June 23, 2011

India Stories Sent from Canada

even though I'm back in Canada I've been reflecting on and writing up more of the India Adventure. For those of you still interested I'll be posting these stories up in instalments.. to keep the creative process rolling. Happy Reading.

Change: One More Day in Amritsar (part 1)

When I arrived at the Departures at 3pm, seven hours ahead of on-time the same station fa├žade greeted me with nothing overly memorable as it had three days prior. There was general chaos of hundreds of Indians bustling about the Amritsar train station; an abode for eight platforms of nomadic track not content with being housed so constantly running off into the horizon. And I was here alone, just trying to find a luggage locker so I could take advantage of my last day in the city of The Golden Temple, but being shouted at “ma’am! Ma’am! Hello!” I was no novice to the calls of unwanted sales persons, tour guides and photo-mongers. I kept walking towards my soon-to-be incorrect assumptions of the location of the luggage lock-up.

I didn’t expect anyone would remember me let alone see me off. Especially not him… how could he recognize me? I was without my original distinguishing feature. Granted I had a few other subtle differences from the mass around me: solo blonde-foreigner with too much luggage and the wearing-the-same-clothes-as-yesterday well-travelled look. But what I did not have was the Girl-Who-Has-No-Change look. The only reason I had assumed myself to be memorable yesterday. Something that had been accurate for fifty four of my fifty eight days in India. At the Amritsar train station this Saturday it was decidedly untrue. So it was with only the slightest of annoyances and very true scepticism I halted apprehensively, turned my head and readied my negating reply to “ma’am, do you remember me? We met yesterday!”

I was on guard. I was wary of the old “we met yesterday can I take a photo?” and “we met yesterday, 10 rupees please” ploys. Despite my best intentions to be disinterested I looked around for the source of the voice. The man’s face looking eagerly at me from a long white tunic and baggy white pyjamas smiled to help my recognition process. I hesitated to reach into my memory bank for fear of being caught off guard looking pensive in a stolen photograph or being perceived as an interested customer for wares I had no interest in.

Surprising only myself two minutes later, I had found a match for this man. Luckily, only to me, it was only because he had the sense to inform me where it was exactly we had met yesterday. He had been the friendly one just outside the Maharaja Ramjit Museum (of battle-scene dioramas) at the gate of the Company Gardens who was thrilled to find out I was from Canada and laughed that I didn’t have the correct change for the entrance fee. It was he who had organized a bicycle rickshaw afterwards too, and insisted on sharing lists of Punjab natives who were now experiencing great personal and professional success in my home country. In the words of the rickshaw cyclist he recommended and I hired, “he has beautiful English, doesn’t he?” I had to agree. The well-informed and good-humoured fellow was the sweetest old(ish) stranger I met in all of India (in my rather limited scope of it). It appeared as though he was a cycle rickshaw operator too. As he stepped away from his bike I gave him a smile, acknowledged the commonality of our previous day’s paths, and then caught up on the last 24 hours since we’d last spoke. Mr. Rickshaw asked me what I’d seen and wanted to know where/where my train was headed, “10:15pm, Dehradun.” I almost had a chance to say I was looking for the luggage lock up when my newest friend exclaimed with an untranslatable mix of shock and delight, “Oh! Oh, you have a whole day left in Amritsar! You can still see so many things! Oh! You must lock up your luggage and come with me. I will show you all of Amritsar!”

Since that was precisely my plan, I was happy to have it validated with such exuberance. My next steps were, instead of struggling lost, directly escorted to the chaotic-looking but ridiculously orderly Luggage Lock. And I only had to step over two piles of gushy garbage to get there! That’s when I learned the 7 Rules* of Luggage Lock-up-ing:

1)      Must have OWN lock (double check)
2)      Must show passport (no prob)
3)      Must pay 10 Rupees per item upon pick-up (fine)
4)      Must provide a COPY of passport (in #2)
5)      Must carry own bag to designated, dirty shelf
6)      Bags are assigned a number for itemization
7)      Bags are tagged with the number (as per item 6) with semi-permanent or permanent ink (permanency directly proportional to owner’s fondness of said bag)

*note: these are not actually, officially listed but rather are learned-as-you-go rules.
Further to item 4) photocopies can be procured at the bag/passport owner’s hassle, expense and bafflement of the improbability of locating a photocopier in the area of the parking lot that was indicated by the Luggage Lock-up official with a vague wave-of-hand.

Exit Lyndia with all her bags.
Enter Mr. Rickshaw. Both meet in the photocopier-free parking lot.

Mr. R – Why not leave your luggage? What happened?
Lyndia – I need a photocopy of my passport. I don’t have a photocopy.
R- Oh! Is that all? I know where just come with me.

Lyndia is cycled through the parking lot (see! NO photocopier) across one busy street and is let off in a haphazard strip of parking and led down a side street, turned down an unmarked unlit alley and through a door that has “ICP, STD. FAX. CELL. PHOTO STAT.” stencilled on it.

We go in.

They have photocopiers (two). I pay 2 rupees and my problem is solved. It is also explained to me by the ICP, STD. FAX. CELL. PHOTO STAT. owner that the passport copy is for Verification, Authenticity and Security – all words I appreciate on the topic of Me and My Luggage.) Back down the alley and across the main street, I am re-dropped off at the Luggage Lock-up. Over garbage pile #2, since I found a way to avoid the first fetid puddle, and learn lesson number 7. It went a little something like this:

I passed over my newly acquired passport photocopy and answered three questions about the bags I wished to drop off I was made to fill out a little slip of paper. I was required to write out all the information from my passport and visa (exactly what was ON the photocopy I’d just handed-over) into the little government boxes on the sheet. Next I looked up to see the results of Authenticity, Security and Verification and ran smack into Lesson 7. I was surprised when I noticed that my black backpack had a chalk 212/2 on the bottom and I couldn’t help but shout when I noticed that my purse had been tagged with the same number but in black permanent felt marker. Needless to say, I was shocked and demanded an explanation along with “THIS IS NOT GOING TO COME OFF!” However, due to language barriers and bureaucratic functioning in place of actual intelligence the only clarification I received was a shrug, a smug smile and an ambivalent power-wielding, “compulsory.” With that, I downtroddenly transported my 2 212/2s to an empty dirty shelf that, I mumbled under my breath, “had better be Verified, Authentic and Secure.” At least my purse and I would never be subjected to the oh-so-common dinner-party problem of identical-purse-identical-contents, thanks to my Bag-Tattoo of 212/2.

Lyndia Without Luggage finds Mr. Rickshaw and hops back onto his cycle with only the essentials: camera, wallet/passport (with a Medusa-face pin as a criminal deterrent) and my journal with a third class train ticket bookmark. I am free to explore! Even more than that I am happy to have a friendly transport operator/tour guide that also assisted in my current luggage-free status. I’ve already determined I will buy this Cyclist-in-White a chai. And ask him his name… again? I can’t believe I’ve already forgotten, but then again so much has happened. Since I’m already on the back of the bike and we’re back on the road again, it seems I won’t be needing his name just yet anyway.

April 19, 2011

10 Farewell High-Fives

Good bye India. Today I start my journey home and have a flight to catch (with a 10 day stop over in Germany, of course - yipee!). However, I wanted to make a final (FINAL) post to re-cap Lyndia's India and high-five all I have loved, loathed and learned. I keep having ideas for lists pop into my head so... here is a list of the 10 Lists (so 11 lists in total?)

1. India-isms I'll Miss
2. India-isms I won't
3. Energetic Events of Powerful Personal Significance
4. Straight-Up Unexpected Sights
5. Most Memorable Quotes (from Others)
6. Stupidest Questions (byMe)
7. Food!
8. Photos I Took
9. Photos I Juuuust Missed:
10. Unbelievably Grateful for...

1. India-isms I'll Miss
a) walking-trains of sari-clad women    b) year-round growing season that provides vibrant greens & flowers
c) chai on every corner!                       d) 25 cents for a day's worth of produce
e) sunrise chants, songs and calls-to-prayer.

2. India-isms I won't

a) endless advertising overload      b) shouting as normal-volume
c) walking on-guard of potential poop underfoot      d) bucket-bathing
e) children with permanent dirt stained skin and teary eyes pulling at my pant leg and pleading for rupees.

3. Energetic Events of Powerful Personal Significance
a) moments on the serene beaches of the Ganga    b) feet soaking meditation in the pool of the Golden Temple
c) breathing in the prana of the Rishikesh hills         d) playing Holi in front of the Rosebowl
e) early morning Chakra-chanting                       ... f) Vishnodevi hike & all of Mcleod Ganj!

4. Straight-Up Unexpected
a) Hawks soaring over Delhi rooftops at breakfast    b) Hare Krishna Temple dance party
c) (as mentioned) seeing the Dalai Lama    d) (caution TMI (too much information) here) learning the fine art, uh science of bidet-style toilet-ing...
e) finding seats on the Hemkunt Express to Jammu (story coming soon)

5. Most Memorable Quotes (from Others)
a) "Ma'am? For how long should we hold this asana to attain Enlightenment?" - Doon yoga student.    
b) "Now I want to show you something Not in Lonely Planet, okay?" - awesome guide in Amritsar (story coming soon)
c) "For 13,000 Canadian dollars, can you take me to Canada with you?" - husband of a woman in the Ladies Waiting Room at a train station.
d) "Eat whatever you want. Do whatever you want. You are still young. You are fine." -Dr. Aurora as a summary of my first-ever Ayurvedic assessment
e) "If you aren't laughing four or five times a day you're not living, only breathing" - Yogi Vishvketu

6. Stupidest Questions (by Me)
a) "What do you call those little, tiny, baby mangoes?" A: Yes! Mangoes.
b) "Then how do you say "excuse me" with respect to someone younger than you?" A: Excuse me.
c) "Why is it called Chakarta Gate?" A: Because it's on Chakarta Road.
d) "Oh! What's happening at that village with all the fair rides and people? Is it a festival? Does it happen often?" A: It's a village fair. Usually once a year. (Me: Ah, just like at home...)
e) On seeing a black bear on a hill as pointed out by the driver. "Whoa! That's cool! Is it very common to see those here?" A: Umm, yes. That is the zoo.

7. Food!
a) parantha b) shahi paneer  c) malai kofta  d) Mystery grain porridge e) Chai! & Mithai! (trans. tea & sweets...but I already knew that)

8. Photos I Took (5 or more... of MANY more)
(see next post)
9. Photos I Juuuust Missed
(see next next post)

10. Unbelievably Grateful for...
a)...the ability to feel calm and one-ness in the chaos of an uncontrolled line of Ladies buying train tickets (story coming soon)
b) ...the month of hospitality at #83 Veejay Park in Dehradun!!
c) ...my Yoga Family who accommodated and understood my silence and self-relationship development
d) ...the nick-of-time guidance and spontaneous friendships!
e) ...a myriad of instances of clarity, confidence and connectedness in my own life
& f) ...poems, energy, flowing water, sunrise-skies, songs and colours, direction, dreams, advice and inspiration that I'll carry the rest of my life.

I <3 You India. I <3 You.

High Five #9

Photos I  Juuuust Missed:
(As such... these are the ones I have in lieu to remind me of those lost photo-treasures)
1. A mother teacher her two young daughters (about 6 and 8 years old) to carry 20L water vessels on their heads

2. An elephant in front of a fruit stand... here's a fruit stand at least? And some rather cool sleeping goats...

3. A surreal looking cow on a cliff-side garbage heap that is smoking and smouldering or just this cute non-garbage cow.

 4. The Doon school dining hall just before food is devoured! Or... some of the boys at an assembly?

 5. Two Buddhist nuns laughing on a stone bridge with burgundy robes flowing in the breeze... or one monk at the temple prayer wheels...

 6. THIS monestary like, 2 seconds in the future when the lightening bolted in the sky!

photos property of LyndiaP April 2011

High Five #8

For the pictures I thought I'd post separately... and more than five:

Photos I Took:  
(in no particular order... or slightly chronological)

Bath of the Nataraj

Street Smart and Sunglasses

Principal Sari

Chai for Four

Goat Friends

Cycle Rickshaw Silhouette

Gold fish. Golden Temple

Rose Coloured Sunset

Attending the Lama Dance

Taj Frame

Goddess 2

photos property of LyndiaP April 2011

April 17, 2011

What the (Taj Ma)hal?!

Today I took on Agra. And 'sensation over-load' might be an accurate description. Instead of regaling you with a long prose piece I made my single goal (besides seeing the Taj itself) as making three observations per hour of this adventure and using them as "poetry notes." As such, here are the (first draft) hourly-poems I crafted about my excursion:

today felt ripe for a double dose
of anti malarial pills
as if they'd bring me stamina.
Along with addition to the morning routine
of sunscreen,
purple t-shirt the only thing clean.
My room with a view
of the early morning market
shops closed
guarded by owners sleeping on their rooftops.

frightened at the first corner
by the motorcycle ghost
but found comfort in barren morning bazaar.
Walk to the once-daunting train station
Mystery cyclist dismounts to escort me
then vanishes into the dark crowds.

Too early young foreign lad?
His platform vomit.
My platform mantras.
by the dedicated-to-authenticity
Japanese couple
each with a video cam.

Bhopal Stbdi departed on time
Coach 8 seats me backward
Chair 74 treats me kind.
As neighbour no. 75 inspects newspaper adverts
with such intensity they must predict his life.
Ripened wheat fields blow past us
Tea is served.
Tea is removed.
Making room for two rifle-toting guards
to sweep through.

Free in First Class?
Breakfast toast, red jam
that is not Red Jam.
A bite of contentment at Kosi Kala
to the no-charge song of Hindi PSAs
with all the money I just saved
I'll buy myself three extra photo-opts.

Your wrinkled arm
her block-print sari
trying to tell me a story between the train seats.
A tale cut-off by the HindustanTimes
and chair 84-occupant snores and sleeps
as we race past people-blurs whom I'll never meet -
Express train
where passenger 12 insists on standing.

Disembark from my chauffeured A/C chariot
for which I bartered well.
Agra-guide with grandkids
cuts long-lines and 
takes copious well-poised portraits of me
in front of towering domes
empty minarets
"The Taj has lots of angles"
and stories of marble inlaid with precious stone.
Most unforgettably told 
by the baby in the security line
who punched me in the left eye.

Shopping sprees well-planned
not by me.
Mosaic demos, local jewels
Cottage industries explained.
All my guides get kick-backs
every time I contribute
to the web of Agra-tourism

Solo dining at a table-for-four
 beside one likewise table
accentuates the Lonely Luncheon
delivered with delicious food.
Where napkin wrapped fresh-lime-soda
sliver serving dishes
don't come cheap.
Next time omit the private butler and
stock the soap in the bathroom!
The punjabi hip-hop was nice though,
it took up at least one empty-plate-space.

with the Yamuna river trickle
inexalted Taj-face
hanging as my backdrop
I'm the tourist making faces
for (the kinds behind) the camera
who already thought me strange-
might as well make their tale worth telling.

2:00-3:00pm (at Agra Fort)
  Rosewater fountain in the Jasmine Palace
Kashmir-imported garden soil for vineyard grapes.
You'll know you're Daddy's Favourite
when he renovates your room in marble.

After ticket-counter chaos
in the safer (?) Ladies' Line
preserving queue integrity
with English arguments and backpack barriers
To secure my second ticket
for a train I'll never board
and earn my questionable seat
on the Train Station floor.
"A/C Here" sign is fallacious
when the power is on Strike.
Dazed by smells and flies and unnamed spills beside me
as my skin is liquified.

A free pass to be invisible 
 at the product-less cafe.
Its empty tables. Empty chairs.
Brief respite for this tired traveler.
Until there's eight freeloaders at my table
the unsavoury seven watch me 
as they buzz and fly.
Waiting in the dark
for a milkshake
or a cold drink
or just the power supply.

At the same sweltering snack-bar
my tour guide finds me:
a final lesson, last farewell.
Agra pyramid-scheme education
that now I'm mixed up in.
For my information,
if his compensation
could be quoted as "200"
he explained with gratitude,
he'd avoid a reprimand &
could take home the cash in-hand
I had paid to him  
and not his over-seeing boss-dude.

Eating figs in relative-silence to pass the time but
Platform 2 has conversation:
family values and bank exams.
Until I board in the Second-Class cram
I never anticipated.
"Seats 6" holds 10.
but a reservation saves me
(plus my sex and novelty).
So I'm pried in W-55
as centre-attraction- soon too see
just how boring I can be:
sipping water, gazing outside
wedged in hip-to-hip, knee-to-knee.

Cool outside circulation now humid
turns to rain, 
soaks my window-side
provokes a train-wide chanting cry
when we try
to close the window.
The ventilated Train-Wash.

Just as I found comfort and the perfect scheme
to be friendly, to be me
all co-seat-dwellers exit our fair train.
Mathura Junction is their stop.
Spaces quickly turn-over
company changes face and name
forcing me to re-plot and wait
to share my cookies.

First attempt failed
all the coconut treats still mine.
But I have time.
When the hoarse voiced chai-walla comes 'round
he brings me success:
I produce the cookies
and the Indian chaps've got the rest.

 A photo-shoot requested
by new, live, Facebook friends
professing the Internet is perfect
for linking people 'round the world, both ends.
With the train's REAL late arrival
my eyes are tired...
but my smile still sends.

11:59pm (seriously, to the minute)
this Princess of Endless Journeys
is back at the Prince Palace Hotel,
the nick of time
to avoid turning into a squash of some kind... 

as I'm sure you can assume these were actually finished/posted the next day but let's just pretend I had the capacity to do it all in 24 hours.

And, of course, photo-proof of the Taj-visit (with many MANY others poses too):
Lyndia & SpongeBob storm the Taj

The Silly-Face from "Hours 1-2pm"

photos and poetry property of LyndiaP April 2011