Bharat se Namaste, mere dost!
[Hello from India, my friends!]
I am sitting in the air conditioned computer room of the UC study center in Delhi writing to all of you. It is the beginning of my fourth week being back in the city since my month stay at the base of the Himalayas, in the small hill station of Mussoorie.
I left the San Francisco airport on Sunday morning, June 17th. We were scheduled to leave around 1AM, but were delayed until the sun came up at SFO. What should have been around a twelve hour flight to Taipei left the passengers of China Air sitting on the plane for somewhere around seventeen. Once in Taipei, though, China Air provided a free tour of the city and I can now say I have seen the worlds tallest building. Our tour took four hours out of our nine hour layover and was pretty informative, and gave us, as well, a preview of the heat to come.
We finally made it to Delhi on the 19th around 4 AM, India time. We stayed for a week in the city in a hotel to complete bureaucratic paperwork and to preview the apartments we would be living in when we returned. I also bought a cell phone. My phone number is 9958439316, and it is free for me if you call! Its just not free for you.
After our first week, we left Delhi and took an eleven hour bus ride north to Mussoorie. We switched from two chartered buses to ten Ambassador taxis at the base of the hill leading up to the small town. In the taxis we rode up these tiny roads that are the width of walking paths and that curve and swerve through the mountain side. We lived pretty much at the top of this hill and the main town was a fifteen to thirty minute walk down at an incredibly steep angle. It was gorgeous. We were amidst the top of these really tall trees, walking on paths with stone walls covered in moss, seeing on clear days the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas. The weather was in the mid-seventiesa nice change from the 95+ in Delhi.
The power and water would go off, sometimes for twelve or more hours. We mostly took bucket showers to conserve the cold water. I must admit, those showers I took, generally 2-3 a week, were the most complicated of my life. (Excuse me, two to three showers a week was the norm, people!)
Our orientation into the town and the language program ended with a warning about scorpions, centipedes and leeches. And leopards that would come out with the fog. They told us to shake out our shoes before we put them on to make sure there werent any scorpions inside and that we should beware of aggravating the bundur [the monkeys]. Lock your windows and doors. Otherwise, monkeys will go in a take your things. It happens all the time. All mentioned as nonchalantly as were our textbooks and exams.
We were in Mussoorie for an Intensive Language Program. We took Hindi classes four hours a day, five days a week for one month at the Landour Language School. The school was a five minute walk from where we were staying. We were divided into groups of four or five and were placed with a teacher an hour. Besides learning new words and sentence construction (verbs are at the end), we had to learn how to read and write a completely new script. Although by the end of the month we knew little more than how to make words plural and how to say things like the large chair is on the dirty floor, it was an amazing experience. We are required to continue taking a Hindi course while in Delhi, but it is only three hours a week.
To go on the internet we had to go to internet cafes (as I still do, even now in Delhi). Where I used the internet was also where we would buy our snacks [that had already expired, according to their labels] and were on old computers with slow internet. It was a privilege to have it at all, though, and we realized it.
For one of our weekends part of the group organized a trip to the town of Rishikesh where we white water rafted on the Ganges. The actual rafting was only about an hour and there werent many rapids because it was pre-monsoon season, but it was still an experience. We were driven thirty minutes into the hills of Rishikesh and then got to be on and in the river. A few times we were able to jump out of the raft and into the river and float down in life vests still attached to the raft with ropes. Dad lent me his Cal hat for the trip and it has now been blessed by the Ganges. As have I. There are a lot of temples in Rishikesh and people were ringing bells as they prayed and we floated down this holy river with gorgeous scenery listening to these bells. It was pretty cool.
In Rishikesh we stayed at the Green Hotel for 400 Rupees (Rs.) per night. I shared a room with a queen-size bed, a television, fan, shower and western style toilet with two other girls. I ended up paying around $11 USD for two nights. All around the river on either side there are temples with stairs that lead into the water. People hang out on them and at sunset buy these leaves with flowers and a candle on them and send them down the river in prayer. I counted my steps as I crossed the footbridge over the Ganges and they ranged from 307 to 320 steps...so multiply that by the distance of one of my steps for an actual measurement. Ha. Of course, my numbers have such range because I would have to sometimes take extra steps to avoid cows and motorbikes that are not supposed to be on the narrow bridge, but are nonetheless.
Our third weekend in Mussoorie two of our teachers from school took the group on a trek. We left early Friday morning and took taxis for about seven hours on the "national highway"-- a one lane and partially paved path-- to this place of pilgrimage. It was this tiny village with 1000 people at most that is totally sustainable on the side of this hill. We stayed in a hotel there for the weekend and on Saturday walked further up the mountain where there are hot springs and a holy temple and is very close to the beginning of the river Yamuna. It is rumored it was a 6.5 km walk each way and that we walked from about 7000ft up 3000 more. The trek was long and intense. I walked the whole way up, but some of the group rode mules and some Indian women were carried up. At the shrine at the top of our hike, I sat on the ground with a young man who led me and a few girls through a ritual with water and hand washing, rice throwing and money offering and we received red bindis. Later that day, after the trip down, a shower and some rest, we ventured to a neighboring village. There are some pictures included.
The last week in Mussoorie was spent (mostly) studying. The month language program culminated in a 3 hour test worth 80% of our 6-unit grade. We came back to Delhi on those same 10 taxis and same chartered buses, but this time in the pouring rain. Apparently there were elephant-sightings, but I was sleeping on trip home and have yet to see one.
Back in Delhi, we stayed in a hotel for a few days and then I moved into my apartment in Civil Lines, North Delhi. Our first night our landlady made us an authentic Indian dinner, and although veg. since last November, I had to try a bite of her ginger mutton. It was amazing, as everything that night was. That night we learned of the family's history during the partition and how they came to own the apartments we were living in. After dinner we walked across the footpath and up our stairs to our air-conditioned, spacious three-bedroom apartment. There are seven of us living at 15/17 Sham Nath Marg: 5 women and 2 men. I am in the triple, but we share the spacious master bedroom and walk in closet with no trouble. The family room is spacious and came with couches and chairs and a dining table. Our landlady has been nothing but approachable and accommodating, providing us with all the furniture we needed, maps of the area, the dinner previously mentioned, and a man who sweeps and mops our apartment daily. Every morning outside of our apartment men come to the complex and honk clown-like horns to let us know they have come with either vegetables or bread or eggs. A man, called the dhobee, comes daily to our apartment to pick up our clothes for cleaning. Each article of clothing costs 5 Rs. (about 10 cents).
Wherever we are in India, unless we have decided to go to an ultra-nice restaurant, we eat for three dollars or less. I have not once spent more than $10 USD. Mangoes are 5 Rs each (but you buy them in kilos!) and eggs are 2 Rs from the man downstairs. I have actually not been eating that much Indian food, mostly because we do not know how to make it and we have a gorgeous kitchen where we have been cooking most of our meals. My diet has mostly consisted of mangoes, bananas, cereal, bread, cheese, tomatoes and eggplant. The other night I did make my own Indian interpretation of tostadas with homemade refried beans, cheese, sauteed vegetables and fried papadams (the closest thing to a tortilla I could find).
I am taking three classes currently. I am enrolled in the English department at Delhi University taking "Gender and Literature" when my teachers show up. The one course is supposedly to meet four times a week with four different teachers, but even three weeks in I have yet to see two of my professors. I am also taking an art history course at the National Museum in Delhi set up through the UC Study Center. My third course is that mandatory Hindi class I mentioned previously. I have it today at 5 PM so I have just been hanging out at the Study Center all day.
Internet has proven to be more of a problem than expected at the apartment, hence this FIRST travelblog update after two months. I had planned to start once we figured out internet in the apartment and that has yet to happen. Having no internet and no tv, however, has benefited my "Books Read While in India" list. I have been reading a book every 3 days or so including: -The Late George Apley -Home -Kite Runner -A Thousand Splendid Suns -Everything is Illuminated -An Autobiography or My Experiments of Truth (Gandhi).
One of the best parts about living in India has been the rickshaw rides. Besides actually finding a rickshaw that will take you where you for the price you want, riding around in auto rickshaws is a blast. They have been described as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland, riding in a miniature little car weaving in and out of traffic. There is no recognition of lanes and people cram in tight!! It is pretty crazy, but a lot of fun. There are also bicycle rickshaws, but I don't find them to be as pleasurable. I just sort of feel mean to the biker the whole time.
This is most definitely the hottest place I have ever lived. It is between 95 and 100 degrees F, PLUS humidity, every day. You pretty much just have to get used to being sweaty.
I am going to go grab a snack at the exchange store before my Hindi class. I think I am done for now. Hopefully I will continue updating. And soon!
MY FIRST SET OF PICTURES!!