Saturday, November 12, 2011

It was Mrs Peacock, in the Billiard Room, with a Band-Aid!

Well, I just spent a week in Jammu-Kashmir, a place where political tensions, territorial disputes, and religious turmoil transpire throughout the state. It has been said that these disturbances have cost the lives of over 60,000 (and some resources indicate upward of a million) residents over the last 10 years.  In fact locals in the regions we visited indicated that it has only been 2 years that they have begun to see tourists return. Prior to this, many were forced to close their businesses and leave for Dharamsala and Delhi to find work. Opinions differ regarding the current state of conflict varying between it is a very safe place to visit to it being compared to a volcano about to explode at any time especially due to youth, more new to the cause, holding on to anger from a very complicated history. Prior to the increased insurgency in the 90’s with the emergence of increased terrorist activities, Jammu-Kashmir was a popular tourist destination and a favored locale for trekking. 

This was the Jammu-Kashmir that Tobi and I experienced. It truly was like heaven on earth. Between the glass like lakes in the foreground and the massive jagged peaked Himalayas as its backdrop in Srinagar to passing saffron fields, terraced rice fields, famous Kashmiri apple orchards,  and gold and red bursts of colors of poplar and maple trees on our drive to higher elevation and then landing in Pahalgam where there were snow capped mountains, coupled with beautiful streams and rivers meandering through picturesque villages and an abundance of very friendly and equally curious people eager to engage in broken English conversations, Tobi and I thought we had found the true Shangri-La. 
View from our plane window of the Pir Panjal mountain range in the Himalayas.

Shakara or covered taxi boats on Nagin Lake with line of houseboats in the background.

The houseboats were left over from Colonial times when the British were prohibited from owning land. They are moored to the land and range from simple to quite ornate.

This is our bedroom with hand carved wood bed posts and ceiling panels and Kashmiri designed hand sewn curtains.

The deck where you could sit out for endless hours and watch the sunrise while listening to the beautiful surround sound of chants echoing off the lake coming from nearby mosques or listen to the incredible variety of bird calls while watching the shakaras deliver anything from vegetables, crafts and jewelry, flowers, candy or toilet paper.

In the morning the lake was covered in ice dewed lily and lotus pads. It is said to be exceptionally beautiful in summer when they are in full bloom. It was now the season for abstracting the lotus root which is considered a delicacy.

This gentleman came up on the boat and knocked on the glass door saying, "Hello madame! I am market man." Sure enough he was loaded down with goodies. For the rest of the day I was singing Rocket Man by Elton John though.

Shakara ride fit for a queen.. oh yeh... It was cold!

Interestingly most of the houses were built of brick

Floating vegetable gardens

Fishing village on stilts

Shakara driver smoking his water pipe. Notice the heart shape ore.

Walk in Pahalgam

Appears to be a way of drying and storing hay. Lots of sheep and ponies in this region.

The Himalayas peaking through the haze.

This water was freezing!

The locals wear long wool capes called Pherans and carry wicker baskets with ceramic pots filled with hot ashes under their ponchos to keep warm. Seemed like a serious fire hazard to us!

Tobi and our hotel owner Haji at the Brown Palace. He was a wise sweet spirited soul.

Tobi and I felt very protected along the way via frequent contact with Rahul checking in about our arrival times and destinations, new friends we met, one of which was a psychiatrist, (born and raised in Kashmir and now living in Naperville Illinois), guiding us on what to see, transportation, costs, and other practicalities down to our hotel host in Pahalgam exclaiming, “Where were you? I was just about to get in the jeep and come looking for you!” when Tobi and I arrived in the dark after wandering off on foot for over 6 hours to enjoy the sights.

At the airport you feel like you are on a military base. You have to get out of your car and put your luggage through x-rays before you even enter the airport.  In the airport there are 2 more x-ray points. You are then called over the loud-speakers to come onto the tarmac and identify your luggage before they place it on the plane. And finally they do another body search and final check of your carryon bags before walking on to the plane. At one check point they take my band-aids, a hair tie, one of many pens, a wad of very thin string, and a very small pencil sharpener. After questioning, Tobi was able to re-confiscate my hair tie and pen, but the rest was meant to be commandeered. When Tobi asked about the band-aids the guard shook her head with a stern “no” and pointed to her eyes as if to say one might highjack the plane by covering an un-expecting victim’s eyes with your band-aid in order to seize control. But the funniest part of this whole story is that when I went through the FINAL body/bag check the stewardess finds my Swiss army knife in my handbag and escorts me back into the airport to a military guard fully equipped with AK-47 or the likes and back to the desk where they confiscated my band-aids. You can imagine my angst when the military guard accuses me of hiding the knife and putting it back in my bag after the check. When I protested, “Absolutely not!” he questions, “Then it is the error of this guard?” (Pointing right at her with her staring at me), and I didn’t hesitate to say, “Yep!”
Safely home? Maybe not! Tobi calls us in to her room, panicked by a humming sound and vibration coming from her suitcase. We rack our brains to think of any electronics she could have packed. Unable to recall a possible object, we collectively entertained, “Could it be a bomb?”  Was the security check gal seeking revenge? Was there a sentiment of anti-Americanism being portrayed in a violent message? Just as we seriously considered contacting the police before opening the bag, I remembered Tobi’s electric toothbrush!!!! We all laughed hysterically, were relieved by our combined idiocy and recognized the welcomed release of unspoken tension we all experienced during our slightly risqué adventure.
I am back in Delhi now and will venture on to Rajasthan next. Will be in touch again when I can. Until then, much love and wishes for peace coming your way!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beauty and Our Beasts

I don't know why this isn't showing up in normal print... but afraid to lose all the photos which take forever to download... so I am going to post and hope you can read this...

I was visiting the Lotus Temple of the Baha’i faith with a beautifully architected building and serene marble prayer room at its center and the equable basic principles inscribed throughout the grounds, such as the abandonment of prejudices, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and equality of men and women. And as I was walking in, an older man with well worn cloth for dress and clouded over eyes likely from cataracts, was on his knees, literally begging for mercy in the open walled security office at the front gate. The security officer was yelling and beating him with a long stick as thousands of us were being herded in past him in a single line to view this great temple. A white westerner and upper class Indian man were being escorted to sit down in seats outside to be questioned. For what crime this man committed to have this cruel treatment bestowed upon him I will not know, but my stomach churns, tears are in my eyes and my heart sinks to think of the harsh penalty of his current circumstance and the life events that have lead him to this moment. And if you think you can sit in the comfort of, “at least this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in the civilized society that I live in,” think again. I recently learned of someone I know, an African American man, who was isolated in his own house and beaten by the cops sustaining broken ribs and requiring hospitalization, after a call was placed about a family dispute. What thoughts do we create in our minds to assuage our own discomfort or our own inner beasts… “He probably deserved it, That’s karma, I hope he learns his lesson?” Instead, could we sit with the awareness of the stark inequalities and contradictions in our everyday lives and see what action, if any, it moves us to take? I'm not trying to be preachy, I myself am sitting here with my own discomfort often feeling paralyzed, sometimes feeling moved by what to do.

The kids of Delhi

Tee hee... I couldn't resist
The architecture

The chaos

Old friends/New friends

This is my friend Tobi who is hosting me when I am in Delhi with Avantica her 3 year old neighbor who comes up to have Tobi read to her.

Meena cooking with Avantica and Charlie monitoring the progress

Ibah, Avantica and Karon snuggling after a delicious meal I was invited to.

Ibah's mom and dad

Princess Charlie
Prince Gato


I am getting nervous, the computer is acting up, I better press post soon! Sorry for the long blog entry, could have probably broken this one up, but I will be leaving Delhi soon and will likely have less access, time, and patience to write and download photos from internet cafes.

Most of you know that part of my return stay in India is to visit with the youth at Sri Ram Ashram, which is an orphanage that offers a safe loving home for up to 100 children that come from very traumatic situations. As well they have built a school that provides education for over 500 village kids and they have a clinic that provides naturapathic and western medicine for many locals in this rural environment.

I am inviting you to look at their website and consider donating to their extensive needs if it so moves you to do so.

Several projects that need money are... "We have to buy a new school bus for the school for about $30,000. Any help there is great. We are building a basketball court for the school for about $15,000. We are preparing a hockey field for about $3000. In the ashram we need a new refrigerator in the kitchen for about $300. We can use money for the girl’s or Boys education funds for college about $9,000 per year. We always need money for clothing and shoes. So you see the list goes on from very large to smaller. It really depend on what your interests are."

Folks can check out their website and donate to There is a link to the donation page. There is a place for buyer instrcutions where people can make a note that their donation came through me so that we can keep track of the contribution we make as a group if you desire.

I will likely post this request/suggestion at a later time (perhaps closer to the holidays when people are often looking for causes/places to donate.) Feel free to contact me with any questions as well. I will also be doing some volunteer work at a leprosy colony and will have more information after I visit as to how your money may be spent if you were to donate there. I trust and know the folks that administer Sri Ram Orphanage and know that every penny you donate will go directly to the chilrdren for a good cause.
Much love to you all! My next move may be up to Leh... haven't secured the plan yet. Will let you know when I do.