Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hampi: man skirts, midgits, goddesses, climbing things and so much more...

Here are some highlights from
our trip into India (from India's Tibet :)
and the monkey kingdom in Hampi.

Chillin on the streets of Mysore, waiting for our evening trains...
notice Beau's guitar thing, it's a Dramyin (Tibetan instrument).

He dragged it from Bylakuppe to Hampi, and often slept with his head rested on it like this.
This was a source of CONSTANT inquiry by everyone we saw.
They all wanted to know what it was, hear him play it, try it out for themselves.
 Beau made a lot of friends on our trip.
Lesson learned: if you ever need help meeting people in India, carry around a dramyin.

First stop: Breakfast! Uhhh...yeah, we had ice cream for breakfast.
Vacation, vacation vacation.

And for lunch Britney and pizza reunite for the first time
in almost three months, mmmmm cheese, oh how I love thee.

Since we had time to kill before the night train we had some henna done. The men who did 
it were amazing artists, and fast, unlike how long it takes for that stuff to dry and set. We watched a Hindi film in the cushiest, soft carpeted, reclining chaired theater ever while we waited for it to dry.

Here's a small, and not the best, sampling of the results at their darkest.
You miss the intricacies in this photo but just take my word for it for now.

This is me pretending like I was actually going to get some of that book read during our trip. I maybe read thirty pages, the rest of the book was read in haste after our return.
Dreaded papers on the two books = written and sent in just yesterday (sigh of relief).

These were our beds for two of the nights of the trip, train beds.
Small tidbit, if you use the restroom on a train in India, at least these ones, the
hole goes straight down to the train tracks -don't walk on Indian train tracks! - 
Between twenty hours on trains I somehow accomplished only needing to do this once.


Lori and Beau's beds. Separated at last!
Hahaha, just kidding.

These men are sporting the Indian male skirt that has a name I don't want to look
up right now, but they inspired Beau enough that he bought a few
and wore them the last couple days of our trip. A few epic pictures of this to come.


The top of the climb to the Hanuman (monkey) temple!

Feeding the monkeys.

Here's the scene: Britany, the temple goddess, has locked Beau up for the crime of
chocolate stealing from the royal stock, or something like that, and is advising with Lori, her
master jester, about what best to do with him.
Meanwhile Britney L., the non goddess, is off climbing up ancient temples or something and
should be the actual one locked up in bars. (See final photo of this post).
Like that, how I keep you going with promises of Beau in skirts and me climbing things? Yeah.

Beau, a.k.a "The Queen of Lithuania," and his three midgets. 
It doesn't help that he's on the high ground.

Lucky Beau, traveling across India with the three most beautiful women in the world!

People really like getting their picture taken with us. This was our second group at this location.
We have a collection of photos from our entire stay in India of us with groups or individuals that asked for our picture, I thought they would be kind of funny all on a blog post of their own.
Every tourist attraction we've gone to see has brought groups of Indians our way asking for
our picture. I decided that means we're just as cool as all the tourist sites, score!

This is a semi good picture of the elephant stables in the ancient royal court.
Elephant stables! Imagine horse, more massive.
Can you imagine it? Elephants everywhere just like horses, I want to see this kingdom at its prime.

King (queen) Cobra Goddess? Cobras?! Oh my, why haven't I been
more scared out of my mind while in India, I forgot about cobras!

Brit took it upon herself to fix all the broken statues.

Hiking up the mountain.

Laughing hysterically on top of the mountain.

Beau being epic in his "skirt" - glad you made it this far, huh?

Britany loved all the signs of the ancient temples also being used modernly for worship.
This was even on the very top of the mountain.
I also love going to the tops of the mountains to worship.

These guys thought they were really cool. Cool enough to get LOTS of money (any money?!)
for taking a picture with us. What they don't know is that we've let people take pictures with us
all day long now for three months - for free - so, no go guys, no go. Beau and Lori did give
them something for the magic show they provided after the photos.

And, me climbing. We did a lot of climbing, climbing mountains, climbing up onto our train beds and me climbing up everything. I made it to the top of this thing, well not this one but a similar one that felt slightly less like a temple and thus slightly less...wrong? I'm sorry if anyone is offended that I climbed on some things. 

Hampi is actually known for its rock climbing and after seeing the place you know why. All the stone temples and carvings also make sense, they have a grand land of stone there in Hampi and it pains me as a rock climber that I didn't do some actual rock climbing while there, so I guess I can be glad  at least for this fabulous picture and I'll end this post with that. 

We had a lot of other good times my photo uploading doesn't allow for. We had a temple elephant bless us and all the photos from that are great, many more monkey pictures and some really great statues etc. If you go to my side bar and click on "Beau's Blerg," he has a few more pictures from our trip posted that I do not. Two weeks from today and our time in India is over. I may post one or two more times, a few things I've been thinking about, but I may not and use, instead, all my hours to thoroughly enjoy my time with the wonderful people here. Until next time.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Celebrating Life!

This summer in India feels like one celebration after another and so I've been saving up a few pictures from each to talk about the different celebrations we've been privileged to join the Tibetans and others in. Due to the slowness of picture uploading I will choose only a few to represent each of the magnificent events that were full of days worth of sites and sounds to relay.

The khata is an important thing to start with when talking about Tibetan celebration. The mostly white scarves you see draped over the people's arms in this photo are the khata and used as a means of giving a blessing or traditional offering. They come in mostly white and ivory colors to represent purity, the giving of the khata must also be with purity in mind, generosity, love and an entire absence of negativity for the one being given the offering. 

One of my first introductions to this scarf was early in our stay when we were invited to a traditional Tibetan wedding. Rinpoche, our host, told us not to worry but to follow along with what everyone else was doing and he would provide the khata for us. As we walked up the stairs he counted out enough and placed them over our arms. We stood in line until it was our turn to walk through the wedding line. You begin at the picture of H.H. The Dalai Lama and place one scarf over this area and proceed to the parents, the bride, groom and others sitting at the table dressed in traditional Tibetan garb.  

As we finished I realized I had one extra scarf. I felt a bit embarrassed carrying it around at first and wasn't sure if I had missed someone. I finally found Rinpoche and tried to return it, he took it and promptly placed it over my head and around my shoulders (as shown above). I felt even more embarrassed and awkward about this - I had nothing to do with this wedding or the wedding party; should I leave it on, should I take it off and keep carrying it around, should I hide it or insist Rinpoche or someone else take it so as to rid me of the uncomfortable nature of this new symbol of something that I didn't yet quite understand? 

Lori and Beau convinced me that if Rinpoche had put it on me it was okay for me to have it, and wear it, and over the course of the day we noticed more and more people wearing one of their own. I decided it was my mini version of catching the bouquet and maybe it means good luck for my marital prospects in the future! That idea was much nicer than my initial awkward reaction to something new and outside my cultural understanding.                                                  
I have since come to understand that the khata is used in many situations, some that seem very formal and some much less formal. The bride and groom slowly become hidden under a sea of white scarves and I decided it was one of the more beautiful weddings I'd ever been to. There is something about the simple gifting of the khata and then slowly becoming enveloped by them that looks and feels like love and support and happiness surrounds you. 

When visitors come and leave they are greeted with a khata, Britany arrived wearing one they gave her as she emerged from the airport - what a beautiful way to be greeted, I thought. One of my other favorite occasions of khata use was when the young son of one of the of the teachers turned four. He sat on a small stool and slowly everyone walked through the line and placed a khata around his shoulders. He was so small that soon his head was barley poking out from the sea of white with his little grin and wide eyes, he had to feel special and know that everyone thought he was special after that processional of khata gifting. 

Birthdays are another celebration we've had multiple times at the Karuna home. Each of the children that lives here gets treated like they are special and important, especially on their birthday. On a birthday everyone is given a bottle of coke at lunchtime and a few times we have joined in evening festivities of singing, game playing - such as don't step on the flip flip - and cake eating. Small gifts are always given to others to celebrate. A staff member gave out small pastries for his birthday and another staff member did the same when his wife gave birth to their first child, a beautiful little boy.  

I'll talk more about the most important birthday we've celebrated here, His Holiness The Dalai Lama's birthday, but first, after the wedding, came Saka Dawa. This event is actually celebrated for one Tibetan calendar month that spans from the middle of May to June. This is the most auspicious month and the day I'm featuring in these two photos are from the most auspicious day - June 15th - in Tibetan Buddhism. This was the month and day of Sakyamuni (Buddha's) birth and enlightenment and entry into Nirvana.                                    
During this month Karma counts for more than usual, so we didn't eat any meat and Rinpoche held special meditation hours each day for a week for the staff and let us join. During these hours he taught us the basics of Tibetan meditation which begins with the posture. There are important points of posture including crossed legs, hands placed on the lap with the palms up. right hand over the left and thumbs placed together, back straight, head lowered slightly, jaw loose and tongue on the roof of the mouth with eyes looking straight out and slightly down but not closed (unless you have a monkey mind like me and need them closed to help block out more distraction). 

For Tibetan Buddhists it is the quality not the quantity that matters, beginning the day with only a few minutes of very focused meditation is a wonderful start to a successful and focused day. Meditation is to help, first, the mind gain patience because that is an attribute we are not as used to, and to let go of anger, an attribute we are very used to and more prone to if we do not practice and learn patience through meditation. These are a few of the very basic and fundamental things he talked about with meditation, but it is a serious practice that goes much further than this simple experience of mine and explanation here.

On the 15th the monasteries were full of people and monks dressed mostly like my photo above (compliments of Lori and Beau). Large offerings were burning in the courtyards and processional were happening everywhere with chanting, singing, blowing of horns and tinkling of bells. The monasteries were full of monks lined up chanting prayers and observers and worshipers covered the grassy areas and entrances waiting for their chance to enter, leave an offering and do their prostrations. I'm usually not a big fan of crowds, but we had been to the temples a few times before with only an occasional tourist or worshiper to be found and there was something about the temple grounds and monasteries full of activity that I appreciated so much more than the empty experience. It helped me to realize how much it is the people and the worship and observance that give life to a religion.

That night back at Karuna home was one of my favorite evenings here so far. We began with a delicious dinner followed by the lighting of hundreds of butter lamps. They let us join them to stand around the table and we watched as they each took turns using an incense stick to light a row of candles as others chanted and prayed. At one point they handed it off to us and we took our turn lighting the candles. I felt deeply moved in an unexpected way by this simple experience they let me join in. I felt what I have come to recognize in my own faith as the spirit of God, or a power from God, and it surprised me at first and then taught me how pleased the God I know and love so well is with these beautiful people for their compassion, dedication to goodness and offerings of worship. I felt like I've felt at times before in my life, the love of God for all his creations and most especially his children. 

After the candle lighting the children and staff had a celebratory performance. They had spent the day setting up a stage and a sound system and we sat and enjoyed number after number of dances, songs, and the unashamed and bright eyed children performing for us with all their many talents. I've spent a lot of my life thinking about handicaps, and especially this summer while I've lived at the Karuna Home for the Disabled. Each child comes with a different history and set of difficulties and circumstances, each child has what might be termed limitations that sometimes make certain aspects of their lives difficult, but these are facts true of every human life - some are harder to see, some are harder to understand, but we all have them and at the same time we all have gifts and capacities even beyond what we might think or notice at first. Something I love about these children is that the abilities and capacities they have shine through despite their sometimes very obvious limitations. They were the first to make me feel welcome, daily, to feel loved in a foreign place, to talk to me even if we don't speak the same language and they perform with everything they have and it inspires and motivates everyone who watches them. 

When they finished with the performances they invited anyone who wanted to an open stage and they blasted the music. We sat as more and more of the children entered the stage area and some of the staff until one of the little boys walked right up in front of me and offered me his hand, like a real gentleman, I hesitated a moment, put my hand in his and then joined the stage and danced to my hearts content. I spun in circles with the children and jumped and jived and all that good stuff. Dancing never ceases to lift my spirits and the day was perfectly finished by exhausting myself in a crowd of dancing children. 

The next major celebration was also the next time the children were set to perform. We were preparing and excited for H.H. The Dalai Lamas birthday for at least a month. We began by going to the market and choosing material for our own chubas, a traditional Tibetan dress for women. Beau was especially excited for the events of the weekend because he was preparing to perform a Tibetan song. Our chubas were done just in time, but they were not easy to put on. It takes a lot more skill than it seems just looking at it so Acha Nurse (Dawa) our good friend and the nurse at Karuna home came up one evening and gave us a lesson. The celebrations began on the Dalai Lamas actual birthday, July 6th, and lasted through the weekend and into the next week.         
The first day we left early to get seated with all the children right up next to the stage. Slowly the grounds of the palace were filled in with hundreds and thousands of people ready to celebrate. There were many performances, singers, dancers, a speech. Beau performed his song and the crowds couldn't stop clapping and singing along from the first chord he played to the very end, it was a hit. One of my favorite moments that first day was the second performance by the Karuna children. It was a tribute to the Panchen Lama who is currently kept in prison by the Chinese. It was a song asking for his release and the return of The Dalai Lama to his home in Tibet. I cried. I hadn't known what their second song was about beforehand, and so as they performed and I sat with the happy and celebrating people I have come to love, who are all currently living in exile, I couldn't help but cry and express my sadness at their lack of freedom to worship in the beautiful ways that they do in their homeland.

One example of the patience, generosity and compassion of the Tibetans was demonstrated at both of the major events we attended.  The first day the school children walked around with tea and small plates that they filled with sweet rice from large bowls - for everyone - hundreds or more. The next day performances were happening at the Sera Jey Monastery and as you entered the monks were scooping a potato vegetable mixture onto huge pieces of flat bread while others wandered around with crates of mangoes and juice boxes to feed all in attendance, for free. I kept being reminded of the loaves of bread and fishes from the Bible and how beautiful it is to be fed. 

I don't currently have some of the best photos of the performances but here are a few of the attractions we got to see both days. This first photo was one of two dancing yaks and the other is of some of the children from the local Tibetan school dressed in traditional dress from the cold areas of Tibet. The stage at Sera Jey was exciting to see because confetti, fire and smoke would burst out during the performances at any moment, it was a real celebration. We found out later that it was the first of its kind for at least ten or more years. Large celebrations or even music at weddings have been dismissed as a form of mourning for the exile and loss of life to those who have died during this time. We felt especially lucky to be a part of all the celebrating after hearing that news. 

One of the birthday celebration evenings Rinpoche was invited to cut the cake at a dinner celebration in one of the poorest camps in the settlements because he helped to fund their community hall and worship center. He invited us to join him and we did gladly.  We all enjoyed cake and a second dinner and this third photo is of me places a khata over the altar where the cake and a photo of His Holiness rested. The final night of celebrations the Karuna Home put on their own show and invited the locals to come. A famous Tibetan singer had been touched by the children's performances the previous days and wanted to perform for them, so they made an event of it. The staff performed some Tibetan and Hindi dances that were some of my favorite, the children did a few of their fun pieces that they hadn't done before. The women on the staff lost their voices for a few days after screaming and singing along with the famous Chatak. It was quite the end to a marvelous weekend of celebrating. 

This ends the major Tibetan celebrations I have been a part of so far, but there have been many other celebrations along the way. We were invited by the man Lori and Beau live with, and our good friend, Namgyal, to watch the final of the Euro Cup. We decided it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences and headed to one of the camp halls with a big screen set up and card players everywhere. I've failed to mention how Tibetans play cards at every celebratory event. After the wedding everyone sat and played cards all day, after the day of performances for His Holiness everyone played loud music and cards at the Karuna Home and as we sat and waited for the world to celebrate the all popular sport of Futbol the Tibetans once again played cards, and so did we. I lost terribly to Britany and Beau over a game of thirteen but the long game successfully got us to midnight when the game began.

The many treats that Britnay is displaying above also got us through the night. That game of cards was not my last loss of the night, however. I knew little to nothing about Italy and Spain, the two rival teams, but  Namgyal wanted a bet going to make the night more exciting and I claimed Italy on a whim, mostly because I'll be visiting there later this summer, and I was appropriately dressed all in blue. Britany and I took them on as our team and cringed at all four (or was it even five?!) shots that Spain made on them. It would have been nice, mostly for Italy's sake, to at least get one shot but it made the loss all that much more poignant that they never did and Spain and Namgyal and Beau went home victorious. So, the next week we bought them lunch. We were glad to buy Namgyal lunch, not so much because we lost the bet but because of all the generous things he has done to help us during our stay here in India. 

I'm adding these final pictures in mostly as a place to put them and talk about our extra little run in with culture and friends. For a few weeks "The Danish" as I affectionately called them, stayed with us at the Karuna home to volunteer as an end of a five month experience they have been having in India. It was enjoyable to talk with them about their time in India, their homes in Denmark and time traveling the world just like we have been doing. Our final night together we all went out for dinner and finished the night with desserts and a dance party to the restaurants music outside on their porch. a few Rikshaw drivers stopped to watch us and we took pictures of ourselves and continued in the process of celebrating life.

Here's to Much Celebrating of Life of Follow