Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Ladies

When Todd and Lori first moved to India they met a young man in the jughi, the slum across the street from the American Embassy School, named Lal Singh.  One of the other teachers at the school had seen how hard this kid was working in school, and how much he wanted to make a better life for himself through education, so a bunch of the teachers decided to help him through school.  They got him tutors, and helped put him through college.  Lal Singh is the first collage graduate from the jughi, he has a degree in computer sciences and work in the technology department at the American Embassy school.  He has moved out of the jughi and has an apartment, a lovely wife, and two young boys.  And it was Lal Singhs wife, sister and two sisters in law that ended up being the ladies we taught to make my jewelry designs.

The four Ladies and Asha's baby girl who always came along
Lal Singh's wife, a kind and talkative woman who likes everything to be perfect and knows she has the talent to do it.  Rekha is very talented with embroidery, and caught on to the beadwork very quickly.  She's also a very talented dancer, she taught us some fun (and funny) Rajastani dance moves.
Kind and gentle, Asha is 30, has been married for 13 years, and is a mother of 2 boys and two girls.  She is still nursing her baby daughter so she brought her to every class and somehow managed to nurse and entertain the baby while learning everything.  She would often work on the floor to keep the baby occupied while she was working.  Asha is married to Raju, Lal Singh's older brother, she is therefore the oldest woman in the household and holds that position with wonderful grace, kind words, and big smiles.
Sonu, how to describe Sonu...  She is a woman with a big heart and an even bigger personality.  Always demanding of attention, joking, and being mischievous.  She was a handful at first, but I totally fell for her big open heart and was grateful for the laughter she created.  Sonu is in her late twenties, was married 13 years ago, and has two sons.  She is Lal Singh's older sister.
A gorgeous young woman, full of joy and laughter.  Pushpa had such an expressive face it was easy to understand her, laugh and be silly with her.  She also spoke the best English, so she was always helping teach the other ladies, and translating for me.  Pushpa is 23, married to Lal Sings younger brother, and in her words "in no hurry to have kids," even though she always seems to have a baby on her hip.

Kaytee learned all the designs and helped me teach the Ladies.  She helped so much I don't know what I would've done without her!  And now she's making her own jewelry!!
Kaytee also had fun taking pictures of all the expressions the ladies made, her pictures are below

my favorite Pushpa thinking face
Hungry baby!
finally fell asleep...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A million flowers to remember her by

A few days after returning to New Delhi from Varanasi we took a 6am train to Agra and arrived at the Taj Mahal early in the morning.  There is no need to describe the Taj Mahal since its image is so widely known, but no picture can really capture the size and beauty of this masterpiece.

The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in memory of his most beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who he called 'the light of the palace.'  She died at 39 after giving birth to his 14th child.  Upon hearing of her death Shah Jahan is quoted saying "empire has no sweetness, life itself has no relish left for me now."  He lived for 35 more years after her death, it took 22 years to build the Taj Mahal.

When you get close enough to the building you can see the Taj Mahal is covered with intricately carved flowers.  These beautiful white marble flowers are delicately carved into the stones surrounding the outside of the building.  Each flower an intricate replica of a real flower, and Iris, a lotus, a lily, a rose.  Inside the building the walls are inlaid with tiny pieces of semiprecious gemstones in the shape of thousands of colorful flowers.  Each one of the flowers could stand as an artpiece on its own, and there are thousands of them.  Shah Jahan did not just build his wife a tomb he built a garden of blooming sparkling flowers for her to enjoy throughout eternity.

We sat and just looked at the beauty of this homage to love for a long time, unable to tear our eyes away, unwilling to leave the presence of the beautiful peaceful energy of this place.  

Totally looks fake.  We were there, promise!

Looking back at the gate leading into the Taj Mahal complex

steps up to the Taj

Little tiny Kaytee (front and center), big Taj Mahal

semiprecious gemstone inlay all over the walls inside the tomb

The tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and her son

There were literally thousands of different kinds of flowers covering the tombs

one of the side buildings through the honeycomb lattice work of the tomb

Arabic calligraphy to the sky

One of the two red sandstone buildings mirrored on either side of the Taj

The Taj from the side (and tiny tiny Kaytee)

Ceiling of side building.  wow!!

Lori posing for a classic Taj Mahal picture!!

The gardener photographer who insisted on taking those last few pics

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A little bit of Everything

Day 3, 4, and 5.

We departed Banaras Beads late in the afternoon heading for the city center of old Varanasi. I watched from the front this round, through my camera lens. I took pictures of things that caught my eye: the wooden cart passing stacked high with veggies, another with mixed fruit. There were also the sand castle stacks of various building materials-- loads of dry cement, cinder block, and brick. Once we got deeper, food vendors appeared, making fresh juice for  lime soda which can be sweetened if you like (super tempting, but no, we didn't try), and other vendors, hundreds of them selling a little bit of everything, from fabrics to bangles, to a vast assortment of miniature goods, gods and temples and things.

I had absolutely no idea where we were going, none, and it appeared our taxi driver didn't either.  He finally stopped rather randomly, almost in the middle of the invisible lane on the roadway now swarmed with people. He asked Lori a few questions that only confirmed our growing doubt, and within a few seconds a boy appeared claiming to work for the hotel whose name we had just mentioned aloud to the driver himself. Hmm... just a coincidence? We got out of the car and after some reservation we decided to follow the boy, though we opted to carry our own bags, just in case.

We ventured through the swarms of people continuing as only was possible, in single file. It was hot, and body heat factored in quickly making it more so. We walked for at least twenty minutes, in and out of alleyways (the Galis), past that enormous bull, and those vendors, I was trying to keep track for a while and finally gave up. Just when I did,  sure enough! This young chap led us right to the Alka Hotel. What an Experience! I still have no idea what route he took to get us there, winding in and out, up and down but as it goes in Varanasi, a little faith can take you a long way.

I love it here, immediately.  In all the craziness you go through to arrive, rich with chaos and doubt, everything leads up to this-- your first meeting with the cool, calm water of the Ganges, and it does! Everyone comes to Varanasi to honor the River. The Alka Hotel is located on the river front, so we were privy to witness, with box seats if you will, thousands of believers come from all over the world to wash themselves free in the water. There are a thousand stories in Hinduism, one for each of the 330 million gods that govern and guide its followers. (that would mean millllions of stories!) And as it goes, the goddess Ganga loved Varanasi so much that she changed her course completely, literally making a U turn to head north again just to flow through this beloved place.

Our travel guide wrote, that you may wonder what magic power can draw together business man, scholar, and bureaucrat in India, which is a really reasonable question. Well, it said: it's Varanasi, the sacred place, its the tirthas, and lingas or shrines dedicated to Shiva that bring their hands together fists full of flowers! Of course, visiting Varanasi, the most holy of tirthas, is sacred. They say the Ganga will wash away all your negative karma if you bath in her waters here. They also say if you are lucky enough to die here, or be cremated here (which thousands of people are everyday), or even offered to the Ganga as ash you will be divinely blessed with moksha, instant enlightenment.  

Varanasi is seeped in sacred, though you wouldn't know it by smell-- because that's a strange mix of cow manure, stagnant water, and incense-- you can feel it in your bones, in vibration, it's in the pauses that are taken thousands of times every second. Everywhere you turn it seems there are linga shrines dedicated to Shiva, the god of this city. The story goes that after searching all the lands of India, his heart was taken by the beauty of Varanasi alone so after Shiva married Parvati (a beloved goddess of Hinduism) they settled here. I later learned that each of the millions of lingas spread throughout the city serve to remind passerby that Shiva's presence has never left this place, nor will it ever. The pilgrims here are forever pausing to remember, bowing in loving dedication, for Shiva is the most loved of all.

Along the banks of the Ganges, there are some thirty Gnats (temples) each serving a unique purpose that you could spend lifetimes discovering. I read about a traditional five day pilgrimage called a Yatra involving a 80km trek through the dusty Galis, villages, and fields of the city that takes in no less than 108 major temple shrines! The sacred is as dense here as the humidity in Delhi is in May!

Perhaps now you can understand why there are throngs of people who come, why the crematoriums here never rest. Perhaps you can feel it when I say walking the Galis of Varanasi is like walking a giant labyrinth... or like seeing in the face of a single city the full life story of thousands. We took a boat ride at dawn guided by a young man named Ani who knew all the stories by heart. He told and retold stories to us, practicing his English, while we listened and re listened to practice our translation. We enjoyed the daily Aarti ceremony at dusk at the Vishwantath Temple, above the steps that lead into the water. We sent bowls of marigold flowers made out of dried leaves as offerings into the River, praying for everyone we've ever known. In between we wandered the Galis, discovering one temple after another. There were SO many highlights, but the most golden, was the Golden Temple, only recently opened to the eyes of tourists.

We'll get some more pictures up soon.
until then,


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Varanasi Pictures

I'm going to Let Kaytee write about Varanasi because she loved the city and saw more of it than I did, I spent a good amount of time in the hotel near the bathroom.  Walking through the streets of Varanasi was like walking back in time, tiny passageways crowded with people, trash, cows, and enough smells to overwhelm all the senses.   

These pictures are from the a boat out on the Ganges, my absolute favorite part of the trip.  It was so beautiful, I took tons of pictures, here's a few unedited snipets
sunrise on the mother goddess Ganga

selling candles with flowers used as offerings that float on the river

Kaytee taking a turn rowing the boat

the Burning Ghats where hundereds of bodies are cremated every

the temple at the burning ghats