Dresden

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Berlin for New Years.

Dresden currently and after two days here comes Prague. After that I have  a room and a piano for 10 days, and I hope to do some writing.  For New Years Berliners set off fireworks all day and all night.  The city firework display was in competition with the display of the civilians.  We stood on a bridge beside the main train station in Berlin, among curbs littered with green beer bottles and fire fizzing in the streets, Berliners were up all night, still stumbling into bars at 7 in the morning.  The shots of the fire crackers resounded through the cold air on the 1st day of the year and into the second, and if you were lucky you’d see a display set off on a street after sunset.

From Freiburg

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The India journey ended with a two day train trip from Goa to New Delhi.

I hope you can experience an Indian train some day.  The beds are stacked in three sets and the middle one can be pulled down during the day for extra seating.  I had the top bed, but not all to myself, luggage was stored there when there was nowhere else to put it and every now and then someone would take a rest on my bed as I sat on the lower one.  There is always something happening, never a dull moment.  Constantly up and down the aisles will be calls for chai, for chocolate, for water, for food, for little toys that are enthusiastically demonstrated to the passengers.  Perhaps a rubber ball that lights up when it is bounced, or a coloring book.  In the two days people become comfortable with each other.  The men sit together and hold hands, the children run up and down the aisles.  If there is some kind of crisis or dispute about a seat or a ticket every one will get involved.  There will be yelling, hand raising, gesturing, until at last somebody makes a joke and the tense mood is broken up by contagious laughter.  The boys from the bunk below shared some of their roti and alloo with me, the man across asked what I was writing in my journal, and always the constant question of:  Where are you from.

I could never get used to going to the toilet over an open hole that rapidly showed the tracks beneath the train, but it had to be done…I could not get used to the filfth and the dirt that collected on me and everything I touched, or the mice that ran across the floor, or the garbage thrown carelessly from the windows.  But something drew me in as well, and this is what India did to me.  It shocked me and disgusted me at times, but it also crawled into a part of me and nestled in there.   The colours of saris, the smiles, the laughter, the cries, the children who would come on and beg for rupees, it all was so overwhelming, such a contradiction; so many sights and sounds so much heartbreak but at the same time also hope, ah it is difficult to even write about but I had to try.

I had a bit of culture shock today, riding a train from Frankfurt to Freiburg.  It was quiet, everyone was speaking in hushed tones.  It was clean, and there was light snow falling outside.  Somehow everything felt a little empty and a little cold and I wished to see the sight of a bright sari or hear the sound of, “Chai!  Chai!  Chai!”

Bangalore

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I arrived in Bangalore this morning at 5:30am, was thrown off of the bus and into a dark street where I had to grab a rickshaw and take it down to the bus station: MAJESTA.  Here, the boy brushing rubbish out of the gutter splattered me by accident with its juices and I sat down after my night ride over a cup of chai and the Lonely Planet as my only companion, wiping vainly at the splotches on my sweater.  Unfortunately my bus won’t be coming until 10:30 this evening and so I have one whole unplanned day in Bangalore before heading to Hampi…

What does one do with a day in Bangalore?  It begins with a chat with an autorickshaw driver.

Laura:  “Can you take me to the botanical gardens please?”

Driver:  “150 rupees”  L:  “Too much, it’s very close, I’ll give you 80 rupees.”    D: “No Miss, 150 rupees I do not lie to you.”  L:  “Okay, then set your meter.” (These meters are the only way the tourists won’t be overcharged for rickshaw rides, unfortunately usually all of the meters are “broken”.)  D: “no Miss, it is broken.  I’ll give you a discount: 130 rupees!”  L: “How about 100 rupees?”  D:  “But miss, I already give you a 20 rupee discount!”  I begin to walk away.  D:  “miss! miss!  okay, okay, get in!”  L:  “100 rupees okay?”  D:  “okay.” with a head wobble.

On to the Botanical Gardens, it is 7:30am but already crowded with Indians who are jogging in saris and tennis shoes, running backwards and stretching over beds of marigolds.  Two gentlemen asked me if I was from Germany, one woman smiled and waved at me as though to say, “I’d love to stop and catch up but I have to work on my cardio.”  A 14 year old girl joined me on my bench and asked if I was married. Before we could really get into it her mobile rang and she excused herself, she had to go meet her boyfriend.  Two stray dogs who I had previously watch bound over the roots of trees on their squirrel hunt came up to say hello to me, and once they had left the squirrel himself came out of hiding.  All in all, a lovely morning in the botanical gardens.

From the gardens another lovely chat with my rickshaw driver and I was deposited at a coffee shop where I was the only creature in it and the servers bounded over tables to get my order.  In Indian restaurants and cafes there seem to be 10 servers to every 1 customer.

So, my day in Bangalore is progressing, only another 8 hours to go before my bus, and one more night in a bus before I get to sleep in a bed and less then 24 hours before I venture into exploration of the ancient ruins of Hampi.

miss you.

 

Kathmandu

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We took the bus from Kakarvitta to Kathmandu on Saturday.  We jostled around the steep mountain roads for approximately 17 hours.  To the left: a long fall to the river, and to the right: mountain walls.  I decided early on in this trip that it is best not to look at the road ahead, our lives are in the drivers hands and he likes playing chicken with the other buses!  But this is what I love about travel: the uncertainty, the delays, writing in a train station, meeting someone again for the second time, discovering a hole in time.  I am not ruled by time here, there is nothing to hurry for.  So you let it all happen to you.  You let the experience sweep over you and let it all decide what comes first, while you decide how it will change you.

The bus ride was fascinating.  Nepal is a beautiful country.  Lush green foliage, mountains, rivers and people living together, working together, being part of their environment and nature in such a way that urban dwellers are not, or at least that is how I perceived it from my window seat on the bus.  I have a very limited idea of rural life here but this is what I saw:  There were women bending over the river, glowing in the morning light; people bathing and laughing in rivers, in fountains, or in the middle of a square with a bucket above their heads.  There was a boy on a bike, from his handlebars strung at least 20 dead chickens hanging from their necks and bobbing along with every bump in the road; a little girl sitting on a large black cow in the middle of a ditch full of water, smiling as she cupped then drained water over the cows back.

This is what I love about travel, the day unfolds so unexpectedly and surprisingly, there is no way to tell what will happen next.

We are staying in a wanderers hostel called The Sparkling Turtle, just down from the monkey temple.  Here in Kathmandu the people are celebrating Deepawali (festival of lights).  Marigolds line the streets and men with baskets full of them approach locals and foreigners alike to sprinkle the yellow and orange petals upon their heads.

Trek

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Two Canadians, one American, a European and an Indian guide trekked through Singalila National Park last weekend.  We covered 13 km on our first day, reaching Tumbling, Nepal.  We skirted over the border of India and Nepal, our guide gesturing every few moments with a grand sweep of his arm, “India to the right and Nepal to the left.”  It was impressive, it’s rolling green hills, faint blue mountains in the distance, winding up tall stairs into clouds of mist.  On the second day Pemba, our guide, woke us at 5 in the morning to view the mountains and the sun resting her pale pink light over the walls of them, until each and every one was lit with a faint glow.  This formation, he informed us, is called The Sleeping Buddha.

Then we were off, after a glorious breakfast of porridge and sweet bread, this second day we completed 18 km and ended up in Sandakphu.  Again the next morning, a 5 o’clock wake up and a morning stance on a windy hill where we viewed again the beautiful Himalayas, Mt Everest being one of them.

Then Pemba took off at a ferocious speed, down the mountain, and we followed panting behind.  Apparently we needed to catch our Jeep around noon and did not have much time.  Pemba kindly crafted walking sticks for me with bamboo shoots and I limped along.  Despite the hiking I’ve done before this one did something nasty to my knees.  I wondered if it was my lack of proper hiking boots and the wearing of Chaco’s instead.  I have never doubted Chaco’s before, but now I begin to (I apologize to other Chaco fans, and leave room for the possibility that maybe my knees simply were not prepared for the up/down motion)

In any case, we practically ran down the mountain, completed this all before breakfast, a full 10 km downwards.  Beautiful views on the way down, and I wished to pitch a tent and stay longer, but Pemba was persistent that we make our Jeep ride in time, which in the end, we missed anyways.

Today we are in Gangtok, Sikkim.  The capital of Sikkim, surrounded in cloud and mist, as we eat breakfast the clouds crawl in through the window, resting quietly around us, and weaving among us we meet and are met by multiple travelers, kind Indians who are curious about our country and the mystery that is India.  Where as I’ve been told, “Anything is possible.”

 

Notes from Darjeeling

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Time in India is relative.  If told you’re train is late by two hours, be prepared to wait double or triple that time.  Nobody seems to mind the wait, perhaps because of a phrase I learned while in Varanasi, “santi santi” which means:  relax, take it easy, don’t worry.   I’ll never forget our last night in Varanasi.  All the boys were out on their rooftops flying their kites, these kites were so far from their original harbor that they were only specks in the sky and it was difficult to discern what string belonged to what kite, belonged to what boy.  One boy graciously assented to my whim of holding his kite for several moments, though I could tell he was eager to get it back for this is not leisure kite flying, it is quite competitive as the goal of the evening is to cut the strings of the other kites with the peaked edge of your own kite.

Aside from the kite flying Varanasi was a difficult city to be in.  The Ganges flows through it, a holy river where people come to burn their dead on the ghats.  Every night smoke would rise from the ghats and several times we saw the dead being carried through the streets.

We stayed in the old city, a labyrinth of narrow streets (too small for vehicles) that wind around deteriorating buildings of architecture that at one point must have been beautiful.  These mazes of crisscrossing alleys are called gallis.  We would wind our way through them to get to our hostel.  This is where everything happens, our nostrils accosted daily in the heaps of garbage piled everywhere.  Cow and dog excrement everywhere.  Stalls of vendors grilling street food in a large pan, as a cow walks by, and a dog sits forlornly in the centre of the street, getting a good kick from a boy who rushes past with his friends.  A man sits with a missing leg, palms outstretched and a young entrepreneur follows us unrelentingly asking us to see his sari shop.  This was Varanasi.  I think I am still processing what I saw there.  And then it was leaving Varanasi when we had our great adventure on the way to Darjeeling!

It began with an auto-rickshaw that took us to the train station.  Our driver seemed anxious to get us there promptly and so he bravely sped down the road, passing slower auto-rickshaws heading straight into oncoming traffic, then pulling out of dangers way just as my life flashed before my eyes.  Conveniently, on a dark road we ran out of gas.  No lights, just shadows of parked vehicles and men, our driver left us in search of gas.  perhaps he didn’t realize how terrified we were.  We closed the curtains of our small compartment and waited silently for his return, which surprisingly took only 10 minutes or so.

At last we arrived at the station at 8:00pm.  Our train was delayed two hours, then four, then it would not arrive until 3 am.  The station was dirty and hundreds of rats were crawling the tracks, eating up the garbage thrown there by passengers on the train or vendors finished with their coffee.  Our train arrived around 4:30am and left the station at 5.  We crawled onto our bunks, the third bunk of the stack and fell asleep.  The train ride was meant to be 16 hours but continued on to 28 when 2 hours from our destination it broke down.

A kind Indian couple who shared our compartment with us (and wonderful hot chai) told us they were catching the bus.  We jumped on this opportunity to leave the train and followed them by rickshaw to a bus so crowded we were convinced we could not fit.  Yet somehow in India, everyone finds a space, no matter how small, and the journey continues on!

New Delhi

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Katelyn and I exited the peaceful world of Switzerland and entered into…chaos.    What a contrast!

We each had a week in Europe to do our own thing.  I stayed at L’Abri for the majority of my time, in a town called Huemoz.  L’Abri is a community of people living together, asking questions about life, theology, the world.  There were lectures, beautiful walks in the Swiss Alps, and a tranquility that I am beginning to realize was the peace before the storm.

http://www.labri.org/swiss/

Imagining the world there, in comparison to New Delhi is quite the jump.  We were picked up from the New Delhi airport and taxied away to Smyle Inn.  The roads are marked but nobody pays attention to the markings, and instead of signaling everyone just gives a honk of their horn to let the other car/rickshaw/motor bike realize that they are about to collide.

The taxi began to slow down, crawling up a street full of cows, garbage and people, lying down, standing up, blinking at us with unconcerned eyes, and this is where we stopped.  We were certain this was a mistake, surely our perfect little Smyle Inn couldn’t be on this strange, dirty little street.  In fact it was not, our taxi driver took us up through a dark ally that twisted to a little door in a dingy corner of the street, and that was our Smyle Inn.

All night the fan above us swirled and hummed, and I closed my eyes, imagining the air from the fan was wind and the sound was waves breaking on some shore…I think these imaginings are ways to deal with culture shock.  We are about to go venture out on the streets now, the best is yet to come-or at least we hope!