India, Days 4-5
The morning seems to come quickly and Brittany and I are startled by the wake up call. We pack up our things and head downstairs where we are directed towards The Coffee Shop, which turns out to be a gorgeously decorated breakfast buffet. I get an omelet with mushrooms which were AMAZING, Im not sure exactly what made it so yummy but it was. Over breakfast we discuss once more the contrasts between the impoverishment we see and the ornate breakfast we are participating in. If I were to pick one theme amongst all the countries we have visited it would be wealth dichotomy.
After our luxurious breakfast Britt, Annie and I head to the lobby where we see a sparse number of group members. It seems that the morning is optional and many of our fellow students had been out way too late the night before and would not be joining us. We couldnt believe someone(literally half of our group) would forsake the ability to see everything we were about to experience for one night of partying, but alas to each their own.
Our first stop is to the Bahai House of Worship in Delhi. It is created to look like a lotus flower and is architecturally amazing. It is made of 27 marble petals and can hold up to 2,500 people. It was finished in 1986. It is actually the second Bahai temple I have seen as I visited one in Israel a couple of years ago. It is also outlined with beautiful flowers, including some that looked just like truffela trees from Dr. Suess. Their religion gives prominence to the spiritual unity of individuals. The lotus temple serves as a place of worship for all religions including their own. They believe in a unity of all the worlds religion and utilize prophets from Krishna to Jesus. It was very interesting and we got to go inside for a prayer ceremony. The prayer echoed through the domed interior and it was truly a spiritual time of reflection for all we had seen in the past days.
From the Bahai House we were driven to a Sikh temple. This was particularly cool. The world is home to 25 million Sikhs, 20 million of who reside in India, with the majority in the Punjab region. Sikhism is a relatively new religion, formed in the 17th century. Baptized Sikhs wear turbans and are often times mistaken for Muslims, which is a problem for them in many western countries. The temple we visited was ornately and colorfully decorated. We were instructed to take off our shoes and people literally grimaced as we would be walking outside on our way to the temple and as I have reiterated over and over its dirty! But alas, it is always important to respect other cultures so I untie my tennis shoes, place an orange bandana over my head (they give them to all tourists as it is required to cover ones head) and head out with Brittany trying not to focus on the various diseases I could contract (lol).
On our was up the stairs we encounter a stream of water on two of the steps, we are explained that it is holy water and told that stepping in it is wholly optional. I lightly press my toes into it and keep walking, figuring when at the Sikh temple . As usual the sheer number of individuals around me is enormous, from western looking Sikhs to the baptized turban wearing variety. It was very interesting and cool to be surrounded by such a unique and colorful religion and culture.
As we enter the temple we hear a band playing drums and other instruements and individuals line up to give some sort of an offering (we couldnt figure out what it was). Many Sikhs line the floor, sitting, taking in the music and praying. We walk around the offering table and head back outside. We are offered Holy Food which we were told ahead of time we could refuse but if we accepted we would have to finish it. Brittany, braver than I, tastes the mush looking item and manages to down it, while I set my sights on a large pool to the right of the complex. Hundreds of individuals, with their families, are bathing in the large pool, bring the water right up to their faces and praying. We decide to join in and walk in up to our ankles and touch the water giving ourselves a moment of meditation. We walk around the pool (which is actually quite large) taking in the culture as much as we can! We return back towards the main temple, get our shoes and head out to the bus.
Its an odd sensation being in India. When I was inside anywhere or doing something, I felt oftentimes like I could be anywhere in the world. Yet, the minute I stepped outside it was like India rushed over me. The smells (not so great), the sights (unbelievable, quite literally!) and everything in between instantly reminds one of the uniqueness of the sub-continent.
Our next stop is the Birla Bhavan in New Delhi. It was the site of the untimely assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was killed by a radical Hindu on January 30, 1948. He led Indian in its fight against British colonization and was big proponent of civil disobedience, albeit always non-violent. He is also known as the Father of India. He was actually shot during one of his peace prayer meetings, a very unfortunate irony. The site is now home to museum as well as gardens. Brittany and I stroll through the site, reading all of his amazing quotes and taking in the deeply sad undertones of what had happened as well as the good that his life brought. The museum section of the site chronicled the resistance movement against the British, a topic I find of particular interest. Funneling everything we saw in India through the filter of colonization makes blaming the people for the garbage or the Indian Government for the despair of so many people very questionable. It reminds me once more how the west plays a large legacy-like role in Africa and India, and how our actions can radically change countries destinies for the worse.
We head back to the hotel for the final time where we meet up with the other half of our group. Our last buffet means our last pieces of nan! We savor the spices of India (some yummy masala chicken!) while listening to a man playing drums. Leaving North India was not easy as I truly feel like I am a different person for seeing this nook of the world. Our afternoon is all travel, back to the airport than finally home to the ship. But, India was not over yet! We still had one last day
Nathan had mentioned to us before we left for the Taj that he wanted to go to Mahabalipuram, the sight of 2,000 year old temples about an hour and half away from Chennai. Since he had it all planned and it would only be four dollars for a hop-on hop-off style bus, we figured we might as well! We ate breakfast quickly and headed out for the Tourist Center to get the bus.
Once more we had to hire an auto and to add insult to injury we were in a little bit of a rush to get the first bus. As we get to the gate hundreds of drivers descend upon us. We knew we wanted to only pay 1 USD each and after some looking we were able to find a driver. After reminding him numerous times that we only wanted to go to the Tourist Center he drove for a couple of minutes before pulling over and announcing that road we needed to take was blocked but that for only 20 more rupees he would take us to the proper entrance. Annoyed, we decided to get out and walk by foot, mostly on principle. The 20ish minute walk took us through a political rally! We are constantly warned by SAS to stay away from these as they can get rowdy but it was certainly cool! I dont know what party it was but their candidate was a women! Very cool!!!
After an adventurous walk next to unpredictable traffic we made it to the correct center and get onto the back of the bus. The vehicle takes us through the country side past tiger zoos, Dizzie World (!) and cultural centers. We pass the time discussing our travels (Nathan had gone to Hydrabad) and soon we arrive at Mahabalipuram.
Mahabalipuram was named as a World Heritage Site in 1984. Its monuments date all the way back to the sixth and tenth century AD. They were mostly build under the Pallava ruler, Narasimhavarman I. All of the monuments are right next to sea and even survived the Tsunami!
We walk through a small town on our way to the Shore Temple. It is a prime example of masonry temples that were prevalent during Rajasimhas life. We take a ton of pictures with the bas reliefs. Although not as detailed as they once were, the amazing reliefs of elephants, gods and the like were fascinating! After taking our usual jumping pictures we head down to the hill area and a huge relief known as Arjunas Penance it depicted the hero (Arjuna) in his expedition to impress the deities and it shows his rewards for his journey. It had these really cool elephants on it and was truly amazing! Afterwards we head to the Sisyphus rock which is basically an enormous (10x as tall as we are!) rock which is precariously situated on a steep rock hill. We take atlas like pictures as we deflect hawkers once more. One man even calls us liars when we refuse to purchase a pipe!
On our way back to the bus we stop for some water (I was super dehydrated) and marvel at the numerous street vendors and their various wares from metal bowls that look like they should be sold at Target to cheap necklaces for tourists. I buy a small painting (only 2 dollars!) from a shop and we run back to the bus as it starts to rain.
Another hour and a half later we find ourselves back in Chennai. We ask how far Spencers Mall is as it had been recommended to us by fellow shipmates. The tourguide says it should be a little more than a five minute walk. Thirty minutes later we arrive at Spencers after walking through traffic (the trick is to walk right next to a local, they know what they are doing!), dirt and beggars. We go directly to the grocery store we I buy two six-packs of Diet Coke, while Brittany buys Gatorade. Nathan carries it all in his backpack without complaint as we run through the mall for some last minute shopping (I didnt buy anything ), before heading back to the ship!
India truly was a whirlwind as I think back to all our adventures. If you ever have the opportunity to go there you really must! It will change your world view and make you want to take a stand!
We are more than half way through the journey (today is March 14, yesterday was the half way mark) and I truly cant believe it! I have learned so much and experienced so much; I truly believe I am changed for the better. Tomorrow we leave for Bangkok, Im very excited! Ill tell you all about it soon
Saturday, March 14, 2009
India, Days 4-5
India, Days 4-5