Monday, 31 October 2011


Hola todos! I know it's been a while since I've posted even though I promised I would post soon and I could say I wasn't being lazy and was actually just too busy with really important stuff to post but who am I kidding? You know it, I know you know it so let's just know together. The real story is that during the week I spent in Varanasi on my workshop, I was actually really busy and too exhausted to post. Also, the second week of no posts was necessary for recuperation from really busy week in Varanasi. Anyway...

Yes, this trip did include yet another 12 hour train ride and though exhausting my week in Varanasi was great. The NGO we worked with was Kiran Village. Kiran serves children with disabilities in the region surrounding Varanasi. This organization provides primary education, therapy, skills training and employment among other great services. It really is an amazing organization, I was actually really emotional and almost cried at first because just spending time at Kiran made me really happy but my friends wouldn't let me because they were afraid that they would start crying too. Instead of crying, we decided to play with the bachchas (children) whom we rode the bus with to and from school every day. Most of the time the bus was so crowded that we ended up with one or more bachchas on our laps on the bus ride. Sometimes they decided to sing to us, tell us jokes or show us what they learned that day in class, but most of all they really liked when we took their pictures. And we did...a lot, as you will see in my pictures from Varanasi. 

But we didn't just spend all of our time at Kiran, even though it was its own little version of Utopia. Other significant activities from Varanasi include the bakery where Kiran sold the goods made by those youngsters with disabilities that they trained in their skills training unit. I feel the need to note that we visited this bakery every day given that the bus dropped us off right in front of it on our way home. Convenient, no? But given that we were staying right on the Ganges it was only right that we take a stroll down to the main ghat (the banks of the Ganges are divided into sections called ghats) for a bit of arthi watching. Arthi is a ritual that is performed every night on the backs of the Ganges, dedicated to the river which is considered to be a god in Hindu religion. They light some pretty cool lamps on fire and wave them around for a bit as they pray to Ganga Ji (the river). It was really pretty but I must say that the boat ride we took on the Ganges just before sunrise was a bit more beautiful and even peaceful. Even though I was a hot mess at 5:30 am due to an unfortunate lack of my morning chai (the usual for Varanasi was 4 cups before I even left the hotel - I think it's replacing my other addiction to coffee), the boat ride was breathtaking. We got to see a beautiful deep red sun rise on the river as we were taken down the river where there were many people bathing or performing a puja (Hindu prayer or offering to the gods) in the Ganges, not to mention the two cremation ghats we passed by. Post-boat ride (and an egregious amount of chai, of course) we had a little bit of free time before departure and I may or may not have gone back to the bakery for some of their delicious jam biscuits made with their amazing pumpkin jam. All I can say for myself is I do not regret the biscuits...or the jam. 

There's probably more that I should be telling you but it's been a bit too long since I got back so I've forgotten a lot. I have a terrible memory, I know...sorry! I promise to upload an album with all the pictures from Varanasi very soon. Anyway, hasta luego!

- Eli

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Just Some Hathis, NBD

Hi friends! As I told you last week, I went to Jaipur for the weekend and it was soooo much fun! We were only there for a few days but I think we managed our time well and accomplished a lot in the short time we had. My friends and I bolted out of Delhi on a 4 hour train to Jaipur just after our Hindi exam - which went really well, by the way! Once actually in Jaipur, there was tons to do and not enough time, but we decided to start off with a visit to Amber Palace, which was located on top of a hill and gave us the opportunity to ride hathis (elephants!) up the hill and into the palace. Our hathi's name was Lakshmi and she was beautiful, as was the view of Jaipur from that hill. The palace itself was amazing, it was enormous and a truly beautiful work of art. We were able to visit the queens' chambers and, yes, that is queens as in plural because the king who lived here had 12 queens once upon a time.

After some quick lunch, we then moved on to Jantar Mantar, Jaipur's own observatory. The architecture there was surprisingly modern for having been built in the eighteenth century. It was like going to a giant, old Reuben H. Fleet Museum, which was one of my favorite field trips back in elementary school. From Jantar Mantar we were only a short walking distance to Hawa Mahal, another of Jaipur's beautiful palaces whose name means "The Palace of the Winds." This palace is located right in the middle of Pink City in Jaipur, where all of the buildings like this one are built of red and pink sandstone, driving through there is a lot of fun because of this.The architecture of this palace is really interesting because it was made so that the royal ladies (not including the 300+ unofficial queens) could observe the streets without being seen. Once you got to the highest level of the palace, you got another breathtaking view of Jaipur.

We then headed to dinner at small village just outside the city. This was much more than dinner. Once inside Chokhi Dhani, there was A LOT going on. Want to dance some Bangra? This way please. Want some delicious Indian-style ice cream (kulfi)? Straight ahead and to the right. Some chaat? Why yes, I'd love some chaat, extra masala please.  Mehendi (Hindi for henna)? Take a seat for 2 minutes, it's fast and free! Want to ride an elephant? Well, I kind of already did that today. Well, how about a camel then? We have those too. Actually, that would be kind of fun and I haven't done that yet, sure why not? (Camel rides are fun, but tricky - be careful when mounting/dismounting, it might ruin your mehendi...just saying).

Wait, why are we here again? Oh yeah, dinner. There are several eating areas for you to choose from. Remove your shoes and take a seat. Once seated, we had one giant and an entire stack of banana leaf plates. Question: are all of these for me? Answer: YES. The waiters, dressed in traditional Indian wear, then came down the aisle and put a different type of subjee (vegetables) dish in each of the little plates, brought us four or five different kinds of roti (Indian bread), gave us some salty lassi, and 3 or 4 different desserts. Everything, except for the lassi (who drinks salty yogurt?), was so delicious I even risked eating the chutneys and palak paneer, which is usually a don't if you want to avoid Delhi Belly. I definitely couldn't finish everything though, there was sooo much food and, apparently, "No more food please, I am REALLY full" means "Please put dollop some more of everything on my plate." All the waiters thought it was hilarious to see us look like we were about to have a heart attack. I did feel like had eaten enough for an entire army but it was delicious so I don't regret it. All in all, Choki Dhani was really and though I am aware that it was a very touristy attraction, it made me feel better that all the other tourists around us were Indian tourists.

But then it was time for reality so we all worked on our Independent Study Proposals and headed back to Delhi via what was probably the most traumatizing train experience of our lives. We booked our tickets a little bit on the late side so we were stuck in the non-AC train, which we wouldn't have minded had we not been completely surrounded by 1,000 other people. Everyone preferred to wait 6 hours before going to the bathroom rather than attempting to get through the crowds. My roommate also shared a shoe with someone for a good part of that train ride. But we made it back to Delhi safe and sound, though extremely tired. We were here this entire week, going to classes but are heading out again today. The group is splitting up and going to three different cities in order to participate in their week-long workshop that is required of the program. My group is going to Varanasi, the oldest city in India!! I'll be taking my computer so I can keep up with my work and will try to keep you guys updated, if possible. Wish me luck everyone!



P.S. Check out some pictures of Jaipur here.


Thursday, 6 October 2011


Namaste guys! Just wanted to tell you all about how cool my day was. It actually started off with a Hindi midterm, which fortunately went pretty well...I think. That was not what made today special, however. Today was actually a holiday in India (there are a lot of these in October due to the major festival - Diwali); today's festival is called Dasara and basically celebrates the triumph of good over evil, or so my roomate (Tania) tells me. Tania and I went home on the earlier side today and made it just in time to join our host parents in watching a parade pass by right in front of our house. It was really fun; lots of colors, bright costumes and years of traditions. We then went inside where Tania and I (successfully) made a delicious batch of chai tea for everyone accompanied by the delicious junk food our host parents bought for us to celebrate with; jalebi, samosas, and pakora. All three snacks were fried but all three snacks were delicious and definitely worth the hearth disease they are sure to induce.

Our host sister and her husband later took us to the nearby park where there was to be a huge celebration. The crowds were a bit more than overwhelming, according to Uncle (our host dad) some people walked here from villages - not sure if this is accurate, however. There were three colossal, colorful structures representing Ravan, the "bad guy," and his two sidekicks - Meghanath and Kumkaran, names provided by my host brother who laughed when I thought they were all the same guy. Anyway, Ravan is the manifestation of evil and Dasara celebrates the story of how Lord Rama (good guy, duh) defeated Ravan. So in order to retell this story on this day, they choose to have a huge gathering at the park where they set fire to these structures, which are previously stuffed with firecrackers. The fire spreads really quickly and the fireworks start going off causing a lot of noise and chaos, but is actually really exciting. At first, having not really been told what today was all about before going to said festival, of course thought the fire was accidental and convinced myself I was going to undergo some serious injuries...which was probably quite plausible anyway given that the fireworks were extremely close to my face and I was covered in ashes by the end of the show. Tania explained the situation, however, so I calmed down and enjoyed the show. It was a lot of fun and beautiful to watch, in a strange sort of way. It was loud, bright, quick, terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Now I'm just really excited to for the next festival...and telling you guys all about it, of course!

Hindi Midterm, Part 2 tomorrow and then I'm off to Jaipur with some friends for the weekend. I'll let you guys know how that goes ASAP. In the meantime you can find pictures from today in my Picasa album below. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

- Eli

Monday, 3 October 2011

Udaipur, Rajasthan

I'm baaaaack! I have mixed feelings about this given that the location of our excursion for the past week, Udaipur, was beautiful and I didn't quite want to leave! Udaipur is known as the city of lakes and palaces. The beauty of the city embraces you as you arrive and its blue skies were a welcome change from Delhi's smog-congested air. It was especially exciting to be in a beautiful hotel on the banks of Lake Pichola (our amazing program staff ensured that we were all placed in lake-facing rooms, so I can sincerely say that we were a bit pampered on this trip).

First off it was a 12 hour train ride from the Nizzamudin train station in Delhi (getting there is a trek in and of itself, however) to the train station in Udaipur, though taking an overnight train made the trip go by very fast. It was only a short walk down the streets of the old city, past a couple elephants and camels of course, before we arrived in our hotel and settled into our rooms before much needed showers. We were then quickly off to a village to see the work that a local NGO - ARTH - has developed over some time in the rural villages surrounding the city. We were all surprised to see that the health facilities that ARTH runs in the region are much more hygienic and manageable than the different government run hospitals and smaller health centers  we explored in Aligarh on our past excursion in the state of Uttar Pradesh (pre-blog guys, sorry - I might or might not get a chance to blog about that week sometime soon). The second day was also dedicated to seeing another of the locations ARTH works in.

The next day, we took a long 2 hour bus ride out to a very remote village (also commonly referred to as hamlet here) where a different NGO - Seva Mandir - works. It was quite the bumpy ride, the bus was airborne more than half of the time but it was definitely worth it. The road ended before we reached our destination so we actually walked along the mountains for a while; the sight alone was breathtaking and it was actually a great experience in terms of getting a real feeling for how far someone from such a remote village has to travel to get access to any sort of health facility.

After such a tiring day, the program staff threw a great party for us on the hotel rooftop, with awesome traditional Indian dancers from Rajasthan to perform for us, on top of a delicious dinner, a beautiful night landscape and great company. The dancers were great, they managed to dance with such grace on top of balancing pots on their heads, their own feet on top of pots, cups and glass, and at one on their heads! It was a little scary but exciting to see them one up themselves by the minute. I tried to get as many pictures of this amazing week as I could. I will put these up soon on the photos page for you all to see.

On the last day we also had the opportunity to visit an Ayurveda (a traditional form of medicine in India) hospital. This was a little bit unsettling for our group. Some of the treatments included leeching, enemas, and even drinking 3 gallons of milk to induce vomiting. I don't I'll be seeking treatment by an Ayurveda doctor anytime soon. We were glad to hear, however, that most patients only seek this type of treatment as a last resort. The hospital was just a blur though, as we were rushed over to the nursing college where we all had a bit of a challenging time communicating in our broken Hindi to the nursing students who seemed to be able to take pages and pages of notes in English but couldn't speak it very much at the moment. It was interesting, to say the least. After all that confusion, it was then time to do a little shopping in Udaipur before heading for the train station; we had a few hours to shop and take a look at all the local art for sale along the streets. Everything was beautiful and though I wanted to buy almost everything I restricted my shopping impulses heavily. By the end it was fun just to barter with the shopkeepers even though I knew I wasn't going to buy the item.

Anyway, that was my week in a nutshell (granted, a very large nutshell). Next post will be shorter, I promise!

- Eli

P.S. When in doubt, always follow the sketchy man sitting on a motorcycle on the side of the road down the dark alley when he promises to take you and your friends to a great restaurant with a beautiful view and delicious food. I can tell you this technique has proved 100% successful.