I feel like I honestly have more to say about this week than my weekend of tourism but that is because the work I am doing is so much more personally involved than sightseeing haha. That being said, I did have a great weekend. I arrived on the holiday so most things were closed but it did let me experience something totally different. No traffic for one. And two….I got to spend the evening with the family of my guide. It was great. Praveen had told his wife that I loved vegetables so I was treated with cauliflower and a green salad! Happy Diwali indeed! oh the reason for the two names is because it depends if you are from the north or south. In Hindi it is Diwali because the British shortened it to make it easier for them. Hello, it’s not your holiday. But in the south where they still speak Tamil it is formally Deepavali. The skies were also filled with firecrackers. The next morning the haze was further induced by all the pollution from the celebration it looked like a thick fog. It was a real treat to celebrate in an Indian home for sure and I had a great evening sharing and hearing stories and photos.
Earlier that day I got to drive around Delhi and get a feel for things. Saw a bunch of the government buildings which are almost eerily pristine. And then of course, I had to do a bike rikshaw tour of Old Delhi. Everyone says that Old Delhi is crazy. It seems perhaps like a vague word to use but seriously after being there it is the only word I can use to describe it. Honestly, unless you’ve done it, it’s hard to imagine what it feels like having a bus scrap along your open sided cart, and people occupying every surrounding inch. Oh and that’s the other thing….being stared at at all times. The city wasn’t even that bad. The tourist grounds! forget about it. I literally at one point had a principal bring her school over to say hello to me and ask me where I was from. I guess not dressing like a tourist makes a tourist even more fascinating. Thanks for the heads up guys. I almost decided to let people take pictures if they paid me 10 rupees a shot. But there is prob some kind of law against that for non natives lol. I still don’t quite understand that….you are showing people pictures and its like….here is the Taj Mahal, and here is this white girl I saw. Guess you can’t always grasp everything. Like how its ok to show your mid section, but not your knee….curious. But I can respect it…..so moving on haha.
Old Delhi was insane. Check.
Once things were opened up again I did some power sight-seeing with limited traffic. Awwwweeeesome. Things on the list were the Gandhi sculpture, Quitab Minar, The place where Gandhi was shot, the Lotus Temple, went through the Commonwealth Games village, and to Akshardham. Also was supposed to go see this tomb, but it was closed because Obama was going there the next day. Way to need it for 24 hours prez. Akshardham was pretty incredible. Imagine the detail of the most intricate faberge egg and multiply it by at least a billion. That is an understatement of the awesomeness of Akshardham. I could have spent a week going through everything, I’m sure more. But at the end of the day and the photosensitivity of the malaria meds kicking in, 3 hours had me feeling sick and in need of lots of water. If I could only pick one place in India to go back to, it would definitely be Akshardham. And I am sad I can not share any of its amazingness bc there is no photography on the premises allowed. Or calculators for that matter.
Here are a few facts I found about the temple alone:
- It is one of the biggest and most intricate religious places of worship ever constructed
- The Akshardham monument, built without steel, is entirely composed of sandstone and marble
- It consists of 234 ornately carved pillars, 9 ornate domes, 20 quadrangled shikhars, a spectacular Gajendra Pith (plinth of stone elephants) and 20,000 murtis and statues of India’s great sadhus, devotees, acharyas and divine personalities
- The monument was built after over 300 million man hours of services rendered by 11,000 volunteers, sadhus and artisans
- The ornate external wall (Mandovar) is the only and largest, intricately carved structure with dimensions of 611ft x 31ft that is built in the last 800 years
- The Gajendra Pith stretching for 1,070 ft and weighing 3,000 tons, has 148 full-sized elephants, 42 birds and animals, 125 human sculptures!
- The Akshardham parikrama (circumambulatory path) consists of 1,152 pillars, 145 windows and 154 samvaran shikhars; amounting to a total of 53,956 stones
- Ok so clearly that was a highlight. I finished so early that day with no traffic that I had the evening free and Praveen offered to take me to do something local. Sooooo we went to the mall to people watch haha. SO different! Throughout my stay, I really found a deeper understanding of the unique traditions in the less developed areas where everything has not been urbanized so to speak. Not saying one is better than the other by any means. Just made me appreciate both spectrums for what they had to offer.
- At long last my quest to Agra had begun. Ok basically just a lot of driving and counting people in rikshaws. I think the most was I counted was 19. Now I’m talking like a little no door taxi type vehicle that we would feel squished putting three people in. Since there are limited buses stopping in between major cities, people cram into rikshaws…and I mean cram, and hang of the sides, and sit on the roof. fun to count to say the least. Agra is only a place to visit briefly for the sites if you are not a local. Unless you like being starred at and hassled at every single moment. Thank goodness I had a guide with me at all times. AND! he knew everybody, which was ultra helpful. Apparently he’s shown Julie Roberts around Agra. So he knows whats up. Very cool and we had a lot of fun because I was not an old business stiff like he usually gets he said haha. So the big things in Agra were Tomb of Akbar, Agra Fort, and of course….the Taj Mahal. All were wonderful, and I will not lie, I was doing my bouncing around excited dance that looks like I have to pee when I was eagerly outside the entry gate for sunrise at the Taj. Just one of those things that you never really expect you’re going to see in real life, and then it is right there in front of you. Unfortunately the winter haze did not allow for the pretty pink color change, but! it turned into a beautiful morning and it was totally worth the trip. Akshardham helped the value as well (not to mention free entry) lol. Overall I highly recommend it.
- Other than that I just sort of drove around a bit….Agra was definitely a bit more like Chennai. In Delhi I was nearly in shock that there weren’t cows chillin everywhere haha. Oh and because of the holiday there were lots of sweets about so I decided that I should sample some traditional treats =) I love coconut, let’s just end it there. I was lucky to have Nitin and my driver Rajesh to share with because I could not handle more than two full pieces with all the sugar. Delicious though. And then, it was a looooooong drive back to Delhi to catch my flight. We hit a ton of traffic. Well, traffic is an understatement. but it was fun to see some of the villages in between the two cities at a standstill. Not to mention fully experience how people travel in India. yes paying to ride on a roof of a bus is an option.
- That’s really about all I can say about the weekend. To be honest by the last day I was missing the school so much! I was glad to hear the other volunteers say the same thing. It’s sort of like a sanctuary on some levels, and working with the kids just means so much more. It really did give me a better perspective on the culture though, and especially the lives we are affecting through the work here. Seeing people come out from the colonies and walking down busy streets, knocking on car windows and begging….keeping their children out of school to make a higher profit, etc was just heart breaking. It made me happy to know that I am working with nearly 200 fewer children destined for that future. Granted many have come from that life, or from being sold off, and abused, but at least now there is love and joy in their eyes and they are learning skills to make them great and successful people who can truly change the world. They are changing the world as we speak by rising above the standards society has placed on them. And the school is changing a lot too. Celina, the principal since June is definitely revamping many of the programs, bringing in very well educated people, working out intricate tutoring programs, etc, etc. Hard job I’d say. It does seem to be making a big difference though.
- As for dance, it has been a busy busy week. I have been getting all of the material organized for the Christmas Program. Plenty of music, choreo, coordinating schedules….and of course teaching, incorporating our life skill coaching, while starting on the material. It would really be awesome if they were just quiet and focused at all times lol. But you know each class has its day, and everything turns into a lesson. I do have to say I’ve seen improvements across the board so that can’t be so bad.
- Ok now I am beyond rambling, crazy tired, and have no idea what I’m saying, let alone if I am creating complete sentences since that does become a problem around here. I found myself thinking in broken english today….no bueno.
- ah. wait! one more story =) because this is totally why I am here.
- So last night one of the house mothers asked me if she could talk to me. She had already spent some time talking to me about how much she loves dance and is very sad and regrets that she did not have the opportunity to enroll in a school program to learn more extensively. So she took me aside and told me how she had come from a very poor family like most of the children and that she prayed and worked hard everyday for the opportunity to go to school. She got a scholarship and earned a teaching degree, and teaches/is a house mother at the school so she can provide such opportunities to the children. However, she has found that she misses her mother and her home terribly and has been struggling because she wants to give herself fully to the students. She also expressed feeling disconnected with her God and that her mind was all flustered and that her ability to sleep was being hindered by her thoughts (gosh I know that one!) So she shared all this and wanted to know if I had any tips on how to cope, whether through dance, or anything else. I was almost brought to tears that she was so open with me about everything and on top of it wanted to know what I had to say about it. I told her in the case of dance, I find it amazing to find a dark space, with a song you love, and just move however you feel like moving. The problem is, she is in demand 24-7 which is why she has lost her yoga and dance time as well. So we talked about journalling before bed to clear her mind and she loved it. She told me she felt so much better today already. She will also be helping teach the classical dances so she will at least get some time to move. Seems like simple stuff, but hearing where she had come from and the fact that she felt I could be the one to help her was really touching since these are the kind of people who inspire me daily.
- tonight, after life dance rehearsal, Cameron came upstairs to play piano so I stayed and danced in the dark. It was amazing. I still highly recommend it as a remedy for nearly anything =) And if that isn’t an option definitely journal….or blog about shinanigans! check to all of the above on my part.
- enough. i’m done. good night!