Archive for the ‘India’ Category

This advent, I have been thinking about light. Light allows me to see more detail, but I have found that sometimes darkness helps me look calmly at only a few things. I also feel less exposed in the dark and feel like I can watch without exposing others. With warm, soft light, we find the courage to see each other.

First Advent: Bodhgaya

At the Bangladeshi Vihara, devotees have lit thousands of butter lamps to remind of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (more…)

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What a change to enter the Himalayan foothills of North Bengal and Sikkim. In Darjeeling, what refreshment to see women carrying out their daily lives in public, moving and interacting freely. People seem very sincere and forthright here. Unlike elsewhere in India, there are no touts, nobody asking for our money. As a rule, people help us honestly even when blurring the truth could lead to their own profit.


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On our long bus trip to Shillong, Meghalaya, I watched a group of four or five children comfortably squatting around the backside of a goat, curiously studying its butt. The goat had some sort of enormous growth hanging from its belly and it was profusely bleeding from its anus.

What does it mean to watch another’s suffering? What would it mean to look away? “I feel like I don’t have good defenses. I feel really exposed to all these raw impressions.” I wrote in an email to my Mom about this disturbing scene, only one of many, observed for a few moments out of the bus window. (more…)

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Sorry for the hiatus. I have added the photos from Varanasi to “River life and death,” and I promise much more to come about our adventures in the low Himalayas of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Kalimpong, where we spent 2 weeks.

I have also updated the map to show our route correctly. To get the complete picture, you will have to click “View larger map” at the bottom of that page and then scroll through the navigation pane on the left side of the Google page that opens.

Caleb and the Snow Lion

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We have had our most fruitful interactions on trains. It’s almost as if the camaraderie of sharing the industrial and impersonal quarters of a sleeper car creates enough of a common ground to shift the framework of interaction away from the sort of generic curiosity we meet on the street. I also think it has something to do with inhabiting a space that is mostly middle class, sealed off in a way from the general chaos (of India, and in this case, of the Unreserved cabins).

Looking down on a seat in unreserved.

On one trip, we were asked to define racism (from our Western perspective), before getting into a conversation about a news article in Australia alleging “reverse racism” of Indians against white Australians. On another trip, our new friends talked about work, making a living in the nonprofit sector, travel, music, photography. (more…)

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River life and death

Varanasi strikes me as a huge and complex habitat of twisting, unnamed alleyways and expansive, somewhat unsettling riverfront terraces filled with tiny characters carrying out their lives. The architecture of the riverbank of the Ganges is monumental, with stairs all along it leading down to the holy water, while others lead up to unknown temples and chambers embedded in the massive stone facade. In many places spires and ramparts tower over the promenade, liquids of dubious integrity oozing out of each layer of stone and spreading an incredible stench across the vast ghats.

Ancient structures looking out over the ghats.

The ghats emit an ancientness that permeates all the activities that take place along the river. The begging and blessing sadhus with dreads and bare chests, the bathers, the laundry washers who lay out their drying cloth in vast swaths that ripple across the steps. Even the small groups of men young and old that gather to smoke hash in the twilight, playing cards on outcroppings over the water. (more…)

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Kolkata as a city defied my expectations dramatically. As predicted, it was a vibrant Indian city; it was the most cosmopolitan place I’ve seen in India by far. Also, as I could have foreseen, it had a bit of the dark Kali energy lurking in places. Ultimately I was surprised that it lacked the pervasive and crushing poverty I expected from its reputation. It was much cleaner than Chennai in terms of sidewalk and street condition, and there were far fewer people living in the streets where we explored.

Street view in Kolkata.

Turn the page to the Buddhist village of Bodhgaya. Here, it is refreshing to be a part of an international presence that is not about the interests, demands, and money of white people. True, there are more beggars and as many touts here as anywhere we’ve been, but the real business of this town is to serve the monks who are pilgrims to the holy site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (more…)

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