INDIA EXPRESS

Our last day in Surat, we went to the area where the diamond brokers do the world’s largest diamond business in the open-air.  Only men are brokers, and as we were the only women out of thousands, all eyes were on us (Marta is so glad she left her credit cards at home).  Here we saw diamond cutters, diamond polishers, and the brokers selling diamonds from their laps, sitting in the streets.  There was no such things as being worried about thievery–amazing.

We then traveled to another beautiful Hindu temple where it was nice to get out of the bustle and heat.

After spending ten days in Gujarat, a northwest State in India where Gandhi spent most of his life, we took the India Express back to Mumbai.  Surprisingly, it was a pleasant trip in an air-conditioned train car with dinner.

On Sunday, as we waited for a tour guide, we sat in the Leopold Cafe–very famous in India for tourists–and watched two guys drink a tall spigot of beer with their breakfast.  The spigot is likened to a pitcher, although it shocked us how much beer could be drunk at breakfast.  Yuck!

We enjoyed a very educational tour to the Dhavari Slum, where we had planned to visit a school and deposit our school supplies from Colorado.  However, because it was Sunday, the school was closed, so we gave the supplies to our tour company (from whom 80% of their proceeds and all donations go to their school in Dhavari) to deliver to the students the next day.  In Dhavari, we learned there is a one billion US$ industry in plastic recycling, leather, clay pottery, aluminum and other metal recycling, soap making, and butter making.  These people, many of whom are from outside of Mumbai, live here in a 10×10 room with their families as well as work in these tiny workshops to prepare materials wholesale for shipping to other parts of the world.  It was astounding to see such handmade production that totals over 1B dollars in profit for the owners of the businesses.  Obviously, over one million people live in incredible filth with open human waste pits, exposed electrical wires with water dripping down the concrete walls.  We went into a shop and climbed three levels of ladders to the rooftops where we had a birds-eye view of the rooftops of the slums.  There, we saw satellite dishes and cell towers and could not believe the majority of people have televisions in their 10×10 homes.  Every family we saw greeted us with a smile and welcomed expression.  We even took tea with a family who invited us into their home/business.  And, we felt incredibly guilty about our American wealth. 

The next day–our last day–we toured an animal reserve, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park bordered by city limits; the reserve is in the middle of the city and to the north.  It is 250 square kilometers and is home to lions and tigers and a 2100 year old Buddhist monastery carved out of a monolithic mountain.  As it was our only bad luck, the lion and tiger reserves were closed on Monday, but we walked 7 kilometers to the Buddhist caves that were carved out of the mountain in 100 B.C.E.  There, we were astounded by Mesa Verde-like cliff dwellings that we could actually walk into and touch the cool sculptures within the caves.  That would never happen in the United States.  In one cave, there were two 7 meter tall sculptures of Buddha; in another cave, there were 1,000 sculptures of Buddha and in yet another cave, there was a cathedral-like acoustics where our duty guard chanted Hindi hymns that echoed in the most spiritual resonance you can imagine.

We flew home without a hitch and actually met up with our bags in Denver.  Nice surprise!  We drove home and got into Gunnison about 3 a.m.  This has been a life-changing experience for both of us, and we are grateful to the Rural Education Trust for this opportunity.

Thank you for following our blog.  We hope its been entertaining, as well as enlightening.

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INDIAN CUSTOMS AND TID-BITS

  • FASHION POLICE WERE OUT IN FULL FORCE WHERE GLORIA (WEARING A TRADITIONAL INDIAN DRESS) AND MARTA (WEARING A TRADITIONAL SILK SARI) HIT THE STREET
  • YOU ARE NOT A DRIVER IN INDIA UNLESS YOU HONK–“GOOD BRAKES, GOOD HORN, GOOD LUCK”
  • LEMONADE TASTES GOOD WITH PEPPER AND OTHER SPICES
  • A SLIGHT TILT OF THE HEAD IN INDIA MEANS, “YES, NO, OR MAYBE” SO WE HAVE BEEN TILTING OUR HEADS THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE TRIP:)
  • A WOMAN WITH TATOOS ON HER ARMS IN GUJARAT INDICATES WHETHER SHE IS SINGLE, MARRIED AND HER NUMBER OF CHILDREN
  • “DO NOT ENTER” MEANS THE SAME THING IN INDIA AS IT DOES IN AMERICA EXCEPT IT IS IN HINDI  (WE SAW THIS SIGN IN A HOTEL AND DECIDED TO FORAGE ONWARD, ENDING UP IN A RESTAURANT KITCHEN WHERE WE WERE ABRUPTLY ESCORTED OUT)
  • WHEN ASKED IF YOU WOULD LIKE A REFRESHMENT, THE ANSWER SHOULD ALWAYS BE YES!
  • WHEN WE SAY, “WE’RE GOOD”, WE GET TWO MORE OF WHATEVER WE ARE DRINKING OR EATING
  • WHEN COMING INTO SOMEONE’S HOME WITH A NEW BABY, MAKE SURE YOU GIVE THEM A GIFT OR RUPEES FOR A BLESSING ON THE BABY.
  • DO NOT DRINK A SIP BEFORE YOUR HOST PARTAKES
  • TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES ENTERING A HOME OR TEMPLE, EVEN IF THE TILES ARE SO HOT THEY BURN YOUR FEET!
  • TOILET PAPER IS A COMMODITY, BUT WE HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE “SPRAYER.”
  • 1.2 BILLION PEOPLE IS MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER IMAGINE UNTIL YOU HAVE LIVED IT
  • POUR YOUR TEA INTO ITS SAUCER IF YOU WANT TO SHARE YOUR TEA OR COOL IT OFF QUICKLY
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OKRA!

Unbeknownst to us, Indians love OKRA!  As Marta’s mother is from the South, and in honor of her, we both had a spoonful or two of deliciously spiced Indian Okra.  Marta says, “I am thinking of you mom”!

Today, June 15th, Friday, we are in Surat and traveled approximately 12 miles to Dandi on back roads about 10 feet wide.  We drove through tiny villages along the way and actually came to an end of the road where the river had washed it out.  A Muslim man on a motorcycle was kind enough to explain that the government needs to buy the land to fix the road, and as we were marooned, he invited us into his home for a refreshment.  At his home, we met his father, his son and his grand-daughter and were treated Chai tea with his wife and daughter-in-law.  The daughter-in-law spoke excellent English, and so we learned from her about India’s political and education system.  Once again, we were amazed by the incredible hospitality any Indian seems to offer a stranger.

We continued on a brief diversion until we reconnected with the National Heritage Route #228 where Gandhi traveled by foot and finally made it to Dandi.  We asked our driver to let us out about two miles before the Arabian Sea Coast so that we could walk, literally, in Gandhi’s footsteps.  We walked  all the way to the Arabian Sea and walked in the sandy waters of the warm sea.  There was a cool breeze as we tried to imagine the daring protest of the 1930 Salt March–241 miles of rugged paths made by 79 protesters and thousands of followers.

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NAVA GAM VILLAGE–A SCHOOL IN GANDHI’S NAME

WE VISITED THE MOST FAMOUS OF GANDHI’S ASHRAMS CALLED SATYAGRAHA IN AMEDABAD.  ALONG THE SABARMATI RIVER, GANDHI’S ASHES WERE SPREAD, JUST FEET FROM THIS ASHRAM.  THERE IS A SCULPTURE OF THREE MONKEYS FROM AN OLD FABLE THAT REPRESENTS PART OF GANDHI’S BELIEF:  SPEAK NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, AND HEAR NO EVIL.  CHILDREN IMITATED THIS POSE AS SEEN IN OUR BLOG.  AT THE ENTRY GATE OF THE ASHRAM ARE ACACIA TREES WHOSE LEAVES ARE TIED UP ON ROPE TO WELCOME VISITORS.  WE MET A GROUP OF SOCIAL WORKERS AND TEACHERS FROM THE INDIAN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR WHO WERE HOSTING A LARGE GROUP OF UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN AT THIS ASHRAM IN HONOR OF THE NATIONAL CHILD LABOR ACT, THE INTENTION OF WHICH IS TO EDUCATE ALL CHILDREN IN ORDER TO PREVENT CHILD LABOR ABUSES.

AT THIS ASHRAM WE LEARNED THAT GANDHI APPRECIATED THE BRITISH MILITARY POWER AGAINST HIM; HE SAID, “WE CANNOT FIGHT SO WE WILL BE SPIRITUALLY POWERFUL” .  THEREFORE, GANDHI TAUGHT HIS FOLLOWERS TO PRAY TWICE A DAY AND FAST.  SPINNING IS A PROMINENT ACTION ACCORDING TO GANDHI.  IT HELPS A PERSON TO MEDITATE AND CONCENTRATE.  ONE MUST SYNCHRONIZE THE PRESSURE OF THE STRING:  TOO MUCH TENSION, AND IT BREAKS; TOO LITTLE TENSION, AND IT’S SLOPPY.  THIS IS AN ANALOGY FOR POLITICS.   THE SPINNING WHEEL WAS ‘THE WEAPON THAT FREED A NATION” FROM BRITISH RULE.

THE TEN RULES OF THE ASHRAMS (AND GANDHI’S LIFE) WERE:  (1) TRUTH; (2) NON-VIOLENCE; (3) CHASTITY; (4) CONTROL OF THE PALATE; (5) NON-STEALING; (6) NON-POSSESSION OF POVERTY; (7) ALTRUISM (TO CARE FOR OTHERS); (8) FEARLESSNESS; (9) VARNASHRAMA DHARMA (100 YEAR LIFE SPAN FROM STUDENT TO MARRIAGE TO NON-ATTACHMENT TO LIVING LIKE A MONK); (10) EQUALITY OF RELIGIONS.

EVERY YEAR, THE GANDHI SALT MARCH IS RE-ENACTED WITH THE TWELFTH NIGHT BEING AN OVERNIGHT STAY AT THE NAVA GAM VILLAGE. HERE, WE MET MR. AWALGEWAY, WHO IS AN ELDERLY CHAIRMAN OF THE NAVA GAM SCHOOL.  AT A YOUNG AGE, HE CARED FOR GANDHI BY MASSAGING AND WASHING HIS FEET.  WE FELT HONORED TO BE IN HIS PRESENCE.  THE BOARDING SCHOOL HOSTS 1,000 STUDENTS GRADES 1-12, BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS.  AS SOON AS WE ARRIVED, WE WERE MET BY THE HEADMASTER AND INVITED TO THE ADMINISTRATOR’S OFFICE FOR LUNCH AND REFRESHMENT.  WE CONTINUE TO BE AMAZED AT THE HOSPITALITY OF THE INDIANS.  ON THE CAMPUS, STUDENTS CARE FOR A TREE PLANTATION AND ARE TOLD THEY MUST NOT “SOIL” THE SCHOOL (SMOKE OR DRINK ALCOHOL).  GANDHI TAUGHT THAT EDUCATION IS TO BE  “CHARACTER-ORIENTED, NOT ONLY AS A MEANS TO EMPLOYMENT.”  GANDHI WAS HAPPY WITH CHILDREN BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT POLLUTED.

WE PROCEEDED ONTO MATAR, THEN DABHAN, THEN ANAND, ARRIVING HERE IN BARODA WHEREBY WE DROVE THROUGH A SANDY RIVER BED FOLLOWING THE ACTUAL 241 MILE ROUTE OF GANDHI’S SALT MARCH IN 1930.

IN AMEDABAD, WE TOURED A HAND-MADE PAPER MAKING FACTORY.  ENVISION THE INSIDE OF A GYMNASIUM WITH CONCRETE FLOORS AND WALLS AND ABOUT SIX WORKERS LABORING IN PAIRS AT THEIR 4X4X4 TUB OF WATER.  THE PAPER IS MADE FROM ALL RECYCLED MATERIAL AND IS VERY HIGH QUALITY, EXPENSIVE AND SHIPPED ALL OVER THE WORLD.  IN THE PICTURE, TWO MEN ARE SPREADING PULP INTO A FRAME, THEN PRESSING A SHEET ON TOP OF THE PULP TO LIFT IT OUT OF THE TUB.  IT’S STACKED, AND THEN WHEN DRIED, IS HUNG IS CLOTHES-PINNED TO A LINE WHERE IT FINISHES DRYING AND IS READY FOR CUTTING.

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TOOK-TOOK CHAOS

Our first day in Ahmedabad (Am-na-vad–also known by three other names), we took a city tour in a took-took (remember, an auto-rickshaw–a three-wheeled Tasmanian devil with a lawn mower engine–google it!).  This was a trip in itself, as we were literally one inch within our lives from other took-tooks, cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds and pedestrians.  We drove over the bridge to the main river going through the city, stopped, and looked over to see people swimming, fishing, and selling fourth-hand used wares from the beach.  From the banks, it looks as if the river has receded 20 yards, and our first thought was how long will this river be here for these people who depend on it?

Our took-took wandered into a market, where we bought MORE Indian spices that will last our friends and us 20 years.  Trying to describe to the shopkeeper just four of the curries we wanted to buy was like talking to a very kind, considerate wall who smiles often.

The second day here, we went into our first-ever Muslim mosque, where only one worshiper was cleansing himself at the center pool (filled with bacteria-cleaning carp).  This particular mosque has 136 columns.  It is one of the few mosques in the world where women may also worship with the men albeit in a tiny room, curtained in decorative brick,  ten feet above the men so they cannot be seen.  The Muslims here face west to Mecca (wherein the U.S., Muslims would face the east).  This mosque was roughly the size of a football field and the flooring of the open area was all marble.  In the center of a city of 12 million people, it was a peaceful and meditative  experience.

We then went to a textile museum that hosted examples of cloth, embroidery and silk from all states in India.  Most of the examples were ONLY 300 years old.  Again, this museum was tucked away in the middle of the city, and yet when we were in it, it felt like a sanctuary.  There is no advertising to tour this museum; one must schedule an appointment in advance, and only 20 people are allowed on one tour, which is given once per day.  On that tour with 20 tourists, there were 5 “guard ladies”, one national congressman, and one military guard along with the guide.  Very secure!  The artifacts are valued at more than 400 million Rupees (1 US dollar equals 58 rupees–do the math!)

We went to yet another Hindi temple where a guru was blessing followers.  We learned about the special symbol of  the “holy cow” and sauntered across the marble square to a shaded area where 20 women were sorting grain.  As soon as they saw Gloria, one woman jumped up, ran to her, embraced her shoulders and gave her mega-loves–kisses and hugs all over.  These women rarely get their picture taken and we were so captivated by their beautiful energy that we asked if we could take their picture.  They seriously took their roles of sorting grain as we snapped photo after photo and showed them the pictures.  They were elated and intimated for us to take close up pictures of their faces, which we did repeatedly.  The bags in the background of the picture are all donated grains and their responsibility is to sort the chaff from the grain and prepare for the daily community meal.  Most of these women were our age or slightly older.

We visited an Ashram of Gandhi’s rarely visited by foreigners (although American scholars convene here once a year to study Gandhi’s philosophy and theory).  We were the only ones there and had a private tour by the caretaker and our guide who said “In ten years, no tourist has asked to see this ashram”.  We absorbed the experience and it was wonderful.  An ashram is a secluded place for followers and their guru.  It was here that Gandhi held visits with his followers, continuously spun his cloth, and fed anyone in the community who needed daily meals.  Gandhi was forced to move to another ashram (which we visit next on our travels) because of the plague that entered the Ahmedabad community in the early 1900’s.  Gandhi’s fear was that the children and untouchables cared for in the Ashram would fall ill. 

After such a spiritual day, we became heathens and wanted to buy one beer and split it.  This was an experience in itself.  First of all, it took 38 minutes to purchase beer.  Gloria offered up her first-born (passport) which was then photocopied while three accountants entered our information into three separate accounting books.  Gloria was then issued a license to purchase 20 beers over the course of the next five days of our remaining stay in Gujarat; a DRY state in India.  If we attempt to purchase more than allotted, we will go to jail.  Tea sounds very good right now!  Regardless, we purchased 6 warm beers(King Fishers–an Indian brew)  for our little refrigerator in our room.

Yesterday, we purchased material in Rajkot for “dresses” (pants, long coat-top and scarf).  Here, we found a woman’s tailor who will sew the dresses for us by tomorrow night for 3 U.S. dollars each.  That man is very honorable to uphold his promise–he seemed very proud and we were humbled.

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INDIAN CUISINE

In the market, we we shocked to learn there over 100 different kinds of curry in a hue of colors.  As nearly everything is curried, we are enjoying the food tremendously and are offering a few pictures with our “broken” Hindi to explain the food.  This is a traditional and typical BREAKFAST in India.

Masala Uttapam – rice pancakes with vegetables; Poha – beaten flat rice with peppers; Bhaji – curried potatoes and gravy; Moong Dal Halwa – lentil dessert; Scrambled vegetables – curried cottage cheese and tomato; Sauteed corn.

Black Indian coffee is very rich and robust, but we can’t get enough of the Darjeeling Tea.

The waiters open and pour our bottled water as if it is a $100 bottle of wine.  They practically place our forks in our hands and come over every few minutes to fill our glasses and ask how we are.  They are so polite and so gentle.  And, there are SO MANY of them–in a small cafe seating only 20 people, there are easily 6 formal waiters.  Another way to employ one billion people.

At the end of each meal, the waiter brings a serving dish with three different types of seed:  these are spoon into the palm of a hand and popped into the mouth and chewed to freshen the breath.

Pepto Bismol has been our friend because we love the food too much.

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A DAY OF SPECIAL BLESSINGS

WE WERE TOLD THERE WOULD BE NO ELEPHANTS AND NO MAHOUTS (ELEPHANT HANDLERS) IN THIS PART OF INDIA; HOWEVER, RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR HOTEL AS WE WERE GETTING IN OUR CAR FOR THE MORNING JOURNEY, THERE WAS A TEMPLE ELEPHANT AND HIS MAHOUT STANDING BEFORE US.  EVEN THE POOREST OF THE POOR GIVE FOOD AND RUPEES TO THE ELEPHANT FOR A BLESSING IN RETURN.  MARTA AND GLORIA BOTH GAVE THE ELEPHANT COINS, SHOCKED THAT THIS TRUNK OF A SNOUT WAS SO SENSITIVE IT COULD DELICATELY “FINGER” A QUARTER-SIZED COIN, LIFTING IT UP OVER IT’S HEAD TO THE MAHOUT.  SOME KIND MAN HANDED GLORIA A DOZEN BANANAS, AND SHE RECEIVED A GIFT OF A LIFETIME BY FEEDING THE BANANAS (UNPEELED) TO THE ELEPHANT ONE-BY-ONE. 

HERE WE ARE IN RAJKOT VISITING SILK AND LINEN “FACTORIES” WHICH ARE ACTUALLY ONE CONCRETE ROOM, GRASS-ROOTS WITH 1-2 PEOPLE OPERATING.  WE WATCHED A WOMAN HAND-SPIN A SPOOL OF SILK THREAD IN A HUE OF COLORS WHILE A MAN WOVE SIX YARDS OF SILK FOR A SARI.  THE OWNER OF THE FACTORY THEN INVITED US INTO HIS HOME WHERE WE MET HIS FAMILY AND HIS BRAND NEW GRAND SON, PEACEFULLY SLEEPING IN HIS CRADLE. 

WE ARE RUSHED AT THE COMPUTER…WILL BLOG LATER .

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RAJKOT–SOMEWHERE IN INDIA

Watkin’s Museum–Rajkot

Several hundred miles south of Pakistan, Rajkot is the technological and engineering center of India (although we are experiencing HUGE WAITS on the internet at this moment…what irony).  Textiles, gold jewelry craftsmanship, and honking took-tooks (three-wheeled no-doored motorized rickshaws) find their home in this city.  Driving here from Porbandar, the countryside was laced with so many different agricultural sites.  At one site, a happy woman was taking fresh cow patties and making plate-sized dung discs to dry in the hot sun to be sold for fuel.  She waved a dripping hand to us and we bowed rather than extending our handshakes.

Later in the middle of nowhere on our drive, we came upon a Hare Krishna temple–a beautiful castle-like boy’s school where boys were making lais for temple worshipers.  It was peaceful and surrounded by flowers and vegetation.

We also stopped by a dress-making factory, and a  linen spinning wheel factory where young girls are brought in to learn an important and useful trade.  We watched the progression of making linen:  string-like  thread was spun onto spools which were then spun more finely onto smaller spools which were woven into 3×100 yards of material.  Then, that material is sold to dressmakers, who batik patterns into the folds of material with dyes made from native plants.  We bought several materials from a wholesale dressmaker–now, we have to find a tailor!

Last stops were a museum and a visit to Gandhi’s formal high school…it began to rain and we headed to our motels for some hot tea and writing time.

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PORBANDOR

Home of Ghandiji’s birthplace (we actually stood at the swastika– which is an ancient Indian symbol for good fortune that the Nazis flipped on its side to mean the most evil of symbols–where Gandhi’s mother gave birth to him in his first home), we visited the bazaar and were greeted with such gentle kindness by the shopkeepers.  Gloria purchased a lunchbox (Indian-style) which was generously and freely engraved by the shopkeeper as a token of his gratitude for our visit.  We visited a temple, outside which we joined women chanting in prayer.  All of us were smiling and giggling, saying “namaste” which means, “not me, but you.”  Look closely as you can see Marta sitting in the middle of the group of women and learning their chant and prayers.

The two fair skinned Americans joined these beautiful Indian women in their Hindi chant.

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Mumbai

Worshiping Vishnu, they were chanting, burning incense and scented wood. Vishnu is the destroyer of evil.

We entered into so many discussions with so many different people, only to learn how deeply genuine most Indian people are.  Gloria is the “white goddess” as her light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair attract many locals to her.  We have both been asked to pose for pictures with children because of our unique characteristics:)

We visited many temples:  Jain, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish (and we tried to get into a Catholic Cathedral, but doors were locked).  We visited Badabaran, a mystical giant pool of fresh water thought to have been created by a god whose arrow shot into the earth from which fresh water sprung.  There is some kind of miracle going on there as the water is fresh and there is identifiable source! There, we watched Hindu priests chant prayers to their gods, children swimming in the pool and a young girl spiritually cleansing herself.  Badabaran is unique in that these people live as their ancestors, not having moved from the same living quarters for centuries.

At the end of the day, Marta bought her first saree and we capped the evening with a horse and buggy ride in a muggy, but cool evening filled with masses of people, honking horns and Chow Patty (“beach”) lovers.

A bit blurry–instructions for the cameraman were lost in translation and delight.

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