Hello good friends of OM!
The second "letter" of the two here!
Wow it has been a disastrously long time since an email has been written. I'm afraid this one is going to be very long! I'm sending it all in one go, but I recommend reading it in several stages to thoroughly absorb the tale, unless you're really in a reading-power mode.
So Orion left you off with our amazing Annapurna trek. When we finished the trek we took the bus back to Kathmandu for JAZZmandu - a week of Jazz in Nepal!! We were excited.
By this time tourist season was begining to pick up speed in Nepal and the whiteys were arriving by the hundreds. Prices were going up! We tried to get our bus tickets for the same cheaper price we normally pay, and succeeded after some bargaining. Unfortunately, this time of year, the cheapest price means the worst bus.
We hopped on the bus to be immediately seated, to our great dismay, in a toilet. LITERALLY. You know how buses have those two tiny little rooms at the very back with toilets in them? Well this bus had those, only one was still a stinking, reaking toilet, and the other room had been emptied out and two seats had been installed. This was were we sat. There was absolutely NO legroom, the window barely opened, people seemed to think that we were a luggage compartment, and the toilet emited its rank fragrance only a foot away from us. We gritted our teeth for the 9 hour ride.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, I was immediately car sick and had to move to the front of the bus where a two person bench squished 3 people. Orion stayed in the back and pulled out his guitar to stay sane. Hours later we arrived safely in Nepal. I staggered from the bus feeling impossibly sick and extremely grumpy and met a smiling, excited Orion. He was so happy to tell how GREAT the ride had been for him because he had written a new song! Sure the toilet stank but he had SO MUCH FUN! Well. Lucky him. Hahaha...
ANYWAY. So we arrived in Kathmandu for JAZZmandu.
ALSO. I forgot to mention.. Our friends from VERNON, Shauna and Daniel, had just completed their bike trip across South East Asia. They sold their bikes, and were flying to Nepal to do some trekking for a couple weeks before going home. It just so happened to PERFECTLY line up that we were in Kathmandu right when they landed. We met up with them right away and let them sleep on the floor of our hotel room for their first night. We hung out with them for a few days before they headed off to trek.
So. Jazzmandu. How legit can a Jazz festival be in a country like this? We were pretty impressed honestly. They had bands from all around the world playing at really fancy venues around the city. The first night we decided to go see 'Suzy & 2' from Norway.
Suzy & 2 is a trio that features the epic compositions of the band leader - obviously, Suzy, backed up by another vocalist who also plays melodica and glockenspiel, and a very talented and soulful jazz guitarist . She had been living in Kathmandu for some time and had created a set featuring some very talented classical Nepali musicians: a singer, and a tabla player. She also added a double bass player. Suzy (forget her last name) then wrote songs for the new band striving to fuse jazz and the classical ragas (Indian musical scales) into one harmonious sound. Combining impossible strange time signatures with haunting harmonies, melodic melodies, and creative rhythms, a soundscape was created that could carry one to a new dimension. It was fantastic!
So that was sweet! The next big show was at a fancy resort and featured all the bands. Despite the terrible sound engineering, most of the bands were fantastic. We sat on the lawn on blankets just like at a Canadian music festival! How fun. As darkness fell, the bands playing got more and more upbeat and dansable. The party began!!!
Our favorite band BY FAR was a band called Rootman from Thailand. They were a 8 piece mind-blowingly energetic funk fusion band. The bass player was probably one of the most talented musicians I have ever seen EVER in my LIFE and he looked like he was about 15 (I'm sure he was a bit older though haha). Though I was thrilled, Orion was EXPLODING with JOY. So, I figured I would get him to describe the glories of this fabulous band so that you too may enjoy a taste of his enthusiasm.
"ROOTMAN. WOW. They are INSANE. I don't want to compare them to anyone because their originality transcends the material realm and borders on the spiritual, but imagine of a mind-blowing blend between Five Alarm Funk and The Cat Empire, with Victor Wooten playing bass. Every single musician in the band is amazingly good, and as a whole they are tighter than the weave on the best Kashmiri pashmina shawl. All the horns have their own style, and the solos build from succulently sensual sounds to a climax of madness. The drummer is solid. The DJ (Yes, they have a DJ.) shreds the scratching and adds subtly funk-ridden riddims to every song. And the keyboard player is by far the best player, and perhaps musician, that I've ever seen, and perhaps heard. He had a Nord Electro 3 on the bottom and a synth on top hooked up to a rack mounted sound module and some other crazy blinking boxes; he knows those instruments like the back of his hand. He was constantly tweaking knobs and changing sounds and pushing his instruments to the very LIMIT, in every possible way. He reminded me most of the the keyboard player from The Cat Empire, but less latin and more funky/jazzy, though he played both better than anything I've ever heard. He played the gnarliest organ solo I've ever heard in my life that still gives me shivers when I even think of it! Seriously, this guy is a world class player and band leader. So mind expandingly good. I didn't even think that someone could BE that good. And then the bass player. WOW. He is basically a young version of Victor Wooten, but with his own style brought into his remarkable playing. He can shred anything from the craziest, most difficult, funkiest solo to a simple one sixteenth note per bar bass line, but regardless of what he plays, it will be the deepest grooving, tastiest thing in the world. He makes the best bass faces, yet is modest, and every time he thumbs the strings convulsions of joy rippled through the crowd. He obviously looks up to Victor as his mentor, because he played all of the Wooten techniques (double thumbing, 64th note tapping and harmonics on every millimeter of the fret board, etc...) flawlessly and more. As Marina and I watched him solo, our minds exploded in a symphony of funky goodness. He is definitely also by far the best bassist, and possible musician that I've ever witnessed in the flesh. Him and Victor Wooten would have a good time jamming. I emailed a few music festivals in Canada telling them to GET ROOTMAN TO NORTH AMERICA NOW. So maybe you'll all get to explode with joy at the sight and sound of them too. I sincerely hope so. I'd follow them around like a veritable "Dead-Head" if I didn't have life goals of my own... I LOVE THEM."
So after Rootman we were sorely disappointed. The next show was "Tito Puente Junior," the son of the legendary latin artist. Sounds epic right? IT WASN'T. The guy had ZERO talent but an ego as huge as the SUN. He proceeded to talk in his slightly irritating New Yorker accent for FAR too long about himself, and how great he was, and how great his country was, and how great his father was. Then he gave all these shout outs to random American people that weren't even THERE and proceeded to tell everybody about how much he LOVED America. We were so disgusted with this display that Orion was convincing me we should leave right then and there as to not taint his Rootman experience high. But I LOVE a good latin band so I said we should stay until the band started to hear if it was good or not. Finally Mr. Puente Jr. managed to cease his verbal diarrhea and the band started. They weren't even GOOD!! GAH. Tito Jr. played timbales (or at least stood behind them holding sticks) and when it came for his solo, I was impressed. Impressed by how TERRIBLE he was!!!! So we fled the scene.
The FINAL Jazzmandu show was similar to the last one, with a whole bunch of bands playing, but it was featuring only the BEST ones, whereas the last night, they had ALL the bands playing. We basically went just to see Rootman, who were just as amazingly good as the last time. There was also this absolutely ridiculous band from France who were old washed out dudes attempting to mix jazz fusion with dubstep while wearing disco space suits. I did not enjoy it, but my eyes were thoroughly occupied trying to assimilate all the stimulus. Orion took a video that we will post if there is ever decent enough internet. It was a sight to behold.
Anyway so that was Jazzmandu! All in all, despite its inevitable quirks, it was such a joy to witness real talent and real live music. After months of deprivation, our musical souls drank deep and basked in the glory of deafening drums and booming bass. We were fulfilled!
Shauna and Daniel came with us to most of the shows which was fun. How cool it is to meet people from your own home town across the other side of the world! As well as that, our dear friends Mindy and James who we met on the trek were also in Kathmandu waiting their flight to Thailand. It was so much fun hanging out with all 6 of us! When we all finally went our seperate ways, a tiny hole was left in our hearts where they had been. Miss you guys!! :)
BUT! We were not alone for long!!!! Not but a few days later, we were overjoyed to welcome to our strange life more loved ones from our beloved home: Caren and Doug!!!!!! (For those of you who are unaware, Caren and Doug are Orion's parents.) After a joint effort from all family and friends, they were convinced to leave their busy lives and join us for a month of travelling. How exciting!
We met them around midnight and they settled into their hotel room. We stayed up til 1 or 2 in the morning catching up and sharing stories. Fun!!
With their limited time of 6 weeks and their long list of crazy things to see/do, we set about making a grand scheme for our time together. Immediately we booked bus tickets to Pokhara, to pay a visit to Mailadai at our favorite place, Hotel Open Air, a must see on ANY trip to Nepal. That night, Doug and Caren went to an orphanage that they sponsor to see how things were running and meet the managers. They were invited to eat a dinner cooked by the orphan children. How sweet!!! But for some strange reason, as they were tucking in to the meal, their alarm bells of intuition began to clang away. They ignored them.
The next day... They were SO SICK. It was horrible. I won't go into the details, but I will say that they were up all night and weren't any better in the morning. We quickly rescheduled our bus tickets, and dropped any plans of doing a small trek, and focused intensely on healing. What a way to start a trip!
When the time came for us to catch the bus to Pokhara, C and D managed the trip with equanimity. Though every tiny bump of the bus ride (and there were many) jolted their aching stomachs and guts with stabbing pains, they never complained and wore their bright smiles the whole time. EPIC.
Though getting to Maila's is slightly difficult (especially the 20 minute hike up the mountain) when we finally arrived, we were all overjoyed to be there. We planned maybe 2 nights there, and immediately upon arrival changed it to 5 nights. With warm (but not hot) sun, clean, fresh air, and gorgeous views of the Annapurnas and Phewa Lake, it was the perfect place to heal. Soon D and C were in tip top shape and ready to travel!!
And travel we did!!!!! Our destination was Ranchi in India, where we were planning to attend a week long retreat at the SRF/YSS ashram. It was to be a grueling journey with many different modes of transportation. A hike down the mountain, a boat ride across the lake, a 9 hour local bus ride to the border, walking across the dusty town of Sunauli into India, a jeep ride to Gorakhpur, another freezing cold local bus ride right through the middle of the madness of the festival Diwali to Varanasi, and finally a train ride to Ranchi. We braced ourselves for the 3 days of sleepness night and constant travel.
The bus to border was uneventful. Everyone was uncomfortable on the oddly shaped seats except Caren who exclaimed how wonderful it was to finally sit on seats the right size for her short stature. Everyone else's heads lolled off the backs of the seats with every jolt of the bus...
At Sunauli, we got our Nepal visas stamped out and started to walk through the archway that said "Welcome to India." Diwali, the festival of lights, was on its last and most eventful day. As we walked into India, a giant story high stack of blown speakers filling the entire back of a shipping truck blasted festival music as a welcome to us. With plugged ears and shouts to the officers, we officially entered the country of India! Oh the insanity. It had been more than 25 years for Doug and Caren since the last time they were here, and they were excited to re-experience this country of duality: the most chaos the human senses can handle, yet with the deepest places of spiritual peace on the earth; the poorest people with nothing to their name, as well as the most luxurious hotels and resorts and restaurants and expensive clothes and shopping malls; the filthy streets with stinking heaps of reeking, rotting garbage with starving animals picking through the piles for scraps; yet the cleanest, most beautiful women, sparkling beyond beauty, dazzling all with their brightly coloured glittering saris, jingling shiny bangles and elaborate anklets, impossible earrings and necklaces and rich silky thick black braids running down their entire backs. And so many more opposing opposites! I could describe pages and pages of it. But I have a story to tell, so I'll get on with it.
We hopped in a packed jeep and headed to Gorakhpur, a filthy city with a major train and bus station. I was so carsick (yet again) from the bus ride to the border that it was a relief to sit in the jeep with the full view of the road in front of me.
At Gorakhpur, we knew there were no trains available to Varanasi, but we hoped to find a slightly more comfortable tourist bus. We thought it would be fair to our bodies for it would be another 9 hour journey. No such luck. Local bus it was!!! And an all nighter.
The bus left at about 8pm in the height of the last night of Diwali. For the festival, everyone builds a statue of the goddess Lakshmi at the beginning of the week (or however long it is, I can't quite remember) and parades her around in the back of little trucks blasting music. People gather around the statue and speakers and have little mini travelling raves. The vehicles drive slowly, the people follow, dancing and cheering wildly, setting off fireworks, throwing flowers, etc. Some set-ups were so elaborate they had strobe lights! It looked fun.
So we were driving through that every 5 minutes or so, stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam. Just when we thought we were almost free of it, we reached a big bridge. Normally there was about 8 lanes, but half had been closed off. On the last night of the festival, the tradition has it that everyone throws their Lakshmi statues into the river. How sweet. So everyone was doing just that. And in such a populated country, "everyone" is A LOT of people. We were held up, stuck crawling slower than a cripple could walk, for around an hour. On the plus side it gave us plenty of opportunity to watch the madness of the festival from a safe distance. It was sheer insanity.
Finally the bus got on the road again, and for some strange reason, it was FREEEEEZZZINNNGG cold. I had on all my layers and scarfs and socks and sarongs and was still so cold. We were all so cold. It definitely added to the difficulty in our attempts to sleep. But some how we managed to get a hour or two of sleep each. Just enough to keep us alive. Haha.
We arrived in Varanasi around 3:30 or 4 in the morning. Way too early. The city was completely asleep save for one enthusiastic rickshaw driver who happily drove us to the Old City: home of the ancient bathing and burning ghats on the holy Ganges river. We had plans to go the Main Ghat, find a room, sleep for a couple hours, and then explore the city. When we arrived at the ghat, people were sleeping all over, but I couldn't bring myself to lie down. It was just too filthy. We sat on our packs while Doug went to look for a room. He didn't come back for a LONG time. We had a cup of chai from the only other awake person on the ghat and hung out with a stinky dog who was DYING to climb into your lap for pets. He was cute, but when the dogs are that dirty, its best to keep them from doing that. All around us, people slept stretched out on sheets laid over the steps of hard stone. Some had a little umbrella like shelter and a couple blankets. Some had nothing. I swear an Indian can sleep anywhere...
Finally Doug came back. He said there were no rooms. Every one was full, way too expensive, or the owners were sleeping and not answering. AND he had ended up getting lost. Haha. So the sleeping idea was out. What to do? We decided to simply keep sitting on the ghats and wait for the sunrise.
What an idea!!!!!! I'm so happy we did that. It may be one of my most special and favorite memories of all my travels.
Facing the rising sun, behind the Ganges, we watched as the ancient city came alive. Slowly, slowly a few people began to come down to the river to bathe. At first it was mostly women coming in groups, washing their hair and bodies in the filthy river. Then the sadhus and other spiritual people started to show up, as well as the beggars and cripples and homeless children, displaying their amputated limbs, begging bowls, and barely clothed bodies. Right around the time we saw the first tourists (oh how out of place their bewildered, overwhelmed, and slightly terrified white faces looked!), the touts showed up as well, selling anything and everything with annoying and elaborate schemes to draw you into their traps. As well as the humans, the animals came. Cows rose from their sleeping places and mingled with the crowds, dogs looked for abandoned scraps of precious food, running between and around the legs of people in packs, protecting and maintaining their territory, monkeys lurked at the tops of pillars and buildings, shrieking at each other and at the world in general, guarding their tiny hideous babies, and the odd cat slunk silently across the top of a wall, or along the edge of a building.
And the amount of people using the river! Washing, bathing, swimming, boating, making offerings, everything. It was absolutely filthy! Besides all the undefinable muck floating in the gray water, there were thousands of little candle offerings comprised of a leaf folded into a plate, a couple marigolds, and a little tea light. People would send them off into the river with a prayer to the Mother Ganga. There were also various limbs and body parts of what was once statues of deities having been throw in the water to slowly dissolve.
We hired a boatman to row us down the river to see the ghats. Every ghat had a hundred people devotionally washing away their karma, and every ghat was filthy. People were cupping handfuls of water and slurping it up like it was the elixir of life. What a little faith and devotion can do for a person!
Our boat took us past the burning ghats where we saw multiple bodies blazing away, heads and feet exposed. We later discussed that although it would be difficult to watch your loved one burn up before your very eyes, it would also be a very helpful aid in letting go. Our culture is so scared of death! In India it happens everywhere, all the time, and the people have devised much more powerful methods of dealing with the pain. Death is but a part of life...
So with the frailty and transitory nature of life heavy on our minds, we returned to the ghats to find some food. We dove into the endless maze of twisting turning alleys wide enough only for about two people across and certainly no vehicles. Doug led the way confident on his inherent sense of direction trying to take us into the main tourist area. Unfortunately the winding streets were a little more confusing than we expected and we somehow ended up on a road outside the Old City! Equally insane, we dodged the usual honking cars and rickshaws and motorbikes and cows and people and dogs and garbage and cow patties and puddles of black slimey muck and managed to find a good local restaurant just thriving with life.
I forgot to mention a very important detail to add to your mental image of all this: As I mentioned earlier, we decided in the end not to get a hotel room. That meant carrying our packs everywhere for the whole day. For Doug and Caren, travelling only for 6 weeks with smaller packs, it was not such an issue. For Orion and I it meant lugging around our insanely heavy much larger packs and instruments. And just to add another element, my pack doesn't quite fit me properly... So that was fun!!
Anyway. So we ate an epic local meal at the insanely cheap local prices. What a relief to Orion and I with our dwindling funds to be back to real cheap prices of India after our 2 months in expensive Nepal! We were thrilled.
After heading back to the ghats to sit and enjoy the madness for a little while longer, we headed to the famous Blue Lassi for a treat before our departure for Ranchi. The Lassi is yogurt (in India its called curd), hand blended, that can be plain, sweet, salty, or mixed up with any kind of fruit. The Blue Lassi makes the most creative ones I've ever seen! Served in one-use little ceramic cups (to be broken on the streets after use), hand smashed and blended up before our very eyes by a man humbly seated on the floor, and decorated with a few pieces of fruit on top, it is truly a feast! We sat in the tiny alcove of a shop and watched the bustling alley life go past us. Varanasi, being the best place a Hindu can die, is full of funerals. Every 5 mintues or so, a procession of wailing and singing people would go by with a body of a deceased love one propped up on their shoulders, decorated with glittery fabrics. What a site to behold!
It was time to leave the amazing sites of Varanasi and head to Ranchi for our meditation retreat. It had been but a short day for us there, but we had managed to cram in quite a few things and we felt satisfied. Saying goodbye to the holy city, we hopped aboard our sleeper train completely exhausted. After our previous 2 days of sleepless travel, we went straight to bed though it was only about 5 o'clock.
Ranchi!!!! We arrived safe and sound, here to attend the "Sharad Sangam" - a week long SRF/YSS retreat with group meditations and lectures and kirtans and other fun stuff - with 1700 other people. The perfect peace of the ashram was absolutely EVERYTHING we needed to recharge our bodies, minds and souls.
Next stop was the other ashram in Calcutta, in Dakshineswar. We hopped on a very enjoyable train ride where we hung out the doors and let the wind blow on our faces and tasted many Indian snacks of sprouts and lentils and other fun things for under 10 Rupees (25 cents).
So Dakshineswar. (Dakshineswar is a sort of suburb of Calcutta.) The ashram is situated on the Ganges close to the amazing Kali Temple where many a saint has meditated on the Divine Mother. This is also the city where Paramahansa Yogananda spent years of his childhood. We planned to visit many of places he mentioned in his book Autobiography of a Yogi.
First and foremost, we paid a visit to the Kali Temple. Kali is the fearsome aspect of Divine Mother in her destructive force. She is naked and her skin is black, a long red tongue sticking out of her mouth, a thick black curtain of hair hanging to her knees, a garland of human skulls around her neck, a girdle of human hands around her waste, with 4 arms, one holding a bowl of fire, the other empty and gesturing lovingly to her devotees, another waving a bloody scimitar, and the fourth grasping a severed human head by the hair. She is depicted dancing wildly across the chest of a sleeping Lord Shiva. Every one of those strange features represents some deeper meaning of this aspect of the Divine. In other words, she is EPIC. (Google Goddess Kali for more information!)
We meditated in front of the statue in the shade for a while, and then headed off to Ramakrishna's room. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was a crazy enlightened saint who used to live in a room in the temple, caring for the grounds and the statue of Kali, and dancing wildly around in Divine ecstacy. Across the Ganges and down the river a ways is the Ramakrishna Mission (called Belur Math) where disciples of the master set up an ashram of sorts with temples and a museum in honour of his life, where we visited later on in the week.
The Ganges were far cleaner here (though still not "clean" by any means) and inspired by the fearsome goddess and her devotees, Orion and Doug decided to take a dip in the river. After purchasing lungis to wear in traditional bathing fashion (the sarong like wrap worn by Indian men), they took a holy dip. Both of them claimed it felt amazing and I was inspired to go in myself later on. Orion was skeptical of the river's powers at first, but as we walked home to the ashram, he felt surprising lightness and elation of spirit. This feeling of stillness convinced him otherwise.
We also visited #4 Garpar Road where Paramahansa Yogananda lived as a boy. We reviewed all the stories in his book and it was fun to place them in their exact locations in the house - "This is the window he dropped his sack of clothes out of when he was trying to run away to the Himalayas," "This is the attic that he used to meditate in!" etc. It was fun!!
Nearby, is the ashram of the "Levitating Saint" also mentioned in the Autobiography of a Yogi. We paid a visit to the home of the saint which had now been converted into a tiny ashram by his discples, and meditated in the room where the yogi achieved mahasamadhi (conscious exit from the body.)
On the last day in Calcutta, Orion, Doug and I got up at 5am and headed to the Ganges for a morning dip. After two big trips in India, I can finally say I have officially been in the famous river!!! It wasn't so bad. Before dipping your head under water, you just have to splash away all the debris floating around you so it doesn't get stuck in your hair when you come up. Once that's done, you're good to go!! It was so cold that early in the morning, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! I'd do it again! But maybe I'll need a few more years of travelling in India before I can be convinced to go in in Varanasi...
So our last stop on our journey with Doug and Caren was Puri, Orissa. The only train available was this super fancy, super deluxe chair car that would normally be outside of the realm of Orion and my's budget. With a little financial aid from Orion's Grandma Alixe, as a present brought from home with D and C (THANK YOU ALIXE!!), we treated ourselves to a 2nd class AC train ride.
The seats were SO COMFY and featured pockets and water bottle holders and they even reclined! Phenomenal. We were served a "snack" of tea, too-white white bread with one meagre slice of too-perfect processed cheese, a juice box, and a package of ketchup. Hmm. Later we were served some very hard crunchy bread sticks and some soup to dip them in. Much better! Then dinner was pretty delicious! Paneer and dahl and rice and chapati, and a little sweet called Soan Papdi for dessert. AND they gave us a bottle of water! All this included! What a treat!
We arrived in Puri! Without even the slightest difficulty we found a good hotel, and woke up refreshed and ready to explore the next day. As usual Doug and Caren got up earlier than us, and when we emerged from our room, we were surprised to find a soaking wet Doug standing before and telling us of the amazing swimming in the ocean!!
I was thrilled. We threw on our bathing suits (for me, shorts and a T-shirt...) and headed down there to splash amid the waves.
The waves were HUGE. No ordinary wimpy little splashing was done. Rather, we were body surfing and riding the waves into shore, or ducking under them as they were cresting to keep from getting slammed into the ground underwater, or, if our timing wasn't just perfect, getting completely owned by the waves - knocked off our feet, dragged around underwater, smashed into the sand, and thrown on the shore. ITS SO FUN!!! It sounds terrifying, but its really just pure fun! As long as you keep your eye on the shore so you're aware if you start drifting, and your eye on the waves so you don't get crushed without warning, and stay always where you can touch, AND swim with someone else, its all fine and dandy. Since arriving, we haven't missed one day of swimming. Its like our daily ritual.
YOU HAVE NO IDEA how HAPPY I AM to get to see and swim in and enjoy the ocean. Since before even LEAVING on this trip I have been itching and aching to get in the waves and see the beach and the water and palm trees and sand and hot sun and YES. I love it. And for Doug and Caren, Puri being the last stop before they headed back to Delhi, what a way to end a trip! With phenomenal ocean swimming and tropical sun.
That being the highlight of our time here, we also did other things. We visited the mahasamadhi mandir of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, to meditate several times. What an amazing powerful place!! The energy just ZAPS you.
Puri is also home to the famous Jagannath temple, Lord of the Universe. The god is depicted as a strange cute black smiley face which I could never quite understand. I strongly recommend Googling this visage so you can understand what I mean. Unfortunately the temple is for Hindus only, so us foreigners couldn't enter. Instead we climbed up this ancient decaying building next door for a view of the whole temple area from the roof.
The building was like something out of a movie! The jungle was taking it back to Nature... Walls were crumbling, vines were crawling up and wrapping around pillars and windows, trees and grasses were growing in the strangest places, and many a dark room lurked in the shadows. After exploring this strange world, we entered an even stranger "library" where a man asked us to donate 200 Rupees for his "library!" There was one or two ancient book shelves full of ancient books of nothing and everything in no particular order, with titles like "The History of the Universe" and "Great Sages of the World." It was all very surreal.
We climbed up the stairs after donating 20 Rupees instead of 200, and enjoyed the madness for awhile. SO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Everywhere you looked! People! People! People! Crowds and crowds and crowds of them! EVERYWHERE. Orion sniped people with his 20x camera zoom and we enjoyed watching people, instead of having them watch us as it normally is.
The next day, we decided to rent motorbikes and ride to the famous Konark Sun Temple. We had no real plans of going into the temple, more just of enjoying the ride and looking for a good beach along the way.
The bikes were slow, oh so slow, but it was so fun! The roads weren't too busy and we putted along, enjoying the wind in our faces. Along the way we saw this amazing workshop where men were carving incredible sculptures out of stone!! We pulled over to take a look.
Words can't even describe! I must have taken a hundred pictures, so when we eventually post them, I would highly recommend looking at them. I saw a man finishing up a statue of the elephant god, Ganesh, twice the size of himself, and I saw another man starting a similar statue from nothing but a solid hunk of rock! There were all sorts of gods, Shiva, Ganesh, Krishna, Kali, Saraswati, Lakshmi, even Buddha, as well as Indian dancers and musicians, lions, mothers with children, and even an exact replica of the ancient Wheel of Vishnu, carved into the 800 year old Konark Sun Temple. All the statues were life size or bigger. I took a picture of Orion standing next to a Buddha meditating in lotus posture that's as high as him!! The faces and skin of the statues looked soft and curvaceous despite their original state of jagged hard rock. Some were Orissan pink stone, some sandstone, and some even marble. And it was so amazing to see the men carving and working on the statues. To see the start product, and then the finished products, and their tools being nothing but a little nail with a flattened tip and a hammer. WOW.
Caren and Doug found a much smaller, but still extremely heavy, statue of the goddess Lakshmi to take home. It was so amazing to get to meet the actual artists who carved it! And to see what they were capable of! Wow...
We continued on our way, but stopped again when we found a promising beach. And it was PERFECT. Nobody for miles except a few fisherman, with perfect white sands, and rolling gentle waves. We swam for a couple hours at least! Unlike the beach in Puri, though the waves here were big, they were gentle, and I enjoyed floating on the surface and letting them crash into me. The body surfing wasn't as great, but the frolicking was PERFECT.
Eventually we finally made it to Konark extremely hungry and a little sun stroked. By the time we arrived, the only person who felt like seeing the temple was Doug. I had been before, Caren wasn't much into temple viewing, and Orion was too hungry. So us three sat and had a veg thali while Doug did a mega speed tour of the temple alone.
By the time he finished, it was almost sunset, and not keen on riding on the roads in the dark, we headed home to Puri. We arrived at night exhausted. All in all a great day!!!
Another day, we rented bicycles and road to the Jagannath temple again, in search of the famous "Puri Cheesecake." Not like our cheesecake, it is a mix of paneer, cardamom and sugar, fried into a little cake over an open flame. Unfortunately it was closed when we finally found it, but we weren't too disappointed. It was more about the experience of riding bikes through the madness of Indian traffic! Near the temple, the hoards of people and cows and rickshaws and EVERYTHING crowd the streets, and we would weave in and out of it all, every second perilously close to crashing. It would seem as if you would be riding toward a crash, with no space for you to pass through, and at the last possible moment, a dog would turn its head to clear an opening, or a cow would push its little calf aside, or a rickshaw would swerve the other way, and an opening always appeared. The Indian streets are like a living, breathing entity, and the traffic is like the blood flowing through its clogged veins...
Instead of cheesecake we road to the beach for ice cream. What a treat on a scorching hot day! We were all looking a little sun burnt so we decided to head home after a quick visit to the famous "Orissa Bakery." On the way home to the hotel that night, we were walking quickly to find some dinner for our hungry bellies, when we heard a small voice from a dark corner offer, "Cheesecake?" We immediately spun on our heels to see a smiling man humbly squatting behind a small table selling the very treat we had been hunting for not 2 minutes from our own hotel! To his happy surprise we bought 400 grams of the sugary sweet cake for a post dinner treat. How lucky for us! And how lucky for him!!
And then it was time for the inevitable goodbye. As I said to Orion, never before on my travels have I felt homesick until Doug and Caren came to visit and then left! Orion said, "I know, its because they brought home here!"
Still in the same hotel, we would expect them to knock on our door at any second from their room across from us, but it remained empty and locked. Swimming was not quite the same, neither was eating at the "Greenland Garden Restaurant," and neither was anything else we had been doing in Puri. It was so SAD!!!
They left yesterday morning at about 5 am for their flight back to Delhi, and left Orion and I in Puri for another 2 days before our train far south to Chennai. It was so sad to see them go... :( Though we have each other, we are feeling quite lonely since their departure, and are ready to leave Puri for some new scenery down south. Us humans love to set up little homes and have companionship. How sad it is to lose it right when it just got all set up.
BUT. We are coping with our loss well. Last night we visited the bustling night market on the beach and had a cup of chai while watching the waves crash to the shore. The white waves stood out against the black ocean and sky which melted into one, giving the impression that we were seated with a perfect view of the edge of the earth. Orion bought the traditional dhoti wrap and is trying to figure out how to wear it (I'll get back to you on that one!) and we went swimming, which was still fun.
Tomorrow night we have a 20 hour train journey all the way to Chennai, where we plan to spend 3 days in Tiruvannamalai, and then hop on another train to Kerala. There we hope to find the perfect tropical paradise to spend our final days in India. And who knows what the HECK is happening after that... We certainly don't! We'll get back to you on that one as well...
And I THINK.... That's EVERYTHING. Its amazing. But yes, I think I covered pretty much everything. Its been a fabulous, fantastic month and travelling with Doug and Caren was a BLAST. We extend an open invitation to anyone else who wants to come visit us and get a taste of our crazy lives. :)
For those of you who actually finished reading this email to the very end... I thank you! I enjoy writing these and it thrills me to think that some one out there actually enjoys reading them! And for those of you in Vernon, give D and C a big hug from us when they arrive!!!! And make sure you ask to see all the amazing treasures and photos they acquired along their travels...
Until next time... (which hopefully won't be as long of a wait as this time...)