Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pictures of & with Strangers

One last blog post before I head home!

One of the odd, fun, and unique parts of travelling in India is how often people ask if they can have their picture taken with you. At this point, God only knows how many people have a picture of themselves standing next to me! :) Unless I'm in a big hurry or feeling crummy, I am pretty much always delighted to go along with it. It's a very sweet way to interact with people and share a fun moment together. Plus, I OFTEN find myself wanting to take pictures of perfect strangers here. Generally, I chicken out, but every once in a while I do work up the courage and take a shot or two. Children are the easiest, because they are beautiful and generally love to ham it up for the camera.

It's lovely that just as I find their faces beautiful and unfamiliar and exotic... they are equally interested in our unfamiliar faces and features. At the caves we were each asked over and over again to be in pictures. This must be what it feels like to be a celebrity. In fact, just here in Pune recently we walked by a school bus of preteen girls. One of them leaned out the window and said "Hello!" - when we smiled and said hello back, as we passed by, the entire bus broke out in giggles of delight at this strange and successful interaction! It's SO fun! Hee hee. I pretty much feel the same way when I successfully buy two tickets in Hindi, or say "My name is Amey" in Hindi, so I certainly know how they feel!
I snapped this shot with these two girls at the Ajanta Caves. Their mother and I had exchanged a few smiles, and then she asked if I would be in a photo with her and her kids. Of course! I would love to! These little girls were so adorable, I seized the moment and got a picture for myself as well. The faces and clothes and feature here are all just so beautiful... and one of my favorite things about being in India. I guess you might be catching on that I have many favorite things about India. Ha!


After our trip to the Ajanta Caves we visited the "Little Taj Mahal" in Aurangabad... a mausoleum and mosque that is pretty much modelled after the original, and built not too long afterwards. I'll tell you, I had my picture taken a LOT there! A group of girls came over and asked if I would be in a picture... well it turned out that each and every one of them wanted their picture individually with me! What about a group shot? We were there for quite a while! Later on the same group had me literally cornered up against a building as they were taking pictures, practising their English, shaking my hand, and even giving me a hug! It is a bit odd, because I don't feel that I did anything interesting or worthwhile to deserve all that attention! However, I love it because it is such a clean and peaceful way to interact with people. No commerce or needs, just excitement and interest and an amazing presence of goodwill. I always love meeting people and sharing smiles and whatever small verbal communications we can manage. It's such a thrill. I recall from my last trip to India that one of the most incredible things was when I would see someone who looked so foriegn, so unfamiliar, so different, and then with one shared smile the bond of humanity and connection was immediately forged. To go from seeing someone as "other" to seeing oneself in another in a matter of moments is truly one of the most beautiful things I've experienced.

The sweet young woman in this picture was so friendly and interested and open - I could feel that she shared the same excitement about meeting someone different and new that I feel. I am happy to have a picture of us two together to remember her by.

I'm grateful to all the strangers that took my picture, and to all the strangers that allowed me to take their picture.

On The Road

Our trip to the Ellora & Ajanta Caves was quite a road trip. We hired a driver to take us, and we were lucky that he had a reasonably comfortable truck (which is to say, not a total wreck), and he was a safe driver. We had about a 5 hour drive to our hotel, and then another 2 hours to the Ajanta Caves... I was in the "way back", looking out the back window at all the glorious sights of rural India. A 5-hour drive isn't usually my idea of fun, but here in India it's all just so beautiful and interesting that the time passes rather quickly. I'm not sure my pals in the car would agree, but I was pretty much happy as a clam.

Some of the things we saw from the car: sugar cane fields, brahma bulls with painted horns pulling carts piled high with sugar cane, a little boy stealing a piece of sugar cane off a carrier truck at a stop light, goats crossing the street, countless dogs, cotton fields & cotton processing factories, barren landscape, lush landscape, palm trees, camels, papaya trees, women with giant loads balanced on their heads, little girls learning to balance smaller loads on their smaller heads, white bulls with bright pink coloring on them (why?), markets, a Christian cemetary, a Muslim cemetary, mosques and temples, brightly colored & decorated "Goods Carrier" trucks... and so much more. From the back seat of the car, it's like watching live-action television.

Here are a few pictures that I snapped out the back window to share with you...
This picture shows some of the great variety of what you might find on an Indian highway: two-wheelers (almost always with AT LEAST two people on them), tractors, goods carriers... all just passing each other at will. The fluid dynamics of traffic here are fascinating, and at times frightening. A two-lane road becomes a three-lane road, becomes a one-way road with three lanes - and then quickly a three-lane road in the other direction. We did see a few crashed vehicles on the side of the road unfortunately, but it's no small miracle that we didn't see many more. It often feels a bit like a game of chicken, and generally you are relying on the assumption that the people coming right at you on the wrong side of the road share a will to live and will take any necessary precautions to stay alive. It's quite an experience!

One of my favorite things about India.... the fabulous, glorious, and amazing Goods Carrier trucks. These are the truckers of India, transporting goods across and around the country. For reasons that I do not know, they are almost all beautifully painted and decorated. They have words, pictures, flags, symbols, animals, religious figures... all sorts of things beautifully painted on them, in the brightest of colors. There are all sorts of sparkly metallic things dangling from the side view mirrors and draped across the grill... it's truly delightful. I took a ton of pictures, but none of them really capture the glory. I've got a day-long road trip on my way to the airport tomorrow though, and I remain hopeful that I might still get a good picture!

Another one of my favorite things about India: the cows!! Pune is sadly lacking in cow presence, and I find this to be a major shortcoming. On the road I was practically peeing my pants with delight to see all the BEAUTIFUL cows that we passed. Cows pulling carts on the road, cows resting the in the shade, cows at work in the field... Cows are always beautiful to me, but I must say that India has the most beautiful cows I've ever seen. Someday I will learn Hindi and take a special cow-sight-seeing trip through rural India... taking photos, petting their lovely coats, and gazing into their cow eyes!


These fellas spotted a car full foreign ladies and couldn't contain themselves. They were driving behind us, waving and smiling... it was all good fun. I love this picture! From my vantage point in the way back, I saw so many people driving on their "two-wheelers." Very often you see whole families - the man driving, the women sitting side saddle (often holding an infant), and the small children standing on the foot board up front. No helmets in sight! It's quite terrifying from a safety angle, but very sweet otherwise. I also noticed many handsome, modern western-dressed fellows wearing sunglasses and driving nice motorcycles - who very often had their bindi marking on their brow. A lovely blend of modernity, machismo, tradition, and religion.

See how fun a road trip can be??



Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ellora & Ajanta Caves!

So! Now you know the name of our big weekend excursion! We took off on Friday after practice for a big trip to the Ellora & Ajanta Caves - sites recognized as World Heritage sites for their beauty and importance. These two spots are each filled with carved out caves used as monasteries and places for spiritual contemplation. The Ajanta caves are all Buddhist, and were started about 200 BC and abandoned about 600 AD. They possess both carvings and paintings. The Ellora caves have caves carved out from about 600 AD - 1000 AD, by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. I took TONS of great photos, but had to pick a few to share here:

Our trip was really wonderful. The caves were totally amazing in every way - beautiful landscape, beautiful artwork, and a breathtaking amount of determination and perserverance behind the very idea of it all. This picture is from the Ellora Caves, where we actually went on our second day. You can't really see from this picture how GIGANTIC this thing is. Those people you can see are seriously in the foreground... that structure is hu-mung-go. In fact, it is the largest structure carved from one piece of stone in the entire world. Called the Kailasa Temple (after Mount Kailash), the whole thing was carved straight out of the mountain side. The artisans started at the top, and in the front, with a giant masterplan, and over 150+ years, they carved this thing out. It's totally gorgeous, beautiful, and awe-inspiring.


Here's a picture from deep inside the Kailasa temple, of some lovely, life-sized elephants who line the bottom of one of the structures. It was amazing because the deeper into the temple that we got, the higher and more imposing the adjacent cliff side became. You develop a very deep appreciation for the work and effort that went into this magical spot. The cliffs were also alive with activity - bee hives and wild parrots...

At the Ellora Caves we were SO fortunate to find the most amazing guide. Vivek found us at the entrance & asked if we wanted a guide. We happily signed up and he was really wonderful. He spoke fantastic English, and had a very evident passion and interest in the caves. He was happy to answer any questions, even those that were a bit off-topic, and had a tremendous amount of knowledge. Because he knew that we were interested in yoga, he was certain to point out stories or dieties that might be of special interest to us. In one Buddhist cave temple, he even chanted for us so that we could hear the (amazing) acoustics of the room, and imagine what it must have sounded like when it was full of devotees. It was interesting actually, when he did that, because there was a sizeable group of rowdy young men in the temple at the time - taking pictures of each other. He told them in Hindi what he was going to do, and they instantly became silent and respectful. When he was done chanting, they gradually got back to their business of laughing and taking snapshots. It struck me as particularly cultural that these young men had such respect for tradition and spirituality. India is a wonderful land of unexpected contradictions and surprises in that way. One last thing about our guide that I loved... When I had fallen back to take a few photos, I was scampering to catch up, when I found him using his few spare moments to get out his OWN camera and taking pictures of some carved detailing in one of the caves. To me, that showed how much he loved this place... even if it was his job, he still loved it enough to be taking pictures. How lucky we were to find him and have him explain the carvings to us!


This is an overview picture of the Ajanta Caves. At Ajanta, there are both carvings and paintings. The caves at Ajanta are located in an exquisite valley, shaped like a horseshoe. Even without the caves, this is clearly a very special place. Amazingly, these caves were abandoned around 600AD, and not rediscovered until 1819 when a British man was tiger hunting here. From his lookout point, he saw a tiger disappear, and ended up seeing the arch of the largest cave temple carved out here. For this reason, the paintings have been relatively well preserved in places - with no exposure to light or human traffic. Flash photos are not allowed, and shoes must be removed before every cave... in the hopes of continuing to preserve the artworks.

This is inside one of the +/- 30 "caves" - which are actually rooms carved out of the steep mountain face rather than natural caves. Some are dormitory style halls, some are gathering halls, some are temples, some were left unfinished. In this photo, you can see the carvings and also some remnants of the paintings.


Here's a little shot of me, beaming away with happiness. I was pretty stoked on this whole weekend. It was all so beautiful... and it's always amazing to me to contemplate the artistic impulse. This was a serious undertaking - clearly done by very skilled, determined, and devoted people. And, as always with massive artistic endeavors, there is the fascinating combination of skill, money, politics, and religion at play.


Of course I must mention that there were MONKEYS at the caves! I LOVE monkeys! I went down to the river to do some monkey watching... they are really fantastic. So thoughtful and mischevious. These guys were really quite big (maybe 50-60 pounds?)... so they're a bit scary too. I enjoyed watching some monkey drama unfold, and taking some pictures. There were big macho males, rambunctious adolescents, and mother monkeys holding on to their babies. Very exciting.

And here's one more shot to share, a detail of some of the tempera paintings. Here too we hired a guide and he did a good job of explaining the myths and tales that were being depicted. The paintings were quite lovely, including very humanistic and naturalistic representations - not nearly so stylized as I would have expected. With countless little details like jewelry, toes, expressions, animals... very lovely. It was really a wonderful, wonderful trip.




Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune

Last week we finally got around to seeing the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum here in Pune. My Lonely Planet book had great things to say about this spot and I didn't want to miss it. I'm so glad we made it. What a great spot. The museum is absolutely delightful, consisting entirely of the collection of one person, Raja Dinkar Kelkar. In fact, only 12.5% of the collection is displayed, which is fairly stunning - because it's quite a lot that they've got to show. The collection consists entirely of Indian art, mostly of the folk variety. Everything is represented - statues, vegetarble cutters, foot scrubbers, puppets, toys, instruments, paintings, furniture, doors, pillars, fabrics, saris, beaded decorations, weapons... it's quite stunning. It was a lot of fun, and also had quite a bit of helpful information in English, which we appreciated. The museum also had very lovely displays of their artifacts; like the entire recreation of an Indian porch - complete with carved pillars, embroidered door hangings, statues by the stairs, resting chairs... very evocative. Here are a few of the cool things we saw.

This was a puppet of some sort, which was displayed in the window so that we could see it... very cool.


Look at this! It's a hanging oil lamp, complete with vrsikasana (scorpion pose). The base would be filled with oil, and each little petal would have a wick in it... Too bad they didn't have replicas for sale in the gift shop!


Of course I had to take this picture for Musty and my dad... look at all these cool stringed instruments! Of all varieties, shapes, sizes and ages. Some traditional, some kooky, some old, some more contemporary. See the one shaped like a peacock in the back case?

If you are ever in Pune, I'd definitely recommend that you stop here. It's a neat place. I only wish they had a better gift shop! :) I sure do love a good museum gift shop, and they've got fantastic working material here...

After our visit, we went inside to ask where we could get a cup of tea nearby (to rest off the museum fatigue!), and we ended up having tea with the museum director in his office! That was a fortuitous turn of events. He is a very friendly and motivated person, and the grandson of the museum's namesake. He has been working hard at bringing the museum up to international standards, which is very cool. It was a nice opportunity to meet him, and apparently the tea was also great! (the tea here always has milk in it, so I don't drink it... but I do appreciate the joy of others!).



Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrations, India Style!

So, forgive me for being an entire week behind! Last weekend we had our gala weekend of Indian celebrations. It was fantastic and fun! We started off on Saturday morning by skipping class and heading off to a wedding! Yes! Back when we very first arrived at our apartment in Pune, our landlady was there to meet us and make sure that everything was good to go. She very gracoiusly invited us to an upcoming family wedding, so that we could witness a true Indian wedding. What fun. It was her brother-in-law's son's wedding! ha ha! She called up her brother-in-law and he happily agreed to let us come along. How sweet! I've been to a couple of Indian weddings in my time, but it was brand new for Jen and Abbey and wonderfully fun for all of us. We got dressed up in our best Indian outfits, which in the end paled in comparison to the stunning ladies at the wedding. Everyone was decked out in their most beautiful sarees and COPIOUS jewels... it was a true spectacle. We couldn't pick between watching the ceremony or watching the attendees.

It was very nice having Asha, our landlady, there with us because she explained many parts of the ceremony to us. The official Hindu ceremony started around 7:30am, and we arrived around 8:30 am. People continued to randomly filter in for the next 2 or 3 hours. So different from an American wedding... people in the "audience" were openly chatting and conversing, kids running around, people greeting each other - meanwhile the priest and the couple were busy on stage. The ceremony was wonderful and truly packed with ritual. So much longer and more symbolic than the standard western wedding. Many different steps to go through, including certain individual family members on stage, or the groom's whole family onstage, or the bride and the groom tied together with string, or leading each other around the fire... many fascinating elements of the ceremony. This was an arranged marraige - the couple had known each other for about 6 months and were able to meet and make sure they felt good about one another before getting married. A combination of individual desire and family desire. One can see very clearly here how much importance is placed on the family, trusting your parents to make a good choice for you. The obvious assumption is that you love your family and your family loves you... which is very different from the strong trend in the U.S. toward independence and individuality. Seems like at home one is usually just considered very lucky for loving one's family so much... whereas here it is the base assumption!

After the ceremony we partook of a nice lunch at the wedding, and then got geared up for our next big event - the 33rd anniversary of the Iyengar Yoga Institute. How fortuitous to be here in Pune for the anniversary. It was a two-part affair - Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Saturday night's celebration consisted of a two-hour lecture on the "earth element in asana practice." I suppose that you know you are a real yoga nerd when you celebrated with such a lecture, but I can't deny that I found it wonderful, fascinating and informative. One of Mr.Iyengar's closest students, who is also a medical doctor (holding the mike in this picture) presented the lecture, with the help of some other Indian students from the Institute who did the asanas to demonstrate his points. His lecture focused on the role of bones in the postures (as bones represent the earth element in the asanas), and also how to practice the asanas in such a way that the bones are maximized and strengthened. Many wonderful and difficult postures were demonstrated, as well as many intreresting usages of props in more elemental poses. One of the more interesting aspects was when the whole lecture was over, Mr. Iyengar was invited up to critique the presentation and the presenters. Now, that's very different from the States! Relatively harsh words were offered about how the presenters could have done better. One super flexible man had demonstrated dropping back from Standing into a full backbend and after Mr. Iyengar pointed out many things he still had to work on, Mr Iyengar declared "He is still a beginner." :) It sounds harsh and punitive, but it was all done in a spirit of refinement and continued learning. As I see it, it was a way to ensure that all the folks on stage continued to possess an attitude of curiousity and study - rather than becoming blind with pride as we all clapped for them.

The next day was a bit more varied... it began with a lovely traditional women's dance performed by a group of 6 yoga students, a poetry recital, another yoga lecture ( a fascinating lecture on yoga and stress), and then the much-anticipated Children's Program. What fun! The children who attend the children's classes at the Institute did quite an impressive presentation on the concept of dharma (hard to translate its whole meaning, but often translated as "duty"). The presentation including singing, chanting, acting, readings, and dancing - telling tales from Indian mythology and Hinduism. It was a fascinating combination of ethics, discipline, religion, and moralistic stories. The children were adorable, of course. It's amazing to see how seriously they had tackled a rather heavy and heady topic, and made it into an entertaining program. It was also interesting to me how very Hindu the program was - although yoga is very much a philosophy (and not a religion) - India is a very, very deeply religious place and there is no need or interest on their part to distinguish between the two. I wonder if there are any Muslim children in the classes? Or Jain children? India is also very much a place of many different religions who coexist quite peacefully from what I see and read.

Anyhow, the whole affair ended with a lovely lunch of south Indian food - and then our non-stop celebration had come to an end!

Love to everyone!

Join Me For A Rickshaw Ride

Hi Everyone!
Well! I guess time flies! We have just a few days left in India, but I have about 4 more blog entries lined up and waiting to be published... I'd better get to work!

Here's another fun video for you. This is a video of a rickshaw ride... it's not the crazed, death-defying type of rickshaw drive that we often experience, but rather more of a leisurely stroll through the streets of Pune. I'm not sure how the audio quality will be, but in case it's audible, please pardon the exclamations of my friends in the rickshaw. Soon after I turned on the camera, we drove through a red light district. For better or for worse, I was on the wrong side of the rickshaw to document any of the ladies in their short skirts and make up, but my pals in the rickshaw are discussing it all with great shock and amazement.

Hope you enjoy it!

video

Indian Clothes

One of the lovely things about being in India is that we get to wear the AMAZING Indian clothing. None of us have bothered to buy a sari... mostly because you'll probably never wear it again, and because it is a small science of safety pins and fabric folding just to get it on correctly. We've opted for the lovely cotton "Salwaar Kameez" outfits. These outfits can be of any fabric, but since it's quite warm here, cotton suits us best. The salvaar kameez consists of 3 elements: the pants, the top (kurta), and the stole (scarf). There are a few styles of each element... the pants can be loose and baggy (by which I mean BAGGY), or the other main style is where they are baggy on top, but tighter at the calf - this style is made with very long legs and the fabric is worn bunched up on the ankles. It's very elegant, but sadly for me, those giant calf muscles prohibit said style. I've stuck to the baggy variety.

The tops can be a short kurta (arrives at mid-thigh), a long kurta (arrives below knees), or the more modern kurta top that arrives at the hip. Most of us have opted for the short kurta.
Here's a picture of Jen, Talya (visiting us in Pune!), Abbey, and me in our outfits at the Iyengar Institute.

I LOVE wearing my Indian outfits, and if I wish I could dress like this everyday of my life. Of course, in Santa Cruz I would look like some sort of weirdo hippee poseur if I wore Indian clothes everywhere. I'll have to decide whether or not I care! :) These clothes are so elegant and beautiful and comfortable and colorful. I always feel lovely and comfortable and attractive. Amazing. That can't be said for all the fashions at home. The women here in India really are looking exceptional - with their lovely dark skin, they can wear every color under the sun - and all adorned with brilliant gold jewelry. It's just wonderful to look at all the colorful salvar kameez and saris that pass us by through the day.

It's also interesting to notice that more and more of the younger girls/women in Pune are wearing western clothing - t-shirts, tight jeans, and such. It's funny sometimes when we all walk by in our Indian clothes and they are wearing their western clothes! I guess the "other" is always more interesting. It's not uncommon though, to see a group of girls, some wearing the salvaar kameez and others in western dress. They have many options!

One option they don't seem to really have though is shorts. The only lady knees we've seen in all of India (outside of yoga class of course) was when a rickshaw driver took us through the red light district and we saw the (Young) prositutes in mini skirts. More and more you see a few tank tops on the younger more western girls, but that is also quite rare. Generally, it is a very modest culture, especially when it comes to women's dress. I know there are upsides and downsides the rationale behind that... but I have to say, from my point of view, that it IS quite nice to have clothing that is both modest and elegant. Not a bad combo!

Most of the clothes I'm wearing on this trip are from my last trip to India, but I did buy this great pair of yellow pants! I love them! In fact, I"m wearing them with my blue top today. This picture is right outside our apartment.

Also, a little note on the clothes that we wear in class... because there is quite a dress code. They have specific requests for your wardrobe, which nearly everyone follows. Short shorts ( you must be able to see the knee), t-shirts (long enough to be tucked in to the shorts, no belly exposure), no tank tops, no capri shorts. It's quite a look. There are these funny little shorts that everyone wears in class here called "bloomers" or "pune shorts"... I haven't worked up the courage (elastic on the thighs!), but Holly and Mary each bought a pair. It's funny how we have all adapted, even though none of us dress like this for class at home. I must say, wearing shorts is a good idea, I've learned a lot from being able to see my knees! Try it!

I'm off for the weekend, so it'll be a few days til my next post. I'm keeping our destination secret until I post pictures! Suspense!

Nightlife!

What do we do at night in Pune? Well! I'm glad you asked. Two nights a week we have class until 8 pm, and all we do on those nights is eat dinner & go to bed. In fact, that's what we do most nights... but we have had a few fun and special outings worthy of mention.

Of course you MUST go to a Bollywood movie! Last night we were here in India, Musty and I tried to go to a movie, but it had just opened and was totally sold out! wow. So, this time around I was determined not to miss out. Abbey, Jen, Anne, and I went out and saw this movie "WELCOME" - it was hilariously perfect. Very dorky, very slapstick, and totally fun. Of course, I am always thinking of my blog readers! so I whipped out my camera and started taking sneaky pictures during the movie! The movie was all in Hindi, with a few little english words dropped in here and there, but we were still happily able to get the general concept. Also of note, we saw this movie at a VERY modern multiplex called "E-Square" near our place... it's a big huge modern building with many movie screens, a nice food court, a cafe, shops, a bookstore... AND even a bulletin board with pictures of street dogs that need to be adopted (how COOL!). I made a poster for our little kitty and put some up around our neighborhood, including one there. Cross your fingers for her - she needs a nice home!


One of my most favorite things in the whole entire world (or at least, my experience of the world to date) is India's little shops at night. I've mentioned it before on this blog, and I think this picture really captures the excitement of it. See all the colors, the people, the sparkle, the activity?? What fun! So, a few times we have ended up out shopping for little gifts and goodies in the evening hours, which fills me with delight. Really, it could be as good, but nothing could be better.


We were very fortunate that the Times of India (one of India's most widely read newspapers) held its Times Pune Festival while we were here. All the events were free... all you had to do was swing by the Times office and pick up a ticket. So we went to a few different events. We went to two lovely Sunday night concerts held outdoors at the Poona Club. How wonderful! The evening air is cool, and both nights, the musicians were of top notch caliber. The first concert was with a woman who sang traditional Hindustani songs for the first half, and then popular "pop" songs for the second half. You should have heard the crowd go WILD for those popular favorites! It was so fun! Also, one night when I was too sick to go, Jen and Abbey went and saw The Vagina Monologues, being performed for the first time in India. What an unexpected thing to see here in India, but they said they were the only foreigners (but the play was in English), and there were many men in the audience. Right on! And all for free! So, we are feeling grateful to have been here for the Festival season, and to the Times of India for some great free cultural experiences.


I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Jen and I had our picture featured on Page 2 of the Times the morning after the concert! That's me in the middle and Jen to my left in the bottom picture. We had our eyes closed so that we could more attentively listen to the music. I never even knew anyone took my picture! Then the next morning, I was in the bathroom during class, and someone said "Nice Picture" - I had no idea what she was talking about! But our friend Jennifer brought us a clipping. It's interesting how many people noticed and commented, even my buddy from the Internet cafe!

Hope you are all doing well. I am slowly recovering... for the first time in 4-5 nights I actually got some sleep last night without being awake and coughing all night - what a difference! Love Amey

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Home, Sick

Oh UGH!

I got super sick. What a drag. There is this cold going around... and many people have it. For me it started with many nights of asthmatic wheezing (which I thought was just from the smoke and pollution in the air)... and then the cold caught up with me! I spent one entire day in the house, and quite a few days on a very limited energy-expenditure program, and even had to miss a couple of classes. Loads (and loads) of coughing. My poor roommates!



And let me tell you, there is nothing like being sick to make you home sick. Being stuck inside the apartment all day last Thursday, I did have the opportunity to fully acquaint myself with the television options - lots of Bollywood music videos, religious Hindu programming, an entire English-language Muslim channel dedicated to peace, Disney after-school shows with blond children speaking dubbed-over Hindi... and even I watched some of the Australian Open coverage (in English no less!) and - wonder of wonders! - an entire 2 hours of American Idol. Boy, I was stoked on that. I still cought all night long, but I am over the hump (I made it to the Internet Cafe!!)... thanks be to god.


But, I must say, I can't have too much self pity, because I'm hardly alone. Of the 5 of us who travelled here together, only Holly has remained truly healthy. The rest of us have all had various levels of interaction with the Indian medical system, and it's quite noteworthy indeed. Abbey had a super bad cold (maybe the same one i have now?), Jen got vertigo from the flight (?!) (incidentally, I know that Jen would like me to point out that she got vertigo from the FLIGHT, and not from India itself, so *technically* she too, has remained unscathed by India), Mary just hasnt' been healthy the whole time - with coughing and sinus stuff and stomach problems, and now me with the wheezing and the cold. WHOA!

So, this is a picture of me at the pharmacy. I am purchasing more cough drops. The day before, I dropped by and picked up some antihistamines and an inhaler (no prescription!?). The pharmacist speaks English and is quite helpful. Here's what's interesting: the pharmacist sells both ayurvedic and allopathic treatments. Traditional and modern, from the same person. There are also many pharmacies around town that do only ayurvedic medicine. All of it is incredibly affordable and accessible as well. Jen went to the doctor, who practices medicine out of her home - just down the street from us - and paid 100 rupees (about $2.50). The doctor was educated, friendly, available, and inexpensive. Comparing all this with the nightmare of medical care in America is certainly thought provoking.


I hope you are all well... hopefully I'll be better one of these days - it would be nice to be breathing again when we start our week of pranayama classes (that's the practice of breathing) in just a couple more days. Wish me luck!


ps. good stuff coming up on the blog! I uploaded pictures for some more cool entries

Monday, January 14, 2008

Leave Comments Here!

Thanks for the comments everyone! Check out the new post below this one... :) love Amey

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Kitty playing in the mosquito net

Yippee!

Another fun video post for you. Okay, okay... this doesn't really have THAT much to do with India per se, but it is a big part of our time here. I promise not to turn this into a kitty blog, but you've just gotta see how cute little kitten is when she plays in the mosquito net on my bed. I'm sure that when Dr. Dover (the travel doctor) told me to bring along this mosquito net, this isn't exactly what he had in mind...

video

Pretty cute, huh?? Just TRY and say that's not cute.

We've had quite a few more adventures that I'm looking forward to sharing with you, but I'll have to find my way over to my photo-uploading spot first. Anyhow... just a teaser to let you know that there is lots more good stuff on the horizon. Also, after this, all the posts will be normal and you'll be able to leave comments again! Hoorah!

Odds n Ends

Thanks for the comments everyone! I have this post, and then one more that will have no comment option, and then after that it'll be a thing of the past!

Here are few nice pictures from the last week or so... to capture some of what we've been up to (beside all that yoga!) This is a sweet picture of Jen snuggling with our little kitty. This little kitten is SO insanely sweet and snuggly.She just loves nothing more than to curl up on someone's lap and fall asleep. Really, it's pretty freaking cute. I've got a bit of a cold (cough cough!), so I stayed home the other night, watched some Indian TV (and an episode of Seinfeld, I must admit), and snuggled the kitty. You can see how sweet she is. Jen is pretty sweet too! That piece of furniture, by the way, is about the coziest thing in our living room, unfortunately... So we usually each end up retreating to our bedrooms so that we can lay down on something cozy.

Now I'm trying to find a home for kitty here in Pune... someone who will really love her and snuggle her. Unlikely, but worth the effort. I'm getting the word out to everyone who is staying with a family...


Here's a picture of Laxmi Road... my super favoritist shopping zone in Pune. It's a crazy zone of busy streets and narrow alley ways selling just about EVERYTHING - kitchen supplies, car mats, fabric, clothing, shoes, trinkets, toys... oh man, it is so fun. We have done a few shopping expeditions, but I'll warn you right now - Jen and Abbey's friends are getting better gifts than my loved ones! When push comes to shove, I'm just not much of a shopper. And somehow, I'm never tempted by the nice high-end stuff. They spend time looking at nice shirts and fabrics and such, while I"m off poking around in the plastic sticker stall. Ha! So lowbrow. I guess this blog will have to be my gift to you!


I also really love this picture! Recently a few of us went for a little walk down by the river in Pune and met a few very sweet little kiddos. They were really into having their picture taken. They have all learned about digital cameras, and so they love to have their picture taken, so that they can see it on the screen right after. Well, here's what I figured out: they would stand there, straight faced for the picture, and then squeal with delight (and glorious smiles) when they saw their picture. They're cuter when they look at their own picture than when they have their picture taken! So, a few days later, when Jen was taking pictures of these cuties, I whipped out my camera to capture the magical moment of glee. I must say, these kids were especially smiley and wonderful. The kids in India are so special - big open smiles and faces, and easy to befriend even across the language barrier.

Love to you all!

Abbey Tries to Cross the Street in Pune


Check this out!

My first video blog entry!

First things first, I think that I have fixed the comment problem. Thanks to my friend Carey for pointing out that the last few blog entries didn't have a place to leave comments. Comments are so fun, so hopefully you'll be able to leave some now.

Now! On to the video! Pune is a seriously bustling and growing metropolis. We read in the newspaper that each day there are 600 new vehicles entering the city. WHOA. Aside from leading to truly heinous air quality, this situation also makes it quite difficult to cross the street at times!

When it comes to crossing the street in India, here are some things that must be considered. First of all, they drive on the opposite sides of the road than we do - so you have to learn to look opposite directions than you are used to. Secondly, people drive like maniacs, so you must constantly look back and forth to make sure that someone hasn't whipped around the corner going 40 miles per hour since you last looked 1 second ago. Big busy streets are especially crazy.

Personally, I have become a huge fan of the middle of the street. If I can get halfway across, that's a good place to start. These Indian drivers are crazy, but generally quite skillful at avoiding street dogs, beggars, rickshaws, fruit carts, busses, and me standing in the middle of the street.

Amongst my roommates and I, Jen and I are probably the most daring. We've both been to India before and we are a bit more willing to step out into the melee. Abbey errs on the side of caution, which probably makes her the smartest of us all. So, all that is a lead up to this hilarious video I took of Abbey and our friend Anne trying to cross the street. In the background is the Pune Central mall where we do some of our grocery shopping. We were on our way to see a Bollywood movie! (more on that coming up in a future post...)...

In this video, it should be noted that Jen and I are already on the other side of the street. I didn't get my camera out until the craziest traffic had died down a little, but you'll still get the idea. Anne is wearing the bright pink and Abbey is in blue. They have already made it to the meridian...

video

Ha ha! You'll see that Abbey eventually settles for the technique of shadowing one of the locals to make it across. I think the best part of this little movie is Abbey's look of delight and thrill upon reaching the other side of the road! :)

Hope you are all well, and that the comments link shows up this time!

Photos from The Iyengar Institute

Okay! I'll try again with some pictures of the Institute where we are spending so much of our time! This was a special request from my mom... (xo!)

Here is a view of the studio, from across the street. This is a nighttime picture (obviously!), but if you look, you can see the giant "Aum" on the gate. The first floor is the larger room, where Geeta & Prashant are teaching, and the top room is the studio where the public classes are taught. In the window, you can see that people are doing Hasta Padangustasana, with their feet up on the bars of the windows... stretching their hamstrings. That's our friend Robin in the yellow t-shirt!

This is a picture of the big practice room. It is quite spacious, but believe me when I tell you that it gets seriously packed. I got this picture when we showed up right on time for a saturday practice session. I'm not sure how well you can see, but the entire back wall of the room is piled to the brim with props props and more props. You have never seen a more crazy & complete selection of things in your life - countless variations of wooden benches, blocks, stools, and platforms; wooden blocks of all sizes, poles, planks, & bars; weights; mountains of blankets, straps, & sticky mats; many variants of pillows and bolsters; and much more. It's fascinating to see how every inch of the room, and every tiny architectural feature gets utilized as a prop. "Wall space" is a hot commodity - and even the columns are a rich source of flat surface (as well as useful corner angles. The edge of the platform is frequently put to use, people are hanging upside down all over the place... it's a crazy and wonderful display of ingenuity.

This is a picture of Abbey on the platform... This is usually the spot that we all face during class. You can see the rope wall on the right, and some of the pictures of Mr. Iyengar above. The whole room is decorated with amazing and inspirational pictures of Mr. Iyengar practicing. It's wonderful to look up and see photos of him - at all ages and in all postures.... amazing!! The room also has some statues, photos of Mr. Iyengar's teacher Krishnamacharya, Mr. Iyengar's wife, and various other lovely objects of contemplation. It's a busy but inspirational collection.

The classes have definitely been building in intensity - and I am most deeply grateful to my teacher Kofi for preparing me so well. The atmosphere in class is intimidating, inspiring, confusing, chaotic, and fantastic. The quality of instruction is truly superb... providing so much information for learning and observing. The depth of understanding, and the awe-inspiring amount of practice and analysis behind that understanding is quite breathtaking. And still, at times it's hard not to practice with the sole aim of not being yelled at! ha ha. Gradually each of us has been yelled at once or twice, and we're still alive... so the rather intense fear of the first couple weeks is definitely subsiding. Thank goodness!

In our classes with Geeta there are usually 3-4 assistants in the room, helping her to make sure that we are doing the postures correctly, as Geeta has instructed. They are the ones to watch out for! :)

We are all just amazed by Geeta's classes. Her skill at sequencing postures is totally astronomical. Something to be studied and reviewed, over and over... for sure.

Here's a picture that I snapped during practice one day.. you can see that it really does get full. And this is nothing compared to class time! At times during class, we are packed in so tightly that it's all mat-to-mat with no space around. And still we have a great experience. In classes, it can get totally chaotic - running to and fro from one part of the room to another, only to find you mat occupied by someone else and all your props gone. You'd better grab someone else's mat quickly though - before Geeta catches you standing around with a stupified look on your face! :)

The practice sessions are a wonderful opportunity to practice what we are learning in class, or to provide some balance to whatever the class was working on. It's also neat to watch what others are doing and learn from how they use the props and such. Lastly, it's wonderful because Mr. Iyengar and Geeta are also almost always there practicing with us. We have been especially lucky because Mr. Iyengar is teaching his granddaughter (in her early 30s?) about yoga, and on a few occasions he has been very willing to let us gather around and observe and listen. My goodness!!! What a phenomena. It's beautiful and inspiring and just plain amazing to witness what he can see and perceive and communicate. Very very special.

I hope everyone is well,
please leave some comments for me! we are all feeling a little homesick... even though we're loving our time here!
xo Amey




Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Karla & Bhaja Caves

I know I promised pictures from the Iyengar Institute, but after spending a whole hour uploading pictures and writing all about them - the whole thing just got deleted. What a bummer!!!

So anyhow, you'll have to be content with these pictures from some 2300 year old caves we visited called the Karla caves and the Bhaja Caves, about 1 hour from Pune.

Here's a picture of me with some beautiful old elephant carvings. The elephants were so naturalistic and wonderfully done... complete with gentle eyes. There were 3 others on the opposite wall.

This was the second cave, the Bhaja caves. Both of these caves were carved by buddhists, and have large halls with stupas inside. This one was neat because there was pretty much no one else here, and we could happily wander all around in the old rooms and check things out.
Here's a picture of Abbey and Jen. It was quite warm in the sun, but downright cool inside the rooms. These appear to have been monasteries of sorts - many small bedrooms and living areas with corridors and stairs... Even a whole system for catching and storing rain water during monsoon season.

It was nice to get out of the city for an afternoon and see some ancient sights. It's always just wild to me that someone carved something so many years ago, and we can still appreciate it today.

I'll try again in the next few days with the pictures from the institute. Bum luck!


Everyday Scenes

My dad specially requested some everyday scenes from our daily activities here... (Hi Daddy!), so of course I had to oblige. My roommate says "Your family is so spoiled"! :) hee hee this is a cute picture of some little boys hanging out at the construction site across the street from the Yoga Institute. One of the things that I absolutely love about India, is that everywhere you look there's something going on - kids, animals, traffic, birds, men hanging out, women bustling about... it's such a swirl of activity! These little fellows were just watching all the traffic go by, and the general roar of activity.

Here's another view from our apartment, this was taken from the living room window. The community behind us is truly bustling at ALL hours of day and night. The funniest thing is the loud, rockin' prayer song that they blast over a loudspeaker each morning at 6 am. Thank god for ear plugs! I usually manage to sleep through it. This afternoon, Jen (one of my roommates) and I were chatting in my bedroom and we could hardly hear each other through the constant din of squealing wild pigs and the bleating herd of goats that live right across from my room. Ha ha! We started laughing that it was like living at the farm!



One thing my dad was wondering about was the food we eat and where we buy it. Most of you know that I'm blogging separately about the food we're eating over on my vegan blog: http://veganeatsandtreats.blogspot.com . But I thought I would include this picture. This is the sort of place where we buy most of our fruit and produce... These carts, or sidewalk displays, are out in the morning and at night, when the weather is cooler. Most things are closed, or quite subdued anyway, from about 12 - 4. Here's the rule for safe eating in India, called "The 4 P's": Peelable, Packaged, Processed, or Piping hot. I must say, we see some great looking fruit that is very tempting, but so far, we've mostly stuck to bananas and some sort of oranges. The baby bananas are everywhere and are especially fun since they're a bit different from home.


This is the street we live on, which is also the same street that the Iyengar Institute is located on. We are about a 5-minute walk to class, if that. As you can see, it's actually very green, very clean, and very calm. Compared to most parts of the city, this street is quite an oasis. At first we worried a bit about being removed from the action... but we've certainly come around! A quick rickshaw ride will get you all sorts of good places.

Next up, my mom's request of pictures of the Yoga Institute!


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Yoga News!

I thought I'd share a little information about the classes here, as my impressions become more informed. we have class on Monday and Tuesday with Prashant (Mr. Iyengar's son) and then wed,thurs, fri, & sat we have class with his daughter, Geeta. sunday is our day off. we've still only had one class with Prashant, so I'll have to talk about that more later. the wednesday and saturday morning classes are for women only, which is interesting. there is a special area of the room for women who are menstruating or feeling unwell, and they have a different sequence. Our first class with Geeta was a terrifying experience - she is sharp and exceedingly demanding, and we were all shaking in our boots. actually, we were all literally shaking by the end of class - from a combination of a fear of being yelled at and the incredible exertion that she can extract from us. the other two classes with her, she was in a more cheery mood, but the intensity of the class did not lessen. I absolutely love it. she is so intensely demanding, and she requires from us that we be demanding of ourselves. Her skill and instruction are so profound. so far, she has only taught us very straightforward postures, but as I mentioned, she can turn them into incredibly new and demanding experiences. even for a simple pose like tadasana, she has details and awareness about every pore of the body - the breath, the mind, the gaze, the flesh of the outer calf, the inner heel, the pinky toe, the "armpit chest", the back ribs, the elbows, the "four corners of the knees", the front thigh-inner thigh-back thigh, the outer hip, and SO ON! It's wonderful. after class, my friends and I talk and try to remember the new and helpful things that we learned - but there are always so many! It's impossible to retain it all!

Not only that, but we all have a little trouble understanding the very strong Indian accent. Some sizeable portion of the instruction goes in one ear and out the other - with zero comprehension. there are also quite a few local ladies in the class, which is nice. and Geeta has a funny habit of just slipping into Marathi (the local language) - sometimes it's hard to know when she's speaking english and when she's speaking marathi!

The practice times are a wonderful opportunity to do our my practice and see which instructions come back to me... which elements from the classes I am retaining and incorporating. after just 4 days of classes, I can see that this is going to be a wonderful experience - with an absolutely incredible quality and quantity of learning.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Beauty Shots!

these pictures aren't necessarily very evocative of my trip, but they are some of the more beautiful pictures I've taken. I have a lot more pictures to share, but uploading is turning out to be quite a difficult procedure. the internet cafes are very funky here (not that I'm complaining!) - for instance the right shift key of this computer is busted, and I've decided just to ignore it. Ha ha! Tomorrow we have a very full day - class, practice, and a trip to see some 2000 year old buddhist cave temples in the afternoon. I also took some nice pictures of the practice space where we have classes, which I would like to share. Hopefully I'll be able to get some pics up soon.

Here is a beautiful lotus blossom...


can you tell what these are? it's a scene from a bangle stall - selling the ubiquitous bangle bracelets that all the Indian girls and women wear. Pretty much from infancy! I loved all the colors...


this is a large bowl of water with flowers arranged on the surface. such a beautiful way of presenting flowers, which we also saw often last time we were in india.
this is from the ayurvedic retreat. -it's a picture of Nandi, shiva's bull. I love how it looks with the lake in the background.


Temples and Shrines

There are temples and altars and shrines everywhere in India, on every hilltop, on street corners, tucked between two shops, small ones & big ones... They are always interesting and often beautiful.
Here's a little detail from a temple here in Pune that we visited a couple of days ago. This picture captures a few specific things - the beautiful colors, the fresh flowers given as offerings, and the swastikas drawn on the wall with pigment. The swastika is a sacred symbol here in India and once you get used to seeing it everywhere, it's actually very nice to see this perfectly innocent symbol with a clean and untarnished usage.


At the same temple as the previous picture, I took this shot of the stairway up to the temple. Pilgrims have carefully touched and marked each stair on the climb to the temple in an act of special humility and devotion... each leaving their own unique mark.


This Ganesh shrine is a rather large and elaborate one, located in back of the park which is across the street from our apartment. It's very lovingly maintained with flowers and lights and music and is well-swept. There are chairs for contemplating or resting. There are even little candies that you can eat (Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, also happens to be a sweet-lover).


This shrine to Hanuman was at the Ayurvedic Retreat center... That's Hanuman, the monkey god (and symbol of devotion) in the middle, wearing a couple of garlands. There are all sorts of other goodies in there with him too... a melting pot!


This is the same temple from the first two pictures. This is Jen, me, and Abbey up at the top. Sorry for that big railing in the picture, but we were using the auto-taker feature. Can you see the smog? Pune is one seriously polluted place! This temple was very beautiful and still very much in use. Compared to what I saw on my last trip to India, Pune seems very modern and relatively well-off. There are countless young ladies wearing tight jeans and tight tee shirts (and of course, an equal number wearing more traditional clothes). We've even seen many couples holding hands or snuggling in public, which I don't think we saw even once last time. So, it was interesting for us to see that many of these western-dressed girls and their boyfriends (?) were at the temple, very humbly and sincerely doing their pooja rituals.

My Travelling Companions

A few little pictures of my roomies and me!
This was the first time in an autorickshaw for both Abbey and Jen! So of course we had to document it. Jen has been to India once before, but was trekking (and not taking autorickshaws). Abbey is a brave first-time-to-India traveller and is doing a great job of keeping up with two people who have been here before!

The autorickshaws are so insanely fun. It is like being instantly catapaulted into a live-action video game - darting, speeding, weaving, maneuvering, honking, stopping & starting. I love it! It's also a nice chance to meet different characters, as each driver is a different experience - from the silent speedy one to the sweet older fellow with a beautiful smile, to the crazy one with loud music and a strong desire to practice his english. What fun.


In the kitchen of our apartment... this picture captures Abbey and Jen as they prepare for their first cup of real coffee in many days! The Ayurvedic retreat had all sorts of great food, but no caffeine. Not a problem for me, but these two coffee lovers were feeling it! So there was great merriment when we figured out how to light up our little gas stovetop and Abbey got out her special coffee from home.

Hope you are all well!