Friday, May 26, 2006

And therein lies the thrilling problem...

I read once a few years back that when you get angry with someone, it's because they broke one of your rules. It seems too simple to be universally true, but in my experience it seems close. It's not very satisfying, though, when you've got a good heat going, to have to consider the possibility that the asshole who's ruining your life may not have the same set of rules that you do. A good righteous anger (and what anger isn't righteous in the throes of it?) doesn't have time for those subtleties. 
And therein lies the thrilling problem of traveling in India: I don't know the rules. Pointing the soles of your feet at the guru is bad form; peeing against the side of a building in public is not. When you're buying a train ticket, the guy behind you can stick his arm past you, and through the little hole in the window up to his shoulder - and the agent will take his money as though you weren't there. I don't have that long-arm exemption clause in my rulebook, but I can't get mad, because apparently that's acceptable here. So when can I get mad? I DON'T KNOW! And that's the problem.
But I exaggerate, on occasion. The word "problem" takes on a different meaning when such poverty and hardship is evident. The 11-hour bus ride getting to Delhi wasn't that bad, even though it was 15 hours. And though the brakes did work, not everyone's deodorant did. We had one moist blast of fragrant rancidity as a passenger changed his shirt in dramatic fashion right next to us - and that was before the bus had even left the station. (Was that against the rules? I have no idea.) I sat in four different seats during the trip, and three of them were broken. But I also slept surprisingly well, so I have no complaints.
One bit of conventional wisdom, if not a rule, is that you're not supposed to like Delhi. But in my first few hours here I was getting driven around by Manu, a barrel-chested little guy with a round face and a beatific, mischevious smile. He wanted to prove to me that it really wasn't 4km to the destination, as I'd claimed in my lame bargaining salvo. After half an hour of driving, he said, "Now you see? Do you think that was 4km? I not so wrong. I charge you a little too much, but I not so wrong!" I love Manu of the mischevious grin, in spite of it all, and it was 100 degrees and sweltering as we drove in his three-wheeled auto rickshaw. I thought, I'm really loving being here in Delhi. But where did that love spring from? Was it in Delhi? Was it in me, somehow apart from the Delhi that I was loving? Or did the love just arise in that moment, free of location that can be pointed to? Those are the kinds of thoughts I had driving around in Delhi. I got rides from Manu three days in a row, and we came to kind of an agreement: he would overcharge me - and I would pay it.
To answer some people's question about this mysterious Tower of Love person, Jennifer: she was on the same 17-day meditation retreat I was on recently, she really is 4'9" tall, and though we're not in a romantic relationship, our friends say we argue like we've been married for years. We'll have more chances to argue, because we're leaving Delhi tomorrow on a 21-hour train trip to Darjeeling. Frivolity and gnashing of teeth will surely follow.
Am I ever going to write about the trekking, he asked, wondering whether some rule was being broken...
Love, love, love,
There are ten photos below:
Not so typical traffic on a busy street in Delhi:
Love 1
Love 2
Love 3 (and 4, I guess!)
Love 5
Love 6
This man was proud of the fact that he's 64, and can still carry 200 pounds (90 kgs) on his back.
This was one of the monkeys that hung out near the retreat center in Sattal.
Love 7
After taking this photo, this gentleman invited us in for tea.
(The End)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Madness surrounds me, but it's everyday life here. I'm leaving tonight, with Jennifer, on an 11-hour overnight bus ride to Delhi. The first three or four hours will be on excruciatingly tortuous roads, wide by French village standards, but frequently incapable of handling two passing vehicles simultaneously. Since they love to pass on blind corners, that can be an issue. When we get down to the plains it will be 100 degrees, and the bus has no air conditioning. Or maintenance or brakes, for that matter. It smells like an adventure! In fact, the smells will be an adventure all by themselves. I can't imagine it will be enjoyable, except when I recall it years later, romanticized from my rocker. For tonight, just getting through it will be enough.
I've neglected telling you about the one week trek in the Himalayas that we managed to stretch into a three weeks. Another time...
Love, love, love,
Here are 10 photos for your perusal:
In the extremely hilly town of Nainital, there were a lot of porters who likely come from small outlying villages for work. They were typically younger than this man:
This woman was selling oranges in the market: 
These are langur monkeys. 
Tibetan prayer flags flying over a Tibetan monastery in the hills above Nainital: 
A sweet old Tibetan woman who didn't speak a word of English. 
Virtually everything in this area is carried on people's heads and backs. This young boy was probably three or four, but his mother had him carrying his share. 
Nostradamus. Or something: 
I practically had to beg to take this photo. Such an amazing face: 
I would have begged for this one, too, if I'd needed to. She'd grown up in the area, but has the look of the people in Nepal or Sikkim: 
(The End)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Other Wedding Crashers

I'm writing from the town of Almora, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. We're staying at the quirky Kailas Hotel, run by the quirky Mr. Shah, an 88 year-old man who sits in full lotus daily as he says his prayers, and says sentences like, "The municipal supply is suffering from a paucity of water." If you happen to have the 1947 copy of Who's Who in India, you'll find his picture.

One night we heard the familiar refrain of a disjointed marching band playing free-form cacophony, and we knew a wedding was at hand. My 4'9" travel partner from Colorado, Jennifer, (whom I affectionately call "The Tower of Love,") and I set out in search. I've had mixed results with wedding parties, so I was hanging back a little bit. At one of the first wedding processions I witnessed 10 years ago, a sweat-soaked and betelnet-dripping older man invited, nay, implored me to dance. When I declined, he insisted with some force. Once more I declined, and he said, at great volume, with temple veins bulging and red spittle flying, "YOU ARE MY GUEST!!!" As per usual in these parts, I didn't, and don't, know the rules, and being a guest apparently carries some responsibilities that are unclear to me.

At another wedding I attended, the only two foreigners, myself included, were plunked down in the center of the room to talk about our love for India, and then were asked to dance to some Bollywood songs. I was sweating like, well, like I'd been asked to dance to some Bollywood songs. So on this night with Jennifer, I was trying to see what was going on without getting too close. Thirty minutes later, as I was gyrating on the lighted disco floor with flailing 20-something males, inside the wedding tent, I thought, "How did it come to this?"

A cousin of the groom had struck up a conversation with us, and invited us in, and one thing led to another, which led to bad dancing. A great rainstorm came suddenly, and the giant tent was leaking like a sieve. It didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm, especially the young men who insisted on pulling me onto the dance floor every chance they got. No women danced, not even once, and as I looked back at the Tower of Love, she was absolutely surrounded by women, all chatting and cooing like old friends. We ended up being treated like honoured guests, given food, and introduced to the bride and groom and the family. Everyone cleared a path so we could see what was happening, and carefully explained the proceedings to us in English.

We hit a little hitch when we met the father of the bride. He had a regal bearing and a way about him that, although it wasn't intimidating, you knew you were dealing with someone important. He said, "How did you happen to come here?" Jennifer stalled and answered some questions he didn't ask, about how we came to India and where we'd been. He said, "No, I mean how did you come to the wedding?" Gulp. We lamely tried to invoke the name of the cousin, whose name we'd forgotten. Finally he put his hands together in the namaste greeting, and said, softly and elegantly, "So you have come uninvited?" Under my breath, I muttered to Jennifer, "Bust-ed..." It was the kindest dressing down I've ever had, and in spite of it, he asked if we'd eaten, and we were invited to attend the ceremony itself, which was loosely scheduled from midnight to 4 a.m. We politely declined, said our humble goodbyes, and swore we'd wouldn't follow any more weddings.

A few weeks later, at the next wedding that we followed, we were getting the little boys outside to teach us some Bollywood dance moves. Unbelievably, they came in handy, because not so many minutes later, I was dancing, AGAIN, with a bunch of testosterone-fueled 20-something males on the lighted disco floor. Am I just too far gone to learn from my mistakes?!

I haven't written a newsletter in almost two months, and this one covered several hours of that period. Maybe some more stories and photos are coming soon...

Too much love,

The Bride.

The Groom.

The Dad, who's not so sure, at this point, why I'm here.

Crazy dancing boys.

How did it come to this??

Jennifer and her new friends.

(The End)