Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life, death, and the rearview mirror in between

So this week our Sunday activity was visiting a temple up in the mountains. Considering how I was missing being able to go to the temple, I found great humor in this serendipity. It's not exactly what I was looking for, but it was a good reminder that God really is a loving and funny man. Don't listen to anybody who says otherwise.

So the trek up to the temple involved a bus ride that is definitely worth documenting. First of all, the bus somehow managed to snag on one of the electrical wires that chaotically and perhaps haphazardly runs power through the main part of town. And after catching on the wire and sending everybody on the wet street into a small panic, did we keep driving? You bet! The driver didn't even bat an eye. And the drive just got more exciting from there.

You see, all mountain roads are one lane roads, but they are definitely not one way. Indian drivers have to be the most talented and relaxed drivers that ever existed. They not only know where all of their vehicles lines are, they are great at judging yours, so they know exactly how much room they need to get by without actually coming into contact with oncoming traffic. The following picture gives a rough idea of how close we are talking about. And keep in mind, that car has a rearview mirror, is going about 30 mph, and there is no shoulder - just a steep drop off of a mountainside.

And this one is a good illustration of what I mean by lines. I almost lost my hand and camera grabbing this one.

Yeah. There were a lot of people who got car sick on this ride. On the way up I was sitting in the very back of the bus and definitely felt nauseated from all the jostling. On the way down, however, I was smart enough to sit near the front and really just enjoyed the fact that I wasn't the one driving. I know I've mentioned this before. But I really am strangely relaxed during these situations. I guess it's mostly because I know I have absolutely no control over whether I might live or die, but also because the drivers are so focused and calm, I think I just trust them to do their job. It's weird. I know.

Anyway, we drive to the trail that goes up to the temple, and I have to laugh because the 'little hike' we were told it would require was actually a staircase that started at the bottom of this mountain, and ended at the grounds of the temple at the top. Luckily, I've retained my mountain lungs, and that combined with my new yoga muscles made things more bearable. The temple itself was beautiful, peaceful, and interesting, but the view was absolutely fantastic. This is just a panoramic of one side. I can totally see how one would feel closer to God here. We spent a few hours on the grounds and then trekked it back down for another death-defying bus ride home.

So classes started again on Monday, and I must admit, classes this week have been pretty mundane. I guess part of that is because I haven't felt like asking questions. I did ask one. I wanted to know what the role of sympathy and empathy were if, in hinduism, you aren't supposed to identify others as suffering (mostly because by their logic, nobody is suffering, just existing in an unenlightened state). Once again, I didn't get an answer to this either. After that, many people started mentioning how they felt he never answers my questions. In fact, so many mentioned it that I began to see that my questions were undermining other students respect for Roshan. And because I really do have a lot of respect for Roshan and what he has to share, I've decided to stop asking the tough questions that endlessly come to mind - at least in class. I'll save them for more personal conversations.

I guess the rest of the week went by pretty insignificantly - well, except for my body continuing to reject my efforts. After my left shoulder starts to recover, I was doing cow pose and the teacher came to adjust me. I can't say it was a good adjustment though, and he ended up causing my right shoulder to freak out on me. Now both shoulders are a little wacky and that makes most of the reaching poses rather impossible, with the exception of forward bend. Lucky me, it was the week of forward bends.  But unlucky me, doing so many forward bends caused my lower back to freak out and that awesome disc that gave me so much trouble several years ago has started poking at me again. Rawr. Not wanting to go through that ordeal again, I've backed off and tried to give my back some time to heal. Hopefully I'll be fully practicing again by the end of next week.

Oh, and to wrap up what I mentioned last week, I did think a lot about the Atonement this week. I can't say I've come across any hindu correlations just yet, but I think I finally did fully connect with why we needed one. Perhaps I should have figured this out earlier, but the reasons before were just words to me. Intuitively I knew it was important, but it only appealed to my right brain, which doesn't worry about things like why. Many people have taught me the logic, but their logic did little to bring it into the realm of reality for me. So, loving the the 'reality' of physics, the following is what I came up with.

Death is something inevitible for all living things. In other words, the kinetic energy required to by our bodies does not flow perfectly, and the corrosion and/or destruction caused by those imperfections wears on our bodies, ages our cellular materials, until eventually, we die.

Now, I'm beginning to see how there had to be some kind of initial (and substantial) activation energy required for us to overcome something as inevitable as death. Our bodies are efficient, some would even say perfect, by design, but imperfections in our spiritual forms add resistance to the energy that flows through us. That internal resistance causes an energy (aka light/truth) defecit (less leaving the system than what was put into it) that results in spiritual death. Simultaneously, that disturbance in flow combined with exposure to oxidizing elements (ie O2) causes our perfectly designed and potentially eternal bodies to age like an corroding battery terminal. Eventually, the resistance becomes so great that the flow of energy stops. Not only does the battery die, but it can't be recharged due to the corroded terminal.

I suppose this is where the atonement comes into play. Not only does it provide the activation energy needed to refine that inner core, thereby allowing us to understand and therefore perfectly conduct the energy available to us (the glory of God), but it has also provided us access to a terminal that is not subject to oxidation. Couple those two things together (that refined core with a resurrected body), and I can see how we could become like God. Now, couple that coupling (you) with another coupling(spouse) in that eternal and powerful bond of matrimony, and you have yourself a circuit - a circuit that is actually capable of doing what God does, organizing and creating an eternal family of our own.

So back to where this all started, I can see why we need both the redeeming and enabling power the atonement has to offer. Not only to overcome the inevitable physical decay of mortality, but also to create a core of perfect conductivity.  A core that does not resist, but rather conducts the energy(aka glory/love) of God so well as to become one with Him. Not only seeing, but understanding and feeling EVERYTHING as it was, is, and will be.  We may not be capable of preventing oxidation, but we don't have to - Christ has that covered already.  So we should embrace the wrinkles for now, remember our potential, and use the power of the atonement to refine our cores.  If we allow the love of God to be conducted through us, without resistance, then our batteries will never loose their charge, and His glory will always shine in our countenances.  Which, if you ask me, is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The mental side of muscle cramps?

Ok.  So I've attached a picture of the squat toilet.  I think it's more commonly known as an Indian toilet.  I've often wondered why a culture so concerned with their bowls didn't develop a more comfortable way of doing things.  I guess it makes certain things easier?  Oh well.  As I stated previously, necessity is a great teacher, and I'm pretty much a pro at this point (I even figured out how to aim!).

So as you can see, my bathroom is only a few feet wide.  Luckily, there is hot water and a shower.  Unfortunately, the hot water only lasts about 2 minutes coming out of the shower head.  Since I need a few more minutes to actually wash everything off, I've resorted to filling up a bucket with the hot water available, and working things out from there.  It's not a bad way to go, but I admit that my scalp misses having water pressure and the rest of me wouldn't mind a 10 min shower now and then.

So week two.  I'm going to have to label this, my adjustment week, and kind of a rough one at that.  It started off great.  For one, I got to participate in the Indian version of  bachelor party.  It was a huge!  One thing I'd like to instigate in the states.  Rather than being some pathetic excuse for misbehavior, it was a huge party with food, dancing, and ceremony to boot.  It started off with a parade that collected the dancing guests as it meandered through the streets of Rishikesh.  By the time we reached the main tent of the party, there must have been 500 people there.  The DJ was quite good, the food was amazing, and the guys were a riot.  The only odd thing was how somber all of the women were until the bride made her big appearance.  Oh well, I guess it was the guys night to celebrate.  I did meet two wonderful girls that night.  Thipa (I should learn to spell that...), and Clara.  Thipa is from India and Clara is from Columbia.  Both are very cool girls, and I felt a kinship spark with both of them that night.  Thipa is on the left and Clara on the right.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week didn't go so smoothly.  My right hip started giving me problems on Tuesday (chronic issue, not a big surprise), Wednesday morning, my left shoulder cramped up while getting into a pose and made it all but impossible to fully practice.  Wednesday and Thursday night, I could not sleep at all because of said shoulder, and by Friday, I fell apart and started bawling in the middle of our evening asanas.  I think Roshan either saw or heard of me struggling, because he approached me Saturday and tried to offer some advice.  Funny thing, logical advice has rarely ever worked for me, and this time was no different.

Those who know me well are very familiar with this quirk.  Don't get me wrong, academically, it's easier for me to learn things in a logical order, and when dealing with logical people, I definitely communicate with logic.  But when it comes to my own life, I almost always intuitively solve problems, (meaning I look for a solution that feels right) and then use logic to fill in the structural gaps of that feeling.  I've found that to be a very effective way of solidifying my decisions and actually helps with communicating them to others. Unfortunately, that tends to give people unfamiliar with me the impression that I'm all logic and receptive to those kinds of solutions.  Woops.

So Roshan gives me some advice about letting go and not trying, but that doesn't feel right.  So, I thank him for his concern, and went back to trying to figure out what I was feeling and why my gut was ill at ease (not just in the digestive capacity).  By Saturday night, I had pretty much concluded that there was a whole lot going on, and that this feeling was going to require more than just a shift in perspective.

For one, haha I miss going to church.  That is a strange thing for me to come to terms with.  I wish I had appreciated it more when it was available, but I do miss taking the sacrament, having a Sunday school lesson, and especially going to the temple.  Part of that is because I'm swimming in some more murky waters as our philosophy class continues.  Don't get me wrong, there are still TONS of similarities and I'm still gaining a better perspective of the gospel the more I learn.  One that comes to mind are the 9 distractions that make the path of yoga more difficult.  Every single one is solved by well-established and essential part of the gospel.  Anyway, I think I'm starting to miss the consistency and simplicity of church doctrine, because there is no consistency in much of what we are discussing.  You can tell much of what is being taught is Roshans interpretation of yoga (Hinduism).  Not that that's bad, but there are definitely holes that I'm picking up on, and when I ask questions to fill in those gaps, I rarely get answers. 

Just to give you an idea, this is usually how it goes.  Roshan teaches a 'universal truth.'  I think of some exception (can't help it, it's what my brain does), and ask how that fits in with the universal truth.  It's not that I am intentionally challenging his teaching, but I do want to understand how these things fit in with this belief system.  I already know where most of them fit in with mine, so I'm trying to figure out how others deal with it.  For instance, sociopaths seem to have little place in the world of yoga.  I've had to bring them up a couple times and my question never gets a direct answer.  Oh well.

So besides church and the ambiguous answers, there is something else that keeps gnawing at me.  I was discussing particle physics vs quantum theory with a couple of girls tonight and I realized something...of everything being taught, there is one thing missing completely....that God has a body.  I'm thinking this is probably unique to our faith, but Roshan did mention that there are hindu doctrines mentioning that the gods having a desire to have a body, but nobody seemed able to grasp the option of Him actually having one already.  What's funny to me, is I see absolutely no reason He can't. 

As I mentioned, I was discussing quantum theory with a few girls after dinner (yeah, I'm loving this place), and I realized, if God truly understands the laws of the universe and knows exactly how to manipulate and interpret the subtle energies that exist in every molecule and wavelength, then literally (not symbolically or figuratively), He can be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent (just like the 'consciousness' so often mentioned in class) while still existing in material form.  He would know that across the universe, someone was having a hard day, because he knows, feels, and understands the energy being emitted from that event.  The glory of God is light right?  Just think about it.  He wouldn't be subject to time, age, the need for food, or anything because He is completely connected to the interface that surrounds but escapes us all.  I'm wondering actually, if this is what a resurrected body really makes us capable of - that kind of comprehension.  But again, I fear I've dived too deep...

So after having this epiphany, I suddenly felt much lighter, and funny enough - my shoulder started to feel better.  I think this tidbit was a big part of the stress I was experiencing.  Because I knew it had place, but couldn't explain how.  And that combined with the physical injuries that kept me from sleeping just made everything that much worse.  But a bit of light has shone through those murky waters.  This next week, I hope to better understand the role and need for the atonement - hopefully with no associating muscle cramps.  It could be tough because this is a subject I'm still not too familiar with in gospel terminology let alone yoga terminology being translated from Sanskrit by a man who doesn't think it exists.  I saw a hint of something in the 9 obstacles.  There was mentioned the problem of digression (need for a redeemer?) as well as the need for progression (enabling power perhaps?), but I think we'll be getting into that more this week.  Until then, any other insights are more than welcomed. 

Just to leave things on a lighter note, Saturday we did some breathing exercises by the river.  Of course a large group of western women always attracts a male crowd, but once again, my blonde hair, blue eyes, and awesomely pasty skin basically makes me a celebrity.  Several guys asked if they could get a picture taken with me.  This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened since I arrived in Rishikesh, (in fact, I'm pretty sure I saw 5-6 videos being taken of me while dancing in that parade), but usually they keep their distance.  So it took me off guard for a bit, and since Clara was with me when they asked, she told them it would cost them 20 rupees for each picture.  To this one of the guys responded "I'll pay 200 if you want me to."  Just for a picture?  Wow.  Long story short, I took the pictures (not their money), and even put my arm around um.  I figure it's an easy way to make someones day.  It's just sooooooo weird to me that that can make someone's day!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Same same but different

I wrote this post a week ago. Until today, I didn't have a way of uploading it. Week 2 post will be up in a few days.

I can't believe it's only been one week. I feel like no time and an eternity have all gone by all at the same time, but I guess that is the nature of what I'm studying. I'm not really sure where to start, so I guess I'll pick up where I left off. The cab picked me up a few hours after my last post. To my surprise, there was two other girls already in it. Their names were Heather and India. Heather is in her early 30's, rather mature, experienced, and level headed. India is in her early 20's and about as unique as her name - just a bucket of youth and personality. They have both had extensive travel experience, and so much of the 6 hour drive was used up with me picking their brains about their experiences and travel stories. More importantly though, I'm really enjoying both of these girls, and it makes me all the more excited about the next several weeks.

We get into Rishikesh early that evening, just before dinner. In the little time I have, I unpack and try to settle into my new room. Upon entering my bathroom, I was surprised to find what can best be described as a squat toilet. (Once I figure out how to get internet access on my computer I'll post pictures.) Though I'm not really looking forward to this method of relieving myself, I'm just happy to have plumbing, so I finish unpacking and head down for a wonderful meal with more wonderful people. I am pretty tired by this time, but still filled with curiosity and anticipation. I have no idea what the next 6 weeks will hold, but somehow I still feel really good about it. I'm happy to be here, and moving forward with open eyes and hungry ears.

After dinner, there is a ceremony that mostly just went over my head, but I remember something about a goddess of wisdom and a whole lot of chanting I didn't understand. There was one point during all of this that I thought "what in the world did I get myself into?," but it was fleeting, and after looking past the unfamiliarity of the ritual, I felt a lot of peace, and just tried to take it all in.

After the ceremony I'm beat, and head to bed. The next morning was a rough one. Apparently I acquired a little bit of Delhi belly (a quaint phrase for the bowl clearing diarrhea many people get when first arriving here). It was a bad time to be figuring out the squat toilet, but necessity is a great teacher. Luckily, I didn't feel too bad otherwise, and so I was able to make it through the day. Just to give you an idea of what my day looks like...

Morning herbal tea and neti pots are done at 6:30am. For those who don't know what a neti pot is, it's basically washing out your nasal cavity with salt water every morning. After the mucus fest we have morning Asanas from 7:15-8:45. At 8:45 I usually take my bucket bath (I'll explain later) which is followed by breakfast at 9:30. After that we have Philosophy class and Anatomy class, then lunch, and then a 4 hour break where we usually read, explore, chat, etc. Our evening Asanas are from 5-6:30, and then we have dinner at 7. After that I usually end up chatting with people till 8:30 or so, and after that I'm usually so tired I head to bed, just to start it all over again at 6am.

It's a pretty rigorous schedule, but I'm not sure this is description does anything justice. I am still a little sore, but getting stronger and, believe it or not, even more flexible. Mentally and spiritually though, I feel like I'm Charley in the chocolate factory. Multiple times a day in our philosophy class, Roshan (our instructor) explains a concept of yoga that is almost identical to some precept of the gospel. Some things are very quirky and small, but most of it is very good, very deep, doctrine. I find it difficult to explain why I'm so elated after every class because to explain the similarities of the concept, I have to give tons of background information that I can tell few have the patience to listen to. This has resulted in my mind constantly swimming, and perhaps at times drowning, in some very powerful stuff.

Just to give you an example, one of the ones we covered today was the word tantric. Apparently, when translated, the word tantric means system. Tantric yoga includes a bunch of other types and concepts of yoga (not just sex). Before he even finished explaining what he meant by system, I already had my synonym. It's like the organization of the Gospel and the different doctrines that comprise it. And to make the whole experience all the more enlightening, Roshan goes on to explain that those who have written books about tantra are not tantric masters, because those who practice tantra have to be initiated to become a master, and after they are masters, they do not talk about the things they learn with anybody who has not been initiated. He explained that it wasn't that the advanced practices of tantra was secret, but it is considered sacred, and that those who hadn't done the preparation, wouldn't understand the concepts, so it was not to be discussed with them until they went through all the proper preparations. Needless to say, this made perfect sense to me, and I couldn't help but laugh a little at the stark similarity to our temples.

These sorts of things are the daily occurrence. Yesterdays was a Hindu rendition of Lehi's vision of the tree of life. The day before was all about how light and truth make up this greater consciousness that always was, always is, and always will be.

One of the greatest similarities is the idea of that the self (the core identity of a person) is eternal in nature (exists before and after our body) and on the path to becoming an eternally enlightened (or perhaps exalted?) being. One thing that struck me during this lecture was how we are often told to 'remember who you are,' but I think most of us just interpret it as remembering we are a child of God (at least that's how I used to interpret it). But I wonder if we should be taking it one step further, and try to be remembering who we are eternally (who we were, are, and will be). Roshan (our teacher) describes this as reuniting you (the developing form) with you (the eternal form). He explains that this is the goal of yoga.

I think that the doctrine of coming unto Christ deals a lot with getting us and keeping us on that path of remembering/recognizing who each of us really is. That becoming like Christ does not mean we lose our personality, but rather become one with him in intention and desire. Yoga teaches that it's through purifying those desires/intentions we become capable of seeing past the veil, temptation, and our own ignorance, and are then able to see things as they really are. To see ourselves as we really are (and what we can be). Armed with that vision/knowledge, the redeeming power of the atonement, and desire to become like God, eternal happiness is completely achievable (in this life and the next).

Roshan does a great job of explaining how these concepts of yoga(spiritual) are explored through the practice of yoga (physical). It's quite interesting to see how these guru's have been able to take intangible gospel concepts, and connect them with our physical bodies. In a lot of ways, it feels like it's kind of filling in the gaps of my own gospel understanding. For instance, those in the Church all know our bodies are an important part of our spiritual potential, but very little of our doctrine addresses how to build and refine the relationship between our spirit and body. We praise the development of spiritual and mental intelligence, but I think this type of intelligence, physical intelligence, is often overlooked.

Perhaps it's because we just ascribe it as gift or talent to others (ie dancers, athletes, etc), meanwhile ignoring our potential, and perhaps responsibility, to develop it ourselves. Perhaps we forget that physical intelligence is a form of intelligence at all. After all, nothing in our scriptures, besides the word of wisdom and perhaps procreation, really connects our physical bodies with our spiritual capacities. Which, if you think about it, is odd since we are probably the only faith that believes in an eternal physical body.

I guess this is why we're taught to search out of the best books, because there's far more truth out there than what has been canonized. And I have found a lot of it as I learn more about yoga. In fact, kind of like the Book of Mormon and Bible compliment one another, the more I learn about yoga, the better I understand many other aspects of the gospel. It's cool stuff.

So overall, I'm really enjoying my time here. I guess I never did finish my Delhi belly story or explain my bucket bath, but I'll save those for another entry. Until then....Namaste!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chaos shrugged

So I was going to wait until I reached Rishikesh to update, but I'm still a little jet-lagged and therefore awake at 6am.  Oh well, it's probably for the best, because last night was nuts, and it might help me digest it all if I can write it down.  So here we go.

First of all, I forgot to write about something that happened to me Friday.  I was walking back to my hotel when 3 women in full black burkas started walking toward me.  They had their hands out to beg, which wasn't out of the ordinary by any means, but it was the first time in Delhi I've felt frightened.  Why here, why now, with these 3 ladies, I couldn't tell you.  They weren't out of the ordinary, but there was something about how silently and swiftly they moved toward me, all in black except their unfriendly eyes, that just felt threatening.  For some reason it keeps playing in my head, so I figured writing it down might help me purge that one.  Anyway, Saturday morning I slept in till noon.  I did drug myself in an attempt to overcome the jet-lag, but it had a stronger effect than I intended.  After getting ready, I headed into the heart of Old Delhi.

A bit of background, Old Delhi is where the Red Fort, Chandi Chowk, and other various but huge mosques and temples are.  Needless to say, it is a VERY busy part of town.  My driver was quite capable though, and managed to get me to the Red Fort in pretty good time.  I walked around the grounds for a bit, amazed at the size of this monument and how much lawn was available (Some context, outside the gates - it's basically body to body and shop to shop).  I even saw a bit of blue and some clouds where the smog hadn't yet choked out the sky.  After a photo op, I headed into Chandi Chowk.

So Chandi Chowk is a major market in the area.  If you're a tourist, you will get hassled, and I definitely did countless times while walking down the street.  I think this is one time in my life that my clinical coldness came in very handy.  Avoid eye contact, say no (or nothing at all), and walk away.  I window shopped as best I could, but didn't buy anything since I didn't want to have to carry it to Rishikesh with me.  After a while, I met up with a tour group for a food tour of Old Delhi.

This is probably one of the best things I could have done.  The tour guide navigated us through tons of little holes in the wall (litterally that's all they were - holes in the wall of shops that lined the streets).  He gave us background on the food we were tasting, some history on the area, and even some tips for venturing on our own.  My palate was very pleased by everything we tasted, but moreover, I was a bit awestruck by the whole experience.  There is always a close tie between food and culture, and as we ate, I felt like I had finally gained a glimpse of understanding this strange world.  Food is cheap, sanitation pretty much non-existent, and beggars everywhere.  It's packed body-to-body, like a smog-laden mobile mosh pit, with about as much air available.  Needless to say, to an introvert such as myself, this is an incredibly high stress environment, but I try to breathe (as best I can) and take it all in.

The group I toured with had couples from Austrailia, Germany, Malaysia, a guy from Chicago, one from Brazil, and me.  It was a fun group, and in spite (or maybe because) of the craziness, we definitely had a good time.  They were avid travelers with tons of stories of their own to share, and I listened intently in an attempt to soak up their knowledge.  Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable, and did his best to answer our endless questions.

One thing that was difficult for me to understand, was why our rickshaw drivers got accosted by the police (beaten with a stick basically).  He tried to explain that with so many people, so much chaos, and in a culture where people have no concept of integrity, the police are under a lot of stress, and have little patience when dealing with others, especially the lower class.  Apparently, there isn't even a term for police brutality because this is such a common occurrence.  As gut-wrenching as it was, I could easily understand how in this society (overcrowded, chaotic, and cutthroat), there may be no other option.  Talking to or even yelling at someone to obey the law wouldn't work (they just ignore you), and to make matters worse, there are too many doing it to make civil discipline a possibility.  It was one of those moments I really reflected on western society and felt appreciation for the framework of civil behavior that holds it up.  Sure there are exceptions, but try imagining a place where those exceptions are the rule.  You'll feel grateful too. 

 So back to the food tour.  One of the places we stopped was a bread shop where they serve several different types of breads.  My favorite was green chile naan and a naan that was filled with sweet and condensed milk, coated in cinnamon sugar.  Wow...just wow.  But the coolest thing about this place was that it had been run by the same family for 7 generations.  Seven!  I can't even wrap my head around how they managed to keep it together for that long, but I guess in a society where there are few opportunities, nepotism...er...I mean family duty is king, and whether you want to be a bread maker or not is completely irrelevant.

One other really neat place served a lentil curry with ghee that was to die for.  The ambiance was difficult to explain because it was so sketchy.  But it was really good food (cottage cheese naan was especially delightful), and worth the sanitation risk.  This is the group in that restaurant.

After our last stop on the food tour, our guides took us to the metro, and guided us home.  This is where things got interesting for me.  My guide asked what station was closest to Maharani Bagh and instructed me which station to get off at.  The smartest thing for me probably would have been to call a cab, but I was feeling adventurous and willing to test the metro system I had heard to much about.  So I got off at my station, and on the way out was told I could find cabs just outside.  Well, it was 10:30 at night and there were only rickshaws outside.  I had heard I should avoid rickshaws, but at this point, I didn't really feel like I had a choice.  It was getting late, and the later it got, the worse off I was.  So I grabbed a rickshaw, who drove me near by Maharani Bagh, but then demanded more money to take me the rest of the way.  That pissed me off, and thinking I recognized the area, I figured I'd walk the rest of the way.

Yes, this was another dumb move on my part, and 30 minutes later I'm walking through a Maharani Bagh that I don't recognize at all.  I should mention, these places are huge, and once inside the gates, I can navigate pretty well, but outside, I'm basically useless.  And a side note bit of advice if you ever come to Delhi - stay in well known hotels so that people can direct you or get you home.  Most people in Delhi don't know where anything is unless they've been there themselves - including cabbies.  By 11:00pm I was getting a bit desperate.  I could call a cab, but have no way of describing where I am so that's still useless.  I ask around and keep getting different directions from different people, until finally, some guy offers to help me find my way home.  We'll call him Raj, since I couldn't understand, let alone pronounce, his real name.  Raj didn't give me creepy vibes or anything, but getting on the back of a motorbike with a stranger just has 'stupid' written all over it.  So I told Raj no thank you, but after getting directed in circles, praying for some help, and running into him once more just outside his store, I decided to trust my gut and take his ride.  Stupid as it may be, wandering in this area so late at night seemed equally dangerous and didn't seem to be getting me closer to home.  He could at least ask for directions and understand the ones being given, so I hopped on the bike, and was off.     

Luckily, as you may guess from my ability to post my experience, my gut was right.  Raj got me home in tact, gave me a new love of riding on motorbikes (because even in crazy traffic - it's a lot of fun), and also gave me his number. lol.  As you can guess, Raj decided he liked me from the moment he saw me, and decided to tell me while driving me home.  He was well dressed, not bad looking, smelled nice, and actually seemed different from many I've been dealing with.  I felt relaxed with him and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like I was in a Bollywood movie during most of the ride.  But the romance of it all seemed to get to him more than me.  His hesitation at spitting out the words "I like you" was actually quite endearing, but anybody who knows me knows my cold black heart and my response was "You don't like me, you don't know me." 

Well, he's a persistent one, and tries to give me his number.  Grateful for the ride, but not wanting to form any long-term ties, I take the number, but then being unfamiliar with my new prepaid phone, accidentally call it, giving him mine.  Woops.  Either way, I tell him I'm leaving early in the morning, and there's no point in calling me.  He asks me to call him and I tell him no.  His next words..."you break my heart" in his thick Hindi accent.  I choke back my laugh (mostly) and tell him I'm sorry, but I am grateful for the ride, and head inside. 

Well, not 10 mins go by and this guy calls me.  I answer it, pretend I was already asleep, tell him not to call back, and hang up.  At 4:30am he calls me again, and I decide to let my imaginary boyfriend answer.  Never before has my early-morning man voice been such a blessing.  He tells him to leave me alone and then hangs up.  I thought for sure that would work, but no, he just calls back.  This time I answer and tell him we've already left Delhi, that my boyfriend is not pleased, and his response is "your friend boy is not right for you.  I'm right for you.  Cherie I did not sleep last night, my heart..."  Bah...now I'm just annoyed.  So enter clinically cold Cherie again..."Sorry Raj, I don't like you, and you don't know me.  Good bye."

This is followed by several texts of "plz plz plz!" and other various desperate pleas for attention.  Those, I just ignored and have just confirmed to me one thing - well two things really.  One, I'm going to have to get a new SIM card, and two, thank goodness I'm leaving for Rishikesh today.  I'm in need of some zen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Live from New Delhi, it's Friday morning?

There's something inherently weird about losing a day of your life.  It's odd to think that Feb 2, 2012 is was only about 3 hours long in my personal history.  I left on the 1st, had 16 hrs aboard a plane, and somehow arrived on the 3rd.  Oh well, I guess I'll get it back eventually.

The trip overall was pleasantly uneventful.  Except for some minor plane delays, some unappetizing airline food, and a bit of turbulence, it was all together a very good trip.  I listened to The Hunger Games for most of it, and slept in between (thanks to some flexeril).  Before I knew it, I was in Delhi.

Coming through the arrival gate was a moment of realization for me.  As I looked out over the masses waiting to get their passports checked, I had to laugh at the thought of sticking out like a sore thumb.  A pasty, blonde, sore thumb.  But while I was waiting in line, I heard the distinct sound of Brazilian Portuguese in my ear.  I turned around, saw big Brazilian smiles, and struck up a conversation with some of the ladies behind me.  They were from Belo Horizonte, and had the same inviting aura I have found amongst so many Brazilians.  They thought me brave for trekking out on my own, I thought them crazy for trying to travel in such a big group - but I kept that to myself.  I was just enjoying the moment of familiarity, as I knew nothing would be familiar to me from here on out.

The line went it's separate ways, and as I approached the border agent, I actually felt a touch of worry.  He was obviously not happy about his career choice, let alone having to be there at 2am with thousands of people (yes, I'm pretty sure there was a couple thousand in the room) waiting on him.  I handed him my papers.  He grunts something about things not being filled out and hands me back my passport.  My stomach drops.  I've heard too many horror stories associated with passports, but before I freak out, I remember the 'honey attracts more bees" bit, I ask in the sweetest tone I could muster, "What do I need to do?"

In a still gruff, but tolerating tone, he explains to me the items I'm missing and even helps me fill out the paper.  Grateful for all the help, I ham up the dumb but grateful blonde act (hey if it works...).  Before long he stamps my passport and directs me to baggage claim.  It was brief, but I'm pretty sure he even cracked a smile as I bid him farewell.  Score one for pleasantness.

Two hours after landing, I have my visa stamped, my bags in tow, and now I'm hunting for a piece of paper with my name on it amongst the nameless and unfamiliar faces lining the pick-up spot.  It's 3:30am, the air is cool, but heavy with a strange mix of smog, fog, and spice.  The airport is still bustling, and as I search the long row of printed names, I can't even imagine what it's like trying to navigate during the day.

Eventually I find my driver and we're off.  It doesn't take me very long to realize people out here abide by different rules on the road.  First of all - the British spread and left their awful practice of driving on the left-hand side.  Secondly, there are no other rules.  Well, accept perhaps 'if you can fit, you have the right of way.'  There is very little traffic, and so my driver decides two lanes are better than one, and straddles the white line pretty much the whole way home.  Pedestrians?  They better move.  Crosswalks?  Not sure they actually exist.  Red lights?  Optional as long as there's nobody in front of you, and if there's someone coming you can just honk at the cars driving through the green light.  Oh, one more thing.  Honking is more of a statement of "I'm here" than "get out of my way," and since there is no degree of personal space on the road, it gets used a lot.

But despite the drastic differences and my renewed sense of gratefulness for traffic laws, I really wasn't nervous.  My driver seemed to know what he was doing, so even if there were no perceivable rules in this game, I felt confident he knew how to play.  I had the same sort of experience this morning in a taxi I took from the hotel.  Although this one seemed to enjoy playing an unfair game of chicken with pedestrians - and that made me a bit nervous for them.  I think if I can help it, I'm going to try and avoid crossing ANY street in Delhi - ever.

My room in Delhi

Well that about sums things up.  I'm enjoying the comfort of my room, especially the clean air.  The smog here in Delhi is REEEEEDICULOUS!  It's a wonder the whole city doesn't have lung cancer.  For those in Utah, think of a bad inversion day, and multiply it by 10X.  Yuk.  Oh well, I'm sure my lungs will survive one more day of it, and then I'm heading to Rishikesh.  Tomorrow I'll be doing a food tour and checking out more of the city, then Sunday I'll be catching a sacrament meeting before driving up to Rishikesh.  Until then, Namaste!