Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pindari Glacier trekking photos

There are 11 photos below:
A hillside in the mist along the trail.
This is our trekking lodge manager in the pink hat. Somehow the people in this valley cooked some spectacular meals over wood fires. This was around 10,000 feet elevation, and it was COLD when it rained, and down to about freezing at night.
Some big snow-covered mountain. I don't pay that much attention to the names. It was probably around 23,000 feet at the top, which makes it over two miles vertically above our heads.
The valley just as we approach Pindari Glacier, which can be just seen in the upper middle of the photo. At the bottom of the rockfall in the center, you can just make out some buildings, which are an ashram that a very friendly and sturdy Hindu saddhu (holy man) started 20 years ago. He lives there, at 12,000 feet, year-round, and for four or five months a year he couldn't get out of the valley if he had to because of the snow. For a couple of months he doesn't even come out of the small ashram. He just meditates, eats very little, and according to him, doesn't sleep at all during the winter.
Me with the glacier moraine behind me. The knife-edged hill to the left of me is what the glaciers leave when they recede. Two feet to the left of me is a several-hundred foot cliff, also left by the glacier. These areas are notoriously unstable, and make for some great rock-rolling! I mean, if you're into that kind of thing.
Jennifer, facing back down the valley we'd come up, along with the mountain dog who'd followed us for a few days.
One of the chai stalls along the trail.
Bamboo is cultivated in the area, and is a big business, of sorts. It's cut when it's small, split into slits (which this boy is doing,) and then woven into floor mats or baskets.
The village of Kathi, where we stayed for a week total. Great food and really nice people. This was taken on the way back from the glacier, which is down the valley that you see in the center.
All the moms looking at this are instinctively grabbing for a tissue!
This girl was washing her hair under a natural flowing tap of water.
(The End)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Market day in Kalimpong

Here I go, darkening your in-box only a day after the last one. Well, it was market day today here in Kalimpong, near Darjeeling, and I took a bunch of pics. I bundled them into a collage, which is attached. I hope you like it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Someone around here is nuts.

I was in the local internet shop, and reached for the one of the two sets of headphones on the wall next to me. "Can I use these?" I asked. The young guy who runs the shop said, no, they don't work. "Then why are they here??" In moments of weakness, I forget where I am and ask reasonable questions, knowing that it will lead to a deeply unsatisfying conversation. He looked at me with that 1,000-mile stare, like I'd suddenly switched to Mandarin. So I repeated the question: "If they don't work, why do you keep them?" A blank look, followed by shuffling of feet, followed by a long silence - and still no answer. Days later, the headphones are still there, and presumably, still don't work. I may go to my grave haunted by the question of why those broken headphones are hanging there.

I went to the cafe at a monastery, run by well-spoken monks, and asked if they had veggie momos. He said, "Yes, we have momos." Good, then we'll have two plates. "Sorry. Momos won't be ready for two hours." Now a sane and reasonable person would say, volubly (if that's a word), "What did I JUST ask you? JUST now? And didn't you JUST tell me you had momos?!" But on this day, it wasn't a weak moment, and anticipating unsatisfactory intercourse, I ordered fried rice, barely missing a beat.

My guess is that as you read these examples, you're laying out possible reasons for their behaviour. If so, you're afflicted with Western Mind Disorder - trying to make sense of India using your Western mind, which is what got you into the problem to begin with. What you need is a trip here. It won't cure you of your disease, but boy you'll get lots of practice observing its effect. At various times you'll come to the conclusion that someone's nuts, but you won't be sure if it's you or them. Ahhh! That alone is enough reason to come.


There are 11 photos below, and they don't have anything to do with the stories above. They're from the Pindari Glacier trek that I went on a while ago:

A view on the trek.
This very pregnant woman had fallen on stone steps. The village built a type of seated stretcher, and young men volunteered to carry her 15 miles or so to the nearest road, and then put her in a jeep to the nearest hospital, another 20 miles away. We found out later that her baby died.
This little girl's dad, Jai, makes some wicked pancakes! He was also incredibly gentle and sweet.
This is Jai's other daughter.
A friend of the girls above.
Boys from the village of Kathi, where we spent about a week total.
Making little out of big ones. This is how gravel is made throughout India - by hitting a big rock with a hammer until it breaks. Kids work like this in their spare time, sometimes with Mom and Dad doing the same on either side.
The river on a rainy day.
High up the valley, and only a few hours from the glacier.
These gigantic boulders have either rolled down from the mountains, or they are "erratics," boulders carried by the glaciers and then deposited when the glacier recedes.
Jennifer (from the U.S.) and Inbal (from Israel.)
More trekking photos next time.
(The End)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

"So tell me, Mr. David, what do you think about love?"

"So tell me, Mr. David, what do you think about love?" Acharya, a ravishing Indian woman from Calcutta asked me softly, her eyes moist and her head tilted to one side. She spoke like she would to a lover, and it might have been romantic, but we were on the porch of a trekking hut, and she was sitting next to her husband. He seemed at least tolerant of the question, if not as interested in my answer. I started talking about the meditation retreat, but she cut me off. "I'm not talking about that kind of love." I was afraid of that. I wasn't sure where the conversation was going, but I was sure that I was uncomfortable with the form of the attention. And thrilled by it.

Four of us had come to the Himalayan foothills with uncertain plans of trekking to a glacier. On one of the four nights at the first trekker's hut, where it seemed no one had ever stayed beyond a single night, we met Acharya and her husband. She was a dreamy romantic, singing beautiful Hindi and Bengali songs and gazing longingly towards the great snow-capped peaks in the distance. Her husband was anything but dreamy or romantic - a pragmatic cricket coach who seemed to grind his wife with his every action. They told us of their arranged marriage 27 years before, and how they'd not met until that day. When we referred to it as a celebration, she said quietly and sadly, and without elaborating, "It was not a celebration."

She made no secret of the disdain she felt for her husband, so when she turned her attention to me, it made all of us uncomfortable. For reasons about which we could only speculate endlessly, the husband didn't seem the least bit uncomfortable. In fact, he later spoke glowingly about me; how I was so polite, how I carried myself, even how I held my hands in the namaste, or prayer, position when we met.

"Mr. David, what is the meaning of life?" she asked later, making me wish I'd thought more about it before, so I'd have something clever to say.

We saw them one more time, about 10 days later, higher up the mountain and not far from the glacier. When her husband wasn't there, she said, "You're welcome to come visit me in my room whenever you want." We all agreed that she didn't mean it the way it sounded, given who she shared her room with. And when we said our final goodbyes, she held my hand for the longest time as she gazed into my eyes. Her husband was standing right next to us; I was squirming, and they were both calm.

It was so confusing for us easily confused travelers that we were forced to make our own guesses about what was happening. One speculation was that he'd been caught in an affair, and she was making him pay. One was that she WASN'T looking at me like a lover, which was hard to support when you saw how she was looking at me. My final speculation was this: I had no idea what was going on. But I liked it.

Love, love, non-romantic love,

There are 9 pictures below:

Love 1:

This beautiful woman was working at a weaving cooperative:

Most of the women in this village had this coloring on their faces. A red line along the part of the hair indicates a married woman. Beyond that, I don't know!:

Love 2:

The view from the first trekking hut in Loharket, where we spent the four nights:

Love 3:

Love 4:

A shepherd standing in front of a stone flour mill that's powered by the river:

Love 5:

(The End)