Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 03:28:46 -0800 (PST)
From: Send an Instant Message "Michael Tselman"
Subject: Note 9 - India

Dear Friends,

I feel like I have not written anything for ages, even though only 10 days have passed since I sent the last trip note. Just yesterday evening I have arrived to Rishikesh - the amazing town/village in the very early foothills of the Himalayas, where the Ganges river takes its source. The river, still clean, flows through the Rishikesh which is placed in a very scenic location in the narrow river valley with temples and houses spanning both shores and long suspension bridges connecting them. The river is wide and fast. There are some middle grade rapids and the river is about 100-200 meters wide. The town of Rishikesh is known as THE meditation and yoga center of India and the world. It is full of yoga ashrams, youga centers, meditation centers, classes for beginners and classes for youga teachers from all over the world. This is the place where Maharishi started, this is the place that Beatles visited for meditation classes, this is the place where Osho comes to do his teachings and many other most world famous yogis and meditation teachers teach and practice.

But let me step back a few days and tell you a bit more of my previous days. As I wrote in a previous note, Pushkar (the place I sent my last note from) is a town which does not let you go. And so I stayed. I spent 10 days in Pushkar - something I completely did not expect of myself. But, that place became the first place in India where I felt like home and I needed a good reason and destination to move on. I made some good friends in Pushkar - the best way of meeting people was playing chess in one of the chai stands, but you also meet people on the street - just say "hello", start conversation and see where it leads. While one would assume that a good way to start a conversation with a foreign stranger would be to ask "where are you from?", I began to dread that question as this question is used by all the hasslers from the shops and streets of Delhi. All the time you hear "Which country, sir?", "Where from, sir?", "Your name, sir?". And you start to avoid the sound of these questions and then feel really bad asking them yourself. Also, on the busy streets especially, people develop that completely absent look on their faces - nobody wants to meet your eyes as when you meet the eyes of the shopkeepers and other "helpers", you are immediately addressed, called up, greeted, invited, asked for chai and conversation which ultimately leads to exchange of goods for money.

Nevertheless, people meet, friends are made and connections are established. Some last only till the exchange of e-mails with a rare follow-up, but some will probably last much longer.

With Mansur and Sanjeev we explored some desert around Pushkar and found a small oasis just half an hour walk away from the town. A little lake surrounded by sand dunes and a few trees. Some locals herd thei gots there. There are a lot of birds on the lake: some look like canadian geese, some - like ducks and there was a beautiful stork with pink underwings, who probably got disconnected from his group on the migration path and now swims with the ducks. Since the discovery I went a couple more times to the lake - sometimes alone, to take some sunset photos, sometimes taking other people to share the beauty of the place.

Sanjeev became a good friend of mine. He is indian born, but has been living in US since he was 16. Educated in Berkeley and working in networking and telecom industries in California and later in Boston, he is a very talented person and while our characters a quite different we find a lot to talk about and have been hanging out together for quite some time. In fact , we came together to Rishikesh from Pushkar. As with many others, we met at a chess place. We have not found a chess place in Rishikesh yet, but he just stopped by to say that he bought a chess board and we'll convert the corner chai shop in the chess place. Nice idea.

But, back to Pushkar... With Sanjeev we have explored the area around Pushkar quite thoroughly. We went up the hills surrounding the town and found some abandoned temples with meditation caves. We saw real local life, where women go through the forests collecting dry branches for firewood and little boys balancing on the trees while chopping off fresh branches with leaves for the goats to eat. I find this India more attractive and captivating then the India of touristy"Taj Mahals" and other big palaces. As one old guy in a chai shop told me: you are converting from tourist into a traveler.

I found out the name of my favorite temple in Pushkar. I wrote about that temple in last note - the one I went to almost every morning. It is called Pap Monchi temple and as Hari (a Brahmin and one of the local storytellers) explained to me, this is the temple where all your crimes are forgiven. When I told him that I climbed up to the temple 5 times, he was extremely excited. Hari also told me a wonderful story of the gods Brahma, Shiva, Savitri and others and how Pushkar lake was created by Brahma dropping the lotus flower and how he forgot to invite Shiva for the celebration and how Savitri, Brahma's first wife became angry at Brahma for taking a second wife and as a stronger goddess prohibited Brahma temples everywhere else, so there is a reason why there are practically no Brahma temples anywhere but in the Pushkar. I'm really enjoying Indian food. Despite so many warnings, nothing I ate so far was too spicy for me - just the opposite, sometimes I actually ask to make it a bit more spicy, especially if I already ate at a place before. The most usual food for both lunch and dinner is Thali. Thali is a collection of small portions of some differently prepared vegetables, maybe some cooked cheese, and yogurt, all of which a served with rice on a plate with multiple compartments and in addition you get some simple chapattis - freshly baked bread (somewhat similar to pita). It takes a few days to accept the habit of eating with your hands, not with utensils, but the more I do it, the more I enjoy it. Usually you use chapattis or other bread to help you to keep the food together when you eat with your fingers, but that is not necessary. It is amazing, but once you eat with your fingers, the presence of spoon or fork in your mouth really feels wrong and out of place. Sanjeev introduced me to some excellent South Indian food - Uthappam for breakfast (thin pancake with vegetables and onions baked into the dough), Cholle-Bhature (beans, peas in some sauce with a very puffy bread) - for lunch, and some excellent tandoory breads: Bazra (corn) and Makkay (barley) with some fried dal for dinner. And of course the safest food to eat on the road - Masala Dosa. After breakfast we often spice taste by eating some chilly peppers baked inside dough and stuffed with some mix of potatoes and spices. This is the spiciest thing I have ate so far and it does wake you up if you feel sleepy after breakfast. I love the masala chai - that is tea that is brewed for some time with milk, sugar and a lot of spices. The spices differ from chai shop to chai shop, but usually include some pepper and cardamon. One I had just an hour ago was especially good. :)

I more and more often find the local people to talk to. I already mentioned Hari - a Brahmin and an owner of a small shop. There is also Rames - a very friendly man with a big moustache and colourful turban sitting in front of an antique and arts store. He likes when people take pictures with him and later send him the photographs. He showed me his collection of photographs and he remembered every single person he was with on those pictures. I'll send him one as well. Will be the only russian in his collection. He is 49 and has 6 children and some grandchildren. First 20 years of his life he carried a 20kg can of milk every day from the village to the town (about 10km) on his head. Then for some years he carried vegetables on his bike. Now he helps to sell the antiques and local paintings. He always looks very happy. Actually a lot of people look quite happy in Pushkar. And I had a long discussion about this with some other travelers. Many of them are under that hippy spell of "simple, therefore good and happy". I disagree. These people still suffer a lot from the lack of some simple advantages of civilization, but I would agree that just bringing in and imposing western civilization on them would be a totally wrong thing to do.

I feel like I can keep writing forever, but I should stop and go for my first yoga class.

I would just add that it was very difficult to leave Pushkar. The first place in India I felt really sorry leaving. The "shanti, shanti" attitude, the people, the life. All of it is changing me.

India has been working magic on me. I go smiling on the streets everyday and a lot of people know me and smile back and wave. I bow to some holy men that I know and they return the bow. The "chai" people know me and the "thali" people know me and, unfortunately, the "internet" people know me as well. I feel how expression of my face is changing with every day I'm spending here. My pace is changing as well. I do not rush anywhere anymore - I walk slowly and notice small things.

It's time for yoga now...

Till later and sorry for such an unorganized note,