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

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

Working at a bead store I'm used the the comment from customers "the beads look like candy!" or "I'm like a kid in a candy store!"  well if a bead store invokes the same joy an awe that makes a kids mouth water, Banaras Beads made me feel like a kid in a candy factory.  There were so... many... beads....!!!  the center of the factory was a spiral staircase with buckets of beads all along the walls, you look down ands see beads spiraling down and down. 

The room with the seed beads (the one's you see me choosing in the pictures) had shelves and shelves of colors, choosing the right colors was both overwhelming and exhilarating.I spent hours choosing colors and looking through the factory.  Then I put together a box of the beads I chose, took out the ones I needed for this trip, and sent the box off to Santa Cruz.  My housemates say it arrived safely a few days ago.  yippee!! 
And for all the Bead It girls reading I chose some lampwork beads to sell at Bead It, and sent them in the box, I hope they help with the buisiness of keeping the store happily running. 

Seeing the factory made me appreciate the work that goes into making beads even more.  There were people everywhere, sitting in long rows of tables stringing beads on thread, which is just the way beads are packaged for sale.  The strung beads are sent all over the world, sold in stores, and then jewelry makers cut the strands of beads so they can use them.  Its a strange process that makes it easier to see and buy the beads, but seems pointless now that I have seen the amount of work that goes into it.  It is hard to see that kind of back breaking (or should I say eye and hand breaking) labor and know that I am participating in it.  My hope is the Love and dedication I put into my work will somehow find its way back to these people.  To all the bead makers and stringers of the world.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And a special thank you to Lori for investing in my jewelry career, it means the world to me!

- Lexi

Monday, April 18, 2011

Banaras Beads.

Day 3.

Well, we have a bit of catching up to do. Lexi and I updated with photographs to give an idea of what we've been seeing. The images show bits of Old Delhi: the spice market and the Red Fort, and then leave you to wander the many rooms, and feel the pulse of the Bead Factory in Benaras. Well, let's take it from there...

Benaras Bead Factory (as noted in our silly Fun Facts) produces a majority (80%!) of all the glass beads worldwide! Lori and Todd visited a good number of years ago, and like I was, had been awed by the sheer quantity of beads they found there, not to mention the variety of shape and wide range of color! To the untrained eye (or unprepared buyer) the buckets of beads would have been completely overwhelming to sift through. Even with Lexi's experience working in Bead Stores in the Bay area, she was pretty taken by the whole thing.

We left Delhi Thursday morning by plane and landed in Varanasi by the early afternoon. The flight was quick and uneventful, smooth and steady to say the least. Lori lead us to the prepaid taxi booth outside of the airport, which gives a receipt for your travel insuring that if anything should go wrong there is a paper trail to document where a person was last seen. Always go to the prepaid taxi booth. Once on the road again, it became instantly clear that our trip into the city would be far from smooth or steady. Lori told us the right-of-way on these roads goes to the driver of biggest vehicle! There's a good sales pitch for the Hummer. Lexi and I took refuge in the back seat without even realizing we were doing anything but offering to Lori. Hardly. Poor Lori braved the twists and turns of roadway craziness that made Delhi traffic seem organized! And for almost an hour!! By the time we arrived at a warehouse gate we were grateful to have reason for escaping the car, even if we weren't at the right place, which was a good possibly.

Once it was clear we had made it, and this warehouse was in fact the Bead Factory we relaxed. We were lead to a waiting room to sit, and after a short stint we were toured through the insides of the Factory.

We left the Factory full of color, after hours of decision making, having been successful in finding most any color you could imagine (except for a shiny red, which they were out of... and now I know why-- a good Red can make all the difference).  Taking beads off the shelves for Lexi to see was like introducing swatches of fabric to a clothing designer. We even pulled a few colors that Lexi liked ...  and They will be featured in her next line.

And, how about those glass blowers! I couldn't believe it, seeing those beads made one by one really gave me an idea of the labor involved in bead production. I am gaining tremendous perspective, and changing the way I appreciate beaded jewelry... Naturally, being an outsider to the beading world, I have had an enormous blind spot, but my eyes are focusing in on the amount of hands involved in producing the kind of pieces that Lexi creates. And seeing her attention to detail in action, and now understanding how that affects her product has been inspiring. Now when I'm messing around with wacky colors, I joke and say it's "research" I'm doing.

and I am.


Welcome to Banaras Beads (UN)Limited!!!

Fun fact 1: Banaras Bead Factory produces 80% of the worlds glass beads

Fun fact 2: Each of these beads is original, made one... by... one.... 
by this guy.

Fun Fact 3: It took us THREE HOURS to pick out a 15kilo box to be sent back to California


Fun Fact 4: They use this scale to measure kilos of beads.  On one side they put a 1/2 Kilo weight and bricks for the change, and on the other side - beads!

Break Time!

Some of the ladies packaging beaded necklace samples.

Putting beads on strands to sell

Lexi's beads all packed up!

a taste of old delhi

birds eye view


The Red Fort

that's all carved stone!!

gemstones inlaid in marble... wow!

Banyan tree

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Welcome to Old Delhi," she said with a smirk.

Day One in India.

We've arrived safely Monday April 11th at 6ish in the evening after what our conventional calendar would have called over a day of travel time (32.5 hours from start to finish). Of course we followed the daylight to get here, so the time changed as we flew, effectively giving us opportunity to travel into the future. It wasn't easy, but then again no one said it would be.

After we landed, Lori (our hostess, and dear friend of Lexi's parents) greeted us the at the airport and lead us back to our car where almost immediately she offered us a few crisp apples to refresh our travel worn bodies. While we munched, our driver wove us in and out of traffic like a skilled magic carpet maker toward the neighborhood of Embassy's where we'll be staying. It's a lovely apartment around the corner from the American Embassy school, in the Bulgarian Embassy complex. We were welcomed there by a lovely woman named Amari, who has generously taken us in for the duration of our stay in Delhi.

It was only a matter of time before exhaustion set, and after a quick shower I was fast asleep...until about 4am, when  restlessness woke my body up, and I decided after a few attempts to go back to sleep, that this was as good a time as any to sit, and to practice. It was only a matter of time, then finally rest.

After a few hours of deep sleep, Lexi woke me announcing Lori would be arriving shortly to pick us up. Today's agenda consisted of Old Delhi, by way of the new subway system. What amazing contrast from the roadways. Taking the subway was like being anywhere else in the world with a efficient railway, that is until we walked the flight of stairs back up into day again. "Welcome to Old Delhi," she said with a smirk.

If I could translate in words what Old Delhi was like for me at first sight, I would probably be in a different profession, but I will tell you this: it wasn't Love.

There were tents lining a small path, which we trailed along for a block or two, until we hit a larger street lined with hundreds of small store fronts. Similar to other large cities I've been (Bangkok, being the closest in resemblance), Old Delhi sort of slaps you in the face  before shaking your hand. "Welcome," it says. We went first to the spice market by way of Rickshaw, driven by a boy no more than sixteen years old blessed with man calves. The spice market was once beautiful, you can smell it, the buildings themselves are well worn, saturated with spice. But the place is older now, bruised and battered. Each landmark taught us a bit more about Indian history, inviting us to witness in the flesh, only a handful of the eleven faces (phases) Delhi has undergone in its lifetime. We walked through the grounds of the Red Fort, fortress and palace of the last Mongul ruler, son of the emperor Shah Johan (who built the Taj Mahal) and saw the remains of what once were glorious gardens before the British invasion. Like Lexi said, we also visited a Jain Temple/Charity Birds Hospital and Sanctuary, as well as the largest mosque outside the middle east. Before heading home again, we took a tour of the American Embassy School, stopping when Lori crossed paths with friends from her nine years of living in Delhi, and teaching at AES. We are finding our bearings, familiarizing ourselves with the streets and other landmarks. This is exciting.

The weather has been moderate in temperature, we were told there was even a little stint of rain while we rested this afternoon, which is lucky for this time of year.

It's been a full day, I too am so grateful for Lori's guidance, and the sweetness of sun salutations. Tomorrow, I hope for a tutorial from Lexi on how to make her jewelry, as well as a yoga class through the school in the afternoon. I will write more, and soon! So, thanks for keeping in touch

Here's to you, for reading,
May you be blessed with a wonderful day ahead!

Hi everybody! So Kaytee and I thought we'd start a blog of our trip to India, since we have lots of Internet access while we're here (though it is a little in and out so we'll have to see how it goes...) For those of you who don't know why we are here, it is all because of a wonderful opportunity from a family friend of mine who lived and worked here in Delhi. Lori taught at the American Embassy School with her husband Todd, they lived here for 9 years, until their daughter graduated high school and they moved back to California. Todd is working for for one more year at the school and Lori invited me to come with her while she visited him, with the idea that we would meet some women connected to the school who could make some of my jewelry. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to get some of my jewelry made, save my tendinitis ridden hands from the pain of doing it myself, and help these women a little by paying them for the work they do for me. We'll see how it all works out!

I am so so grateful to Lori and Todd for this opportunity! And to Kaytee for coming with me, Keeping me sane, and happy, I'm so grateful for her presence.

Today was our first full day in Delhi. Lori took us on a tour of the old city, the spice market, jama masjid (the largest mosque in India), the red fort, and a Jain temple dedicated to birds. We'll post pictures soon!
- Lexi