Friday, May 17 12:30am, Hotel Janpath, New Delhi, India
Finally a chance to sleep. Sleep first, then…
Ah, sleep. Ah, dreams. Low, hard bed. Warm morning. It was 95 F last night. The sounds of the birds, crows and other sounds less familiar. Palm trees. The hotel is mostly empty. We see no other Western travelers. I see the English influence in the design of so many things here. It helps me realize I speak the language of England. A change of location even to the other side of the planet is very superficial to the workings of the mind. Distraction does not leave. Worry does not leave. Irritation and ego travel well anywhere. We have the 1st foundation of mindfulness. Remembering to attend to it has nothing to do with location.
Friday, May 17 9:30am
We have now experienced walking on the streets of Delhi. At day and night. We have been shopping. We have had two restaurant meals and we have seen all the Delhi TV channels. We have also accessed the Internet, sent emails, and left a note on my office computer. Thank you, in Hindi is Denawa. Sam, our travel agent here, opened a package while we were at his office. It was two autographed books from the Dalai Lama and some blessed beads. There being very few Western visitors here, we are under more pressure from aggressive retailers, hawkers and beggars.
Saturday, May 18 6am
Yesterday, when bargaining for better prices, Charlotte argued that we were poor Americans. It got us both thinking. We’re not Bill Gates and his lot, but true poor Americans do not find themselves in India. Economic justice is a local as well as a national and international issue. It’s solution sits in exact opposition to human greed. The voice of ego, fear and greed argues "ownership". The voice of compassion says "share". So far, the influence of meditation in Indian culture has remained hidden to us. I am feeling the daily stress of back to back appointments lifting. Our daily schedule has become simple and flexible by comparison. My level of stress now is very related to my attitude toward the unknown. An attitude of relaxed alertness produces little stress. Being on the opposite side of the planet means our sunrise is your sunset. When the sun sets here, you are beginning morning.
Sunday, May 19 8:30am, Delhi Domestic Airport
We were lucky to leave Delhi yesterday as they were having the hottest day of the year. Instead we went to Agra and the Taj Mahal where it was even hotter!
It reached about 120 degrees! The 120 mile drive to Agra and back was much more than the Taj. Our driver, Shankar, had the best vehicle on the road and also went the fastest. Yet his skills made us feel relatively safe in the near anarchy of Indian driving. People here do not only not stay in lanes, they often drive on the wrong side of the road.
The clash of technology with traditional culture is apparent on the road and off. We saw Cybercafe’s where instead of a parking lot in front, there was dirt and water buffalos or camels.
Rubble, trash, dirt, old advertising signs and patchy shacks were everywhere as is true in all poverty areas of the world.
Tipping is required everywhere and we did not properly budget for it. So we will have to watch carefully. Before leaving this morning we watched the end of the Lakers-Kings game 1, live at 6:30am on ESPN. The sports section here is almost totally different than in the states. Soccer (football) and cricket are big.
Flying to Kolkata – that’s how they spell it here. We are sitting on the North side of the plane. I’m sure I see the Himalaya’s towering above the clouds in the distance. The stewardess says no, just clouds. Yah – right. Never saw clouds like that before – must be a new kind of cloud they have over here called "mountain clouds"! We found the hard plastic ‘shoes’ Charlotte got me for non-hiking were unsuitable and caused a blister in the 1st mile. We got different sandals for me. We met sheep, goats, water buffalo, cattle, donkeys, horses and camels on the road yesterday, but our driver says tigers and elephants are the most interesting he has met. Elephants can easily knock over and crumple autos, while tigers can lay on the road and block traffic for a good while. Ah, now the flight turns south. I know those were the Himalayas. For those of you looking for good Charlotte stories, we have just a few so far. She was watching a movie on the way to Amsterdam and bopped the guy in front of her on the top of the head so she could see better. She continues her creative worrying. A good one was thinking there might be pin holes in the tops of the water bottles where they were refilling them with regular water.
Monday, May 20 5:00am, Hotel Heera International, Kolkata
Ah. Now it’s not only hot, it’s 98 percent humid too. The old beggar bugging us at the car while leaving the airport is giving us the finger against the window with short knurled fingers and strange fingernails. As we pull away, Charlotte, who didn’t see that gesture is trying to find change to give him. We shortly learn that our tickets to leave Kolkata on Indian Airlines are not confirmed. Two trips to meet with the reservation manager have not solved the problem. We are told an 18 hour train ride is the backup option. Charlotte’s not too happy about that. We are brought to our lodging near the center of the city. It’s less than what we expected. Small, loud A/C unit, TV not working. Bathroom is a shower room with toilet and sink in it. After a shower we start a tour of the city and are shown where the restaurants are. It’s 3 or 4 blocks away through some crowded, dirty, narrow streets.
The tour takes us to large monuments, temples, a large modern toll bridge, botanical gardens and the Ganges river.
The toll bridge was built to relieve the heavily overcrowded Harra bridge, but because of the toll, hardly anyone uses it. The botanical gardens are huge. We record a passport at the gate as no locals are allowed to have vehicles inside. We are the only vehicle we see. We visit the world’s largest banyan tree. We negotiate a price of 100 rupees and ride a boat on the Ganges. We are poled upstream then drift down. Because of the tides form the ocean 120km away, the river is actually flowing backwards.
We are shown where people throw statues and other objects into the water. They no longer throw bodies in the water. We saw many groups of men bathing in the water, non naked. Charlotte tried to say ‘Namaste’ to them but they seemed embarrassed. Our guide said they see few tourists and use the word ‘Namascara’ instead for greeting. Communists have been running the state on Bengal for the past 25 years. They paint all their projects red. Initially they made improvements for those who had no land. Their anti-capitalist views halted business growth. Now they have become more moderate. Meditating each night, I see a direction to move toward greater harmony. Let go of more stuff. Let go of more desires as they arise in the mind. Cultivate simplicity, fewness of wishes and renunciation. We are missing a lot of chances to take pictures of the poverty. Usually we are moving through it too quickly. Fish have returned to the Ganges as it has become less polluted. We visited some Jain temples built long ago by a diamond barron.
A wedding ceremony was going on with a large dressed up band playing in the street. Later, in the hotel, after several calls, a better backup plan is found. We can take Jet Air to another city and then on to Darjeeling. We do our now familiar ritual of hand washing and drying our dirty clothes. I’m not at all hungry, Charlotte only a little. We go to bed having not eaten here. We found the water gets turned off for an hour or two at night.
Monday, May 20, noon, Guwahati, Assam
Reading the paper, we learn we also hit Kolkata on its hottest day of the year. We are on plan B of getting to Darjeeling. The weather here is milder with forested hills. The fields around the airport are sprinkled with rifle carrying military people. Charlotte said 20 years ago there was a lot of danger in traveling here.