices that I have seen in the US being applied there and promoted across India. Some rough stats are : 70% of employment is in the agricultural industry and only about 10% of those farmers grow their crops organically. Navdanya’s main focus is seed saving. (they had about 600 varieties of rice seeds there!)

From there, we visited Gujjar tribal community. We had quite a frightening bus ride along a winding rocky road. I think that most of my nerves came from the fact that we had just re inflated our tire with a slow leak before embarking on this journey and that you could see the ground through the rusted out holes beneath our feet. It was a thrilling ride and we arrived at a gorgeous village surrounded by wheat fields and alongside a wide river.

We hung out with the kids for a bit and then ate a wonderful lunch and some  sweet, sweet chai that they had prepared for us.

It was difficult to visit a community and to leave so soon, especially when it functions so differently than any community I have been apart of. I realized that the experience left me with an unsatisfied feeling, because I want to be traveling to get to know places, people and cultures, not just glimpse at them. In the larger picture of this abroad experience, I am sure that these smaller experiences, that I am craving more from, will merge together to create a deeper understanding of India than I am realizing now. I just need to keep reminding myself that I cannot understand, see, or know all of India at once, it’ll come slowly, day by day. Anyways, at the rate I am going,  it’s pretty clear that I have already invested too much time in this region of the world for it to end after this semester. I’ve got the rest of my life to keep exploring this mystical place.

One of the most difficult parts of this experience may be balancing getting to know the many members in my group, getting to know India alongside a group of Americans, and getting to know India for myself.

A couple of days later, we traveled to Rishikesh, “The Yoga Capital of the World”. It is a pretty amazing place, mostly due to the fact the Ganges, the holy river of India passes through. We arrived in time to see the sun set and the evening hindu ceremony to take place.

In the morning, a couple of us woke up just after the sun rise to sit by the river, enjoy some breakfast, and to take a yoga class at an ashram. I’ve got to say, the brisk breeze off the water chilled the surface of my skin and reminded  me of how much I miss Portland, ME.

Now, back in Jaipur, the days are a bit more consistent, which is nice. I am learning to accept that many of expectations and assumptions that I subconsciously established about India, are not always true. I am coming to terms with the fact that I don’t need to deny western culture here, but rather I must try my best to adapt to this culture. Are you ready for another analogy? (Hopefully the entire previous post about biking didn’t turn you off too much) India can be looked at as a large and colorful puzzle. When you travel here, you can’t expect to fit into the picture, because you are a piece from a different box.  Over time however, as you’re jostled around in the wrong box, your edges wear down and you might appear to almost fit in. Never will you fit in perfectly, but that’s how the story goes.

Today I drank coffee, ate a salad, browsed in a bookstore (where the Governor of the state and his security guards happened to be), and had toilet paper in every bathroom I used. A week ago that would have made me uneasy, but I am starting to see that it is not necessary to deny all things that are a part of the developing India. I experienced a part of India that I didn’t expect to see here, a part that is very similar to an American lifestyle.

Farewell for now, it’s time to learn some Hindi.

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I didn’t get to the best part about Pushkar, did I?

Okay, Okay. So I left off by telling you that I got to ride a bike in India. It was pretty fantastic, we paid 10 rupees an hour to cruise around through the busy streets and get ourselves out of the city. It was worth it, but if I ever go back and have more time, I’m going to offer to clean up the bikes and get them running smoothly in return for bike time!

my bike

Outside of the city, there was a huge trench built to capture the monsoon rain, but because it’s so dry and it’s a desert area, we rode our bikes in it and along the edge of it. For a bit, we were forced to walk our bikes, because the sand was too thick to ride through. 

So we decide that we are going to hike this hill/ small mountain to our left so that we can look out over the city. We park our bikes under a huge tree ( if I knew a single thing about trees, I would tell you what kind it was). It was a tree that looked worth climbing, so began to ponder this idea when we realize that it is full of monkeys. Oops! Obviously we decided not to climb it, but not before an angry mother with its baby, directly above our heads, showed its teeth, squeaked, and swatted its arm at us. In a single moment, my friend and I looked directly at one another and took off, ditching our bikes. 

The hill was beautiful and getting our bikes back was a little nerve-racking, but we made it! The whole thing reminds me of a day in Nepal when my friend Alicia and I were chased by a water buffalo with a metal fence around its neck. We escaped by running into a cornfield filled with stinging nettle. Later in the day, we also witnessed a comical monkey scene that I don’t think we’ll ever forget.

Excuse my obsessiveness, but I’ve got a biking analogy to share after biking down a busy street here. It’s one of those obvious ones that could be applied to anything, here goes. So when your biking, it’s exactly like life and traveling. As you are peddling along, you are forced to focus on what you are doing. If you get distracted by the people or all that’s going on around you, you will hit a cow, child, person, or moving vehicle. You can glimpse behind you, but not for long, because you could miss what’s going on around you, furthermore, if you dwell for too long, you’re just going to eat it. Furthermore, you can try as hard as you want to plan your route or see what’s ahead, but it’s impossible and you don’t know what’s going to stand in your path. It could be ANYthinG, especially here. At some point though, you’ve got to remember that your body can’t go on forever in that way. You’ve got to get off and take a break, at which point you can soak it all in and reflect on what you’ve seen and experienced.

I am trying to say that life is a whirlwind sometimes, and the best way to move forward is to take it in strides and be in the moment. Also I hope everyone who is in a place with right climate for biking right now, is putting in some extra time for me!

Hope you enjoy some pics of Pushkar.

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I travelled with two friends to Pushkar for the weekend. It was a wonderful break from the routine lifestyle of Jaipur. We took the train and navigated our way to the small holy and touristy city, Pushkar. We found ourselves wondering through fields of the small neighboring village, where we watched as people farmed on desert land. The irrigation systems certainly were not conserving water as you would have imagined they would have.

As we attempted to find our way back to the city, we found ourselves on the opposite side of the famous hindu lake of Pushkar. We didn’t really know about it before we arrived. We knew there was a lake and when we asked if we would be able to swim in it, we were strictly told no and that we shouldn’t put our feet into the water. We laughed at this and still do, because no one ever clued us into how religious it was, we found that out on our own. It looked like Italy in some ways, I’ll post a picture soon. Cows and monkeys wandered in packs along the steps and the layers of pigeons took off every so often. Families of people shared these steps, standing and sitting barefoot, respecting the space.

A quick side note- I  just received a piping hot, sugary, milky cup of chai… This may be a bit of why I love India.

So we wandered on and visited a well known Brahma temple and then dined in places catering to westerners. I love indian food, but I must admit, it was refreshing to see menus with other cuisines on it. By the end of the day we ate at three different rooftop restaurants, our favorite being The Laughing Buddha, where a guy cooked us the most amazing meal in one pan in a room the size of the average american closet and we were able to see the sun set.

Day two of our excursion, after a night of stargazing on top of a frighteningly tall rooftop that looked out over an alarmingly quiet city, began with a lovely breakfast at a cafe type location. We then proceeded to do the forbidden, which is what I really want to tell you about. What did we do? We rented bikes. I did take far too many photos of it before even riding it, and then upon riding it, it took all of my will power to try to stop thinking about cleaning my chain.

Okay, I will tell you more about my biking adventure in a week or so.
TIME TO TRAVEL! pics and more thoughts later!

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I have been in India for exactly two weeks now. (Happy Valentines day, by the way!)

We arrived in Delhi and stayed for a couple of  days. We didn’t do much exploring around the city, but we did visit Gandhi’s cremation site and a craft market. It was neat, but with culture shock and jet lag upon us as we were shuttled around in buses and cars, I don’t feel like I even got a glimpse of what Delhi is all about.

From Delhi, we took something like a seven hour bus ride to Jaipur. Jaipur is quite a place. For the first week, I couldn’t stop thinking about Nepal. Even more than I was homesick, I was Nepal-sick! So many things are so similar, but just different enough for me to wish they were what I know. I didn’t realize until a couple of days ago that I was in denial of being in culture shock. I think that I had convinced myself that I was already accustomed to this place and this culture, but that certainly is not the truth. I do still slightly miss Nepal and something about the richness of it all, but I’m sure that I will be able to experience that here too. Maybe I just need to look a little harder. All experiences are what you make of them, no?

Anyways. There are 24 students in my group and we all go to classes (sustainable development, hindi, and field studies) at the center every day. The topics have been very interesting and it’s clear that understanding the history of India is important to understanding India today.

Today, we talked about Gandhi and I thought I’d share a couple of things that I found interesting with you. One thing that we discussed, based upon a reading, was that Gandhi still serves as one of the greatest figures in India’s society. Not only are his words still quoted, his image is embedded in the currency. India however, is non-representative of Gandhi. The corruption of government, pollution, caste system, religious disputes, etc. are great issues within the society, and they all go against what Gandhi believed. So then why does Gandhi represent India still? hmm… Slightly off topic was a comment another student made about how terrible he feels every day while walking down the street, because he is passing by people who are dying, crippled, or hungry. The pain that strikes you when you see these people is something that cannot be described, but what is worse is that each of us just continues to walk by, without stopping. It’s difficult to find the balance between empathy and ignorance, as we train ourselves not to let this bother us…I guess that this awareness is a first step. Surely, there are many people who are not as visible, not on the streets of the big cities, who are in equal states of health and are not receiving help. Society is ignoring them just the same.

It is truly amazing how vastly different the economic statuses are, and how great of a role that plays in the lives of the people. I am slowly coming to terms with how nice the my home stay house is and the amenities that I am able to come home to at night. Seeing poverty so intimately and frequently may affect a person greatly in the moment, but it is amazing how quickly those feelings are forgotten when separated from the situation for even a moment.

Although the days feel long, they are filled with lots of thoughts and adventures. I’ve posted some pictures, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the beauty that may be found in India as much as I do.

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