Friday, April 22, 2005


saturday morning, 8:30am, darjeeling, drinking a hot cup of chai . . . last night's rainstorms have passed, leaving this "town on the side of the mountain" cool and fresh . . . kenchenjunga, earth's 3rd highest mountain and india's highest, standing majestically to the north, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, you name it, bright white snowy . . . sensual overload hard to avoid (so why bother?) . . . one more day here, then tomorrow north to tibetan-buddhist sikkim . . .

much to say, so many different experiences, insights, feelings and thoughts come in quick succession, i don't know how to connect them all, maybe one day when all this sinks in i'll be able to . . . so am going to break things into a couple of "sections" and go from there . . .

stomach great, absolutely no problem . . . have been scratching morning itch for wake-up drink with chai (hot tea with milk and most delicious spices) . . . also enjoying tibetan food, similar to chinese except spiced differently . . . (not a gooey as american chinese food, don't think there's much corn starch used in food prep here :-)) . . . fresh, gigantic, crisp raw cashews easy to find and that's my snack food (very cheap) . . . is remarkable how, depending on where you go, the food is so prepared (spice-wise) so differently . . . being in a country of 750 million vegetarians, have been eating only vegetarian since arriving (and liking it).

unlike any mountains i have ever seen . . . lush and green at 8.000 feet of altitude, and then you're looking up at peaks that go 15,000 ft higher (!). . . scales of distance and height disorienting, create indescribable feelings of wonder and awe . . . ancient villages dot the landscape, rhododendron forests, crisp thin air, yaks, fog, majesty . . . darjeeling surounded by tea fields, peaceful . . . have only been in the himalayan "foothills" so far, tomorrow going to sikkim and somewhat higher . . . very aware of "altitude sickness" -- was a subject at dinner i shared last night with a group of travellers, many of whom have had it to some degree . . .

maybe my best accomplishment so far:
learning the full (i think) translation of the indian "head-wiggle" . . . perhaps the most expressive of indian gestures is the shaking of the head from side to side, it kind of means the same thing westerners mean by nodding "yes" but then more . . . (imagine the movement of one of those bobble-head doll things, combined with a slight version of the way the great clemente used to strech his neck before batting, all much subtler tho) . . . but the wiggle here doesn't only mean "i agree with you" or "yep, i'd like that" beacuse it's often used as a greeting, preceeding any conversation . . . and it's as a greeting that i most appreciate and enjoy what this shake of the head is all about, used most casually, gentle and disarming, it communicates "i'm a peaceful man, i don't mean any harm." (so i've tried to do myself, and it's not that easy because it needs to be very casual . . . but i've noticed that it does work, passing people in the streets, making eye contact, a little wiggle of the head produces big smiles -- or maybe they're just laughing at the dopey american trying to look indian . . . )

it is very easy to react sentimentally and positively to all the wonderful things i've seen and experienced . . . this is not like any other place, it is india, and one comes here and falls in love many times over . . . the indians love you most of all and there's nothing strange in it, in fact it happens very easily, enabling them to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace . . . they're not perfect of course, they know how to lie and fight and cheat each other, all the things that we (westerners) do, but more (i'll bet) than any other people in the world, they know how to love each other . . . without love, india would be impossible. (so as a visitor, experiencing this, it's easy to form strong judgments, and those that come from the heart tend to be more romantic.)

on the other hand, you see the cruel poverty, and the filth, and the extreme overcrowding, and you're assaulted by all of it at once, and other judgments start to form, the ones that say "how could this place be like this?" "how can the government, any government, let this happen?" "why is it ok for so many to live such hard lives?" . . . and then you get sick from eating or drinking something that may be bacterially dangerous, or just spice-wise does not agree with you, or something else pushes you over the edge, and your judgment becomes, "this place is horrible, i'm under attck from beggars and touts, what am i doing here, i have no privacy, i'm sick, i hate it, and i've gotta get out now."

a fellow traveller told me the other day that the secret to travelling in india is to have a place to escape to, a hotel room, a quiet park, somewhere, because everyone, even the most experienced of india travellers, will frazzle and meltdown . . . this is good advice.

so for judgment, as the saying goes, "beauty (in this case, india) is in the eye of the beholder" . . . india has "everything" and it's all in extremes, and each vistor who experiences, observes and/or participates in its beautiful madness will form whatever judgments we do, and these judgments will be all all over the board, at the same time both loving and hating. but everything one feels and thinks will be valid and correct because for those taking aim at summarizing her, india is the ultimate moving target.

for me, i've come to learn that judging india is like holding a wad of jello in your hand . . . you can't squeeze 'cause if you do it'll run through your fingers and you'll be left with nothing real or tangible . . . obviously it's best not to judge, but if one must, do it gently.

i have not seen or heard any mention of mahatma gandi since i have been here, and i get the sense that he's not revered by the indian people in the manner i thought he would be . . . onthe other hand, j. nehru (first prime minister after independence was gained in 1947) is clearly revered . . . am curious about this and will try to learn more, gandi remains such a giant in western psyche.

yesterday, today, tomorrow:
great change is happening in india . . . modern economic realities, science/technology/medicine, western influences and a large population that is dramatically (and increasingly) overeducated for the available employment opportunities are rapidly (and chaotically) transforming a country in which the fabric of a person's life was once (rightly or wrongly) predetemined by caste, gender, karmic influences, language, ancestry, religion (and sometimes which god within the religion is most identified with), family economics, geography, etc . . . this clash is a big subject, perhaps india's most compelling. i'll write more when/if i understand more.

travelling alone:
not so easy . . . feeling such strong emotions as a result of what i see and experience makes me want to share with those i love, and then the feelings of longing begin . . . i remember a quote i once heard that "love is the only real cure for loneliness" . . . on the other hand, it feels wonderfully free to be so far away and able to go wherever, or do whatever i want, whenever the urge strikes, in a place with the mind-blowing color and flavor of india. i greatly miss louise {{hug}} and all the kids, and friends, and wish my eyes could send these incredible images back to you, touching you all.

not sure of "internet connectedness" of sikkim, will comunicate more when able . . .

love to all, mark