Saturday, July 29, 2006

Quick Update

Blogspot for the last two weeks has been banned in India post Mumbai train blasts. (the govt wanted a few sites taken down, blogspot couldnt take down a few, so they took down all of them). So the posts have been put up by my sis (yay sej).

Pictures coming soon.

What I'm up to now
Currently I am in Ahmedabad, one of the two largest cities in Gujarat. Presently, I'm sitting in on Indicorps Final Retreat for departing 05-06 Fellows, which has been an interesting experience given that these people have just wrapped up their year of service. Today, we learned how to make thread from cotton in an activity they set up at Vidyapeeth! I've also gotten the chance to meet and hang out with Sameer and Raj, which has been awesome. It's def interesting to meet them after "meeting them" through their blogs.

I am working at the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI) learning more about the state of sanitation in India, what is being done, how its being done and what needs to be done. ESI is an organization, based on Gandhian principles, that has been working to improve sanitation in India for over 30 years. The director, Shri Ishwarbhai Patel has been working in this field for over 4 decades and used to be called Mr. Toilet.

The campus of the institute and people are incredible. There is so much knowledge and expertise and every minute is a learning experience. Being at the institute has solidified my decision to focus on sanitation versus drinking water during my time in India. Countless are working on drinking water, which is incredibly important, but very few are doing sanitation work. There are countless social and cultural barriers that one faces in the field of sanitation that do not exist when talking about drinking water, after all we are talking about defecation.

There are already a variety of projects/tasks that I am working on and soon I'll begin to get some field experience in villages and visit different organization doing watsan (water/sanitation work). In addition to working at ESI, I'll be doing some work at Manav Sadhna (an NGO based out of the Gandhi Ashram- sister institution to ESI) that works in the slums of Ahmedabad, so I'll be getting exposure to village and slum conditions.

Every day, I'm meeting incredible people doing incredible work. I'm truly blessed to be able to work with such people. The stuff I learned in school is definetely coming in handy (especially microbio). Currently, I'm living with family friends, but at the end of this week, I'll be moving into residential quarters they have available for international volunteers.

I'm learning and living. There is much to be done, but that done in haste can lead to waste. I'm fortunate to come here without the constraint of time and I'm working to make the most of each moment to learn and experience as much as possible.

Pigrimage Overview

Note: this is the last post on the pilgrimage (aside from a pictures post). It provides a chronological context for the other posts and refers to the where appropriate. Posts on the current happenings in my life coming soon.

Day 1/2 – en route to Dehradun
The trip begins with a lost ticket and "lost" sim card (see rude or courteous city post). Upon arrival in Ahmedabad, our first (an only destination): Gandhi's Ashram (Manav Sadhna). After questioning several people, we make it to the corner where MS is located. Apparently Jayeshbhai was at the tekra, and Krishna would be arriving shortly. So we wait and wait. The waiting was a growing experience. I wasn't bored nor did I get impatient. Instead I sat silently, taking the opportunity to mediate and take a look around. An hour and half later, my cousin had had enough and just as we were about to leave, we find out that Krishna should be arriving from wherever he was for prayers and sure enough we did. Soon, I got a tour of the place and a chance to play with all the kids. The boys sure are inquisitive and friendly. Immediately, I was surrounded by several of them asking me what my name was, etc. Such a delight. When we made it over to where the girls were, the situation was no different. However, instead of playing cricket and disc, they were chitchatting and playing carem. The kids reminded me yet again how much I enjoy working with children. It seems to be a debate that is continually coming up: to work in sanitation or to work with kids. I'm sure I'll be interacting with kids doing sanitation work, but it might not be to the same degree as if I were doing education-based work. Both are important and I do have the capabilities to do both. We'll see how it all plays out. Though I didn't get a chance to meet Jayeshbhai, I got to see MS and could feel the family atmosphere right away. I'm looking forward to spending more time there.

After lunch at MS, we headed to the train station to catch our train. Soon, I was engaged in a conversation with an uncle who was telling me about yoga and what it means to practice yoga. The lessons he was imparting were those that I had heard when I took yoga at Cal, but it was good to hear them again and it was def different (and more difficult) to hear it in hindi/gujarati.

Our conversation was cut short by the arrival of the train and then chaos began. It took an hour to figure out what our seats were, etc and for better or worse, we didn't have full sleeping seats for the 28 hour journey. After some rearranging we settled in- my first train ride for this trip.

The trip was not a disappointment. Typical India style, we played Antakshari with 8 others atop the loft beds and shared food with our new found friends heading to Dehradun to get married. The trip would not have been complete without the adorable babies and conversation with Vivek, an officer in the Indian army.

Day 3 (getting shorter because its now days later)
We had a great time laughing, singing and dancing with the hotel manager's son in Barkot. It was very interesting walking to Yamontri with my cousin, who has never has been to the mountains before. Through her awe and amazement, it was like seeing certain things for the first time again. Post on science and religion has more about being in Yamnotri itself.

Day 4/5 Gangotri
Traveling were spent in appreciation of the beauty that I was surrounded by and the enginerd in me observing the valleys, rock structures, terraces and set-up of villages, etc. (for reflections on these observations see water v earth and the valleys)

Day 5 - gaumukh
Day trip to Gaumukh on foot and on a pony. Pony riding was a not so pleasant experience in terms of the aches and pains. I crossed the raging Ganga on a pony, something that cannot be done on foot without a bridge). Meet a couple from Ahmedabad on the way (one of the three families we crossed paths with several times). I did a lot of the walking in solitude, which was very refreshing and overall enjoyable experience. My walking alone, I could walk in silence and really observe the nature around me and my reactions to what I was surrounded by. Fearlessness was one of the topics of contemplation. The rapid and continuous mental activity is slowly diminishing and the gaps of silence are growing. Even when I was walking alone, I was never alone in the sense that countless others were also making the trek. Salutation of Jai Bhole were consistently exchanged and one felt apart of a larger picture. Each person came for their own reasons, but we each are connected, despite not knowing names or faces, by our walk to Gaumukh.

There were beautiful purple Himalayan flowers as we moved higher up en route and right next to the Ganga. The photos don't do it justice. Wild flowers of all colours marked the trails.

I would love to come back with friends to go trekking/backpacking in the region. As I walked, I could imagine a bunch of tau bates go on a trekking trip here.

Day 7/8 - kedarnath
We arrived in Gaurikund at noon, which mean it was too late to walk to Kedarnath if we wanted to arrive before dark. So we made the 14km trek on horses (not ponies) through the heavy drizzle and mist that sets in daily. At times, it felt like we were in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, since there was zero visibility and we were making our way through mountains. By the time we made it to the top, we were cold and wet and ready for some garam chai. My rain jacket served me very well and my upper bottom was completely dry, while my legs took a while to warm up. On the way up, we also crossed paths with the family from Indore, who mom had met on her way to Yamnotri.

In the morning, we did darshan in the warmth of the sun at a South Indian style temple set against a gorgeous backdrop of snowcapped peaks. The walk down, I could actually see the Mandakini following alongside the trail and fell in love with the terrain.

Day 10 - valley of the gods
In Badrinath, I got a chance to sit for an extended period of time in a temple. I cannot verbally describe the power of the vibrations that I experienced.

By this point, we had traveled enough on foot/horse that I knew I would not be able to convince my family to visit the Gurudwara and valley of flowers that were atleast 18km off road. If it is to be, then perhaps another trip to Badrinath will be arranged for these purposes. But if anyone goes to Badrinath, include an extra day or two to visit these places.

Day 11 rishikesh/hardiwar
Hardiwar- there is a temple on every corner and every street of the city. The art work is absolutely incredible There are statues and 3D depictions of so many stories and people found in Hinduism. The Bharatiya Mandir is incredible. It a temple dedicate to Bharat Mata or Mother India. Each floor has a room filled with statues. On the top floor are prominent gods (and their consorts), the second floor (from top down) is dedicated goddesses, the third floor is that of saints (Vivekananda, etc), the fourth floor to prominent men in Indian history (Gandhi, Bhagat Singh), the fifth floor is prominent women (Mirabai, Jhansi ki rani, a catholic nun, whose name I can't remember, etc), the sixth floor has a painting for each state depicting the prominent structures, people and cultural attributes of the state (for ex. for Punjab- the Golden temple, bhangra, bhagat singh, etc), finally the last floor or bottom floor has a large statue of bharat mata with a beautiful passage on how all the rivers of different cultures and religions flow through one land and we are unified by a common heritage. I would have loved to take pictures, but that's not allowed.

Hardiwar is also the starting point for a Ganga Yatra (see land of pilgrims) so we saw countless people, mainly men, carrying containers of the Ganga jal ( Ganga water), walking home.

Day 12 mathura/govardhan/gokul
I visited Vraj, the most significant pilgrimage area for Vaishnav (devotees of Krishna). It is the land where Krishna was born and raised. I got a chance to see the night aarti of the Yamuna river, in addition to playing in the sand that Krishna played in centuries ago. It is said that the sand has a lot of power because Krishna played in it and if one attempts to remove any from the site then you will not be able to leave (your mode of transport will face difficulties, etc). My cousin tried to take some years ago and their bullocks would not move until they threw the sand away. There used to be soooo much Ramanreti (literally meaning "playing sand"- aka the sand in which Krishna played), but now they have build huts for saints and expanded the temple grounds, leaving a small area of sand. I wonder how much will remain in a few years or decade.

We also went to Govardhan, the famous mountain which Krishna held upon his pinky to provide the entire village with shelter when Indra, the lord of rain, showered down an endless storm. To circumvent the mountain, one must walk over 15km. Imagine how tall the mountain was. I say was because it is said that the mountain becomes lower as the burden of sin upon the earth grows. Today the mountain can be considered to a be a wide hill. It has dropped significantly in height in the 10 years that have passed from when my cousin last visited (I don't remember its height from my last visit). We circumvented the mountain barefoot and in the rain. The day before we arrived, over 2 lakh (200,000) people were circumventing the mountain . Circumventing the mountain that one should perform when visiting Govardhan. It is considered to be even better if one can do with milk. So I held a clay pot, with a hole at the bottom, filled with milk in one hand and a pot filled with dhoop (smoke from ??) in another. As the pot began to run out, a man cycling alongside us would fill the pot. I partially did the parikrama (circumventing) in honour of my paternal grandparents, who are great devotees of Krishna. While I did the parikrama with milk, my mom did it with candy. As she sat on a wooden cart attached to a bicycle, she handed out candy to all the beggar children along the route. I personally think that that parikrama is worth more in terms of good karma. The thought that came up when I saw the amount of milk I would need was give it to the children instead of spilling it on the earth. Personally, I am becoming more critical of the need of certain rituals and rites. There is power in Govardhan parvata (mountain) to which I bow down, but in my mind, instead of offering gallons of milk to the mountain, offer a little to the mountain (to use in the ritualistic bathing of the stone that is used to represent the mountain) and then give the rest of the milk which you want to offer to the hungry. God is within each individual so are we not offering God milk by giving it to the needy?

Day 13 delhi
Spent 7 hours in Delhi , mainly in one shopping in one shopping area and the train station. I got to see Abhinav and how modern/Americanized Delhi is. Also got to see Guru Dev Mandir.

The Yamuna and Ganga

Two of the holiest rivers in India. Upon the banks of one, Krishna played and the other washes away the sins of anyone that bathes in it (even the dead). The Yamuna and Ganga, respectively, hold great significance to the Hindu masses. My mother took bottles of Ganga jal back to Toronto so that she can give a few mL to families when one dies. Such is the power of the Ganga. Thousands upon thousand of dead bodies are placed in the Ganga each year because of the belief that She opens the doors to heaven. (In fact, the government recognizing that it cannot stop the practice, has placed flesh eating tortoise in the river to eat the dead bodies and reduce pollution – side enginerd fact =)

There are striking differences between the rivers and its valleys. The Yamuna is fairly clear and blue, while the Ganga even at its source is turbid and brown to large large volumes of dirt. It seems very surprising that the Ganga is so "dirty" until you notice the differences in the landscapes through which each river passes.

The Yamuna Valley (or valleys I should say)
Beautiful mountains all around, reaching up and touching the skies, the peaks only obscured by cotton candy clouds hung from the heaven against the backdrop of blue skies, while the sun shines brightly upon the scene. The valley reminds Yosemite, but there is one big difference- the habitation of the valleys. All along the sides of the mountains, terraces have been cut away (I can only imagine the effort it took). Each terrace slightly different in appearance due to the level of water and growth of different produce. From the valley floor to 4/5 of the way up, terraces line the mountains, like stairs for giants, interspersed with homes. Innovation in irrigation practices that have been developed long ago are what I was fortunate enough to see first hand. The river curves her way through the mountains and one can only marvel at how the river has shaped the valleys through which she passes. The river meanders and braids its way amidst the terraces and rocks. Sometimes gently, sometimes with great noise and vigour alluding to its power.

The Ganga Valley
The Ganga valley was striking and beautiful, but in a different form. While the mountainside was terraced, it was to a much lesser degree. Rockslides were much more prevalent. It was as if someone grabbed a piece of the mountain and tore it away from the rest, leaving a huge gap amidst the trees and greenery. Thus much more dirt and particulate matter makes its way into the river. At its source, the first 2-3 km of terrain are barren. The only life that can be found are beautiful purple flowers that grow amongst the dirt and rocks. Even the glacial from which the Ganga emerges is full of dirt and could be misinterpreted to be a mountain of dirt instead of ice. In the picture of the river, you cannot even distinguish between the river and land as the waves are still.

Both rivers and valley did not cease to amaze me. Nature has a way of humbling individuals through its grandeur and power. When one looks at nature and attempts to fathom on the landscape came into being, the events in our lifetime do not hold any significance to time the earth has existed. Yet, as a species, we have changed so much about the earth we live in (but that's a topic for another day).

The mountains with its serenity and power are incredible. After being in the mountains (we stayed in motels in cities, but we didn't explore the cities), coming back to hardiwar/rishikesh and the cities and crowd in general was overwhelming and left a desire for the serenity and power of nature. Maybe I won't work in the slums and work in the villages only to be aware of the noise of the urban world. We'll see.

A land of pilgrims

The story of the Fat Man Walking took America by surprise. Why would some want to walk from California to New York? The story of Terry Fox is still an inspiration to countless of people. Running a marathon is considered a large achievement for many and something inconceivable for countless more.

North America provides a great background with which to contrast what I call the land of pilgrims. Visiting the chota char dham (small four holy sites, the main four holy sites involve traveling the entire country); I resolved to walk as much as possible. Yamontri is a 12 km route roundtrip from the closest car accessible village. To visit Gaumukh from Gangotri is an 18 km one-way and Kedarnath lies 14 km away from the closest place you can drive to (Gaurikund).

For me the walking meant carrying sufficient supply of water and food, wearing hiking boots and breathable clothing, all things typical of a North American going on a hike. Walking would take longer than horseback or a doli (four people carrying you on a palanquin), but it would be doable nonetheless. As I walked, all the preparations and comforts I needed to walk seemed laughable. Amidst the walkers, I def was one of the odd ones out. There were grandfathers and grandmothers walking barefoot or in sandals with simply the aid of a walking stick. Women walked with bags on their heads as they climbed to God's shrine. The food/water I brought along – not really needed considering there were canteens every km or so, but then again, we didn't need to stop at these places for refreshments. While I was on horseback on my way to Kedarnath, covered with a raincoat and every so often complaining of the cold setting into my legs due to the excessive dampness of my clothing, people walked through the mist without much protection from the wet or cold. While I would reach the destination before it became dark, many of these people would arrive well after darkness sets. Some walked because of sheer devotion, others because a horse or doli was simply financially not viable. Whatever their reason may be, their dedication is highly admirable and inspirational.

By far, the place where I became most aware of this land of pilgrims is Gangotri. While I made my way on horseback/foot to Gaumukh, I crossed paths with well over 200 pilgrims dressed in orange shorts and orange t-shirts with Lord Shiva picture across the chest. From all across the country, despite it not being "high pilgrim season", hundreds upon hundreds are arriving in trucks to Gangotri. They walk to Gaumukh, Ganga emerges from glacial rock, collect two containers of the holy water, which their strap to their stomach and walk back to their homes on foot, where they will offer the water to their temple deity. They will walk miles upon miles on foot, typically covering 30-40 km in day. A vehicle will follow the pilgrims carrying their clothing, etc, while the pilgrims simply carry water and walking stick. Given the sheer number of people doing this type of pilgrimage every 30-40 km, there is a rest area, where they can all sleep/rest. Canteens along the roads have special areas outside where pilgrims can hang their water. From Gaumukh, pilgrims would carry the containers in dupatta type shawl that has a pocket on either end to hold each jug of water. For the pilgrims who make this pilgrimage from Haridwar, they carry the way on either end of a pole, which is decorated with pictures, flowers, etc (see the pictures). The contraption is heavier, but the road is also straight. Most of the pilgrims participating in either one of these walks were male and in their twenties or older. In Gaumukh though, I did see one boy who was approx 6 years old! No matter how tired you were when you saw him, your fatigue melted away when you saw his smile and heard him say Jai Bhole!, which is the typical greeting you would say to others as you crossed their path.

One of the best parts about visiting all these places was the sheer devotion that one got to experience and see. As we neared Yamontri and came across the steepest part of the climb, made up of countless switch back, all one could hear was people yelling and chanting Jai Mata Ki. Pilgrims and those leading the horses alike filled with air with their chants and devotion, praising the Mother as their approached her abode. Every place, it was the same. If you ever felt that someone needed some encouragement or simply needed some energy, all one needed to do was say Jai Bhole to another pilgrim and the walk became that much easier.

The chote char dham and Hardiwar by no means the only pilgrimage sites in India. At every site you'll find countless people walking to reach God's abode. Indeed, there is a land of walking pilgrims, it would be India.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Remembering the Tau Bates

"Happy belated birthday"
"Where were you all weekend?"
"Camping, that's what I couldn't call earlier."
"You and camping, ya right."

A couple of years ago, this comment would have been correct. Aside from living in cabins for religious retreats and one real winter camping trip, my experience with the outdoors was fairly limited. I definitely was not the one who would plan a camping trip. Then three years ago, I became a Tau Bate and everything changed. Hiking, snowboarding, backpacking, we did it all. If I ever wanted to do something random or outdoorsy, I always knew I could mention it to some Tau Bates and get a group together.

As I climbed up to Yamnotri, walked/horsebacked my way to Gaumukh, I couldn't help but remember my Tau Bates. There was no morning food preparation or Karen with her endless supply of nourishment; no Zach with his map or Pokai with his camera; no discussions with Trent or bugging Ms. Diana; no Sanjay leading us through brush, claiming there is a clearing or shirtless guys at the top of the mountain. A different experience to say the least with my uncle walking portions alongside me in sandals, while I wear hiking boots; my mom on horseback (more like ponyback) and cousin in awe of the majestic mountainous landscape, which she has never seen before.

Over these walks, I recognized how much I had grown through all of our outdoor experiences. With a pack on my back with food and water, I walked with a good amount of ease, despite being "out of shape." Angela and all the other adventurous ones came to mind and I climbing rocks, just to see the view from the top.

"What do you eat?," my driver asked as the two of us venture past the others to get as close as possible to where the Ganga emerges from the glacial rock.
"You have so much energy and are going everywhere."
"I do this fairly often and I have a lot of friends, whose examples are my inspiration."

In Conversation with Vivek, Officer in the Indian Army

On our 28 hour train ride to Dehradun, we shared one of our seats with Vivek (last name???), an officer in the Indian army, who was heading home for a few days. Currently in Jamnagar for training, Vivek has been serving in the army for 5 years and spent 3 years in Jammu and Kashmir leading a company of soldiers.

People serve in different ways, here was the perfect opportunity to get a perspective on service and life from someone whose job literally is the serve and protect the country.

Why serve?
To help others.

Why the army?
My father was in the army and for as long as I could remember I too wanted to join. After completing my Bachelors and Masters in Commerce, I enlisted. I chose the army because as an officer I can influence/impact the lives of many people. For example, in J&K, one company of 30-40 people protects 10-20 km of mountainous terrain. Each person has their own criteria for what kind of job they want and what they want from their job, ie. money, certain types of responsibilities, etc. Being in the army satisfies my criteria.

What's your criteria?
Respect and the ability to help others.

Motto you live by?
Live in the present moment.

And how do you do that?
If I want to sleep, I sleep. If I want to read, I read. I minimize the things I leave pending for tomorrow.

You spoke about living, what about death?
It will be more comfortable than the life I live as an officer. (me -- ???) For example, in J&K, when on a mission, we might have to sit in camouflage behind a bush with our legs knee deep in snow for hours and there is nothing that we can do about it. We simply need to sit. The life of an army man is a difficult one. When death comes, it will come. All I can do in live in the present moment. There is no need to fear death.

What about killing?
On the front line, either you die or the person you are facing dies, in that moment, there really is no hesitation on what to do. And for harming innocent lives, the harshest punishment must be given.

What role does spirituality play in your life?
Have you read the Da Vinci Code? The thing about the Da Vinci Code is that it shows that is Jesus is human. He was a guide for people and provided many with direction, which was lacking in their lives. People made him into God But where does God reside? You're an engineer, you know about science. Where does God live? On Venus or Mars? We have yet to find the place in the stars where He resides. God is human. Each of us can achieve that state of "being" God/ Jesus had reached a very high spiritual place. Look at Hindu gods, each one was born and dies. To have godlike characteristics is a human capability. All these religions are all paths to attain that state or to know the Truth.

What is the Truth?
Its different for each person. What each person perceived is their own truth. For example, in flood relief, two people are in water and there is an open electric wire. I must decide if I am going to send in my men to save the victims. I won't because the truth is that if I do, they will die. I cannot kill two men like that. In that situation, that is my truth.

A few questions about India . What is India's greatest problem/challenge?
Overpopulation. It's the cause of all our problems. Poverty, lack of resources.

To address it?
Do what China did, but that can't happen here because India is a democracy.

India's greatest strength?
It's people.

Views on J&K?
It's all political. People in the villages don't have anything to do/are poor so they go to Pakistan, get arms and training and terrorize the innocent. It's partially created out of need and partially due to ego/financial incentives. Ie. A terrorist's mother is the most powerful woman in the villages. In J&K, the situation will improve when the people take action. When they stop seeing themselves as victims and do something. That's how the situation in Punjab changed also. When will the people do something? Who knows.

Last question comes back to service.
What are important things to consider when one wants to serve?
Two things are important:
1) That there is an actual need
2) What you are doing is appropriate
Before you decide to something, look around and get an idea of what the problems are, what potential solutions are, etc, then pick what you want to do. You can't just jump into something blindly.

Last question: what gets you through each day?
Knowing that I have helped another/been of service. If I have not, then tomorrow, I will do something to change that.


As I walk downwards, I look ahead at ground, choosing my path carefully. Unlike Arjuna, my gaze is not seeking a prey, and the periphery visual registers. The Ganga rages forward, a couple hundred feet below, less than one foot to my left and there isn't much between me and the cliff.

First thought: Watch where you step.

Second thought: One wrong step, and you fall and die.

Then an "encouraging" thought crosses my mind.

Yes, one misstep means death. If this is the day, then this is the day. There is no need to have fear. What is going to happen will happen.

The release of fears- one of the subtle changes post-Vipassana.
More calm and accepting attitude towards death- a recent development post Tuesdays with Morrie.

PS. riddle time. ID the story reference to Arjuna

Hygiene and Religion

The recognition of a large promoter of good hygiene practices, within at least the middle class, came as a somewhat of a surprise to me. But as I reflect even minutely on its role in my own life, it isn't surprising at all. Religion, at least what I know of Hindu sects, have promoted good hygiene practices for centuries.

One cannot enter a temple without bathing; every morning one should do puja (which means one has to bathe); one must wash one's hands after going to the restroom; after defecating, one cannot touch any puja/temple supplies (hence one has to bathe); one cannot eat before washing one's hands and all fruit/vegetables must be washed before consumption (the latter two at least being tenants of the Vaishnav dharma).

Frequent bathing, washing hands after going to the restroom and before eating and washing fruits and vegetables: sounds a lot like the hygiene practices that countless organizations around the globe are promoting, particularly to communities where waterborne diseases are widespread.

A subtle, yet not so subtle force teaching good hygiene practices- works for me.

Science and Religion

May 2006 – I was awarded a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

For the last four years, I have honed my skills in scientific methodology and understanding. The effect of this training has become very evident during this journey. Science v religion is a debate that persisted for eons. Is there common ground? Angels and Demons explores the convergence of these two, which is why I found the book interesting. If people say there are polar opposites, I say then there must be similarities because if they are opposites, without one you cannot describe the other. For me, science and religion are different ways of understanding the world around us. The untrained human mind cannot fathom, let alone grasp the realities of the universe. Science and religion provide people with means to do so. The differences in the realities the two present and the role of each in my life is what I've become more aware of.

Example number 1: Yamontri

Yamontri is located where the Yamuna River begins (close to at least). The Yamuna is one of the holiest rivers in India. The river is a manifestation of Yamuna Devi, a goddess in Hinduism, who is the daughter of Surya, the Sun God. Now the Yamuna begins high in the mountains, where is it cold. It is said that Surya recognized the challenges that would have to be surmounted and cold that would have to be endured by devotees in order to visit Yamonotri and consequently, created a hot Yamuna at Yamontri for devotees to bathe in, in addition to the cold Yamuna river. Hence in Yamontri, there is a cold and hot Yamuna.

We met a Brahmin family at Yamontri, who informed us that of the prasad that one takes from there. (When one visits a temple, one takes away prasad or something that has been offered to God as a blessing – typically its fruits or nuts, at Vaishnavdevi- another highly frequented mountain top site – money is the prasad one takes away). The prasad of Yamontri – cooked rice. Sachets of rice are placed into the hot Yamuna for 2 minutes. The power of the Yamuna is such, that it will be cooked in this time and is taken as prasad. As the uncle removes his sachets from the Yamuna, he remarks, "See, this is the power of Yamuna, a few feet away from us, she is ice-cold and here, she is capable of cooking this rice." In my mind, the scientist within me responds – it's a sulfur hot spring, something that can be found all over the world.

Countless times, I have observed the interplay between religion and science within me and around me. Ideas and beliefs are explained and/or observed and I find the scientist within me seeking an explanation. Other times, science attempts to explain a phenomenon and I am the one saying that there are some things that science should not even try to explain and that one should simply believe.

Ultimately, it is all about what one wants to believe. A photograph can be simply a picture to one, while it is the presence of God to another. Each person has their own beliefs, which by no means are stagnant. No belief or practice should be accepted or executed simply because another says so, but at the same time none should be outright rejected either. Without active dialogue and an open mind, an understanding of others' perspectives and opinions cannot be obtained.

Water vs Earth

The Ganga, Yamuna, Alakananda and Mandakini. Over the last 10 days, I ventured the valleys. From 1000m – 3500m above sea level, we drove up and down the mountains, traveling over 1500km in the Garhwal Himalayas.

The journey, like many others, made me appreciate my geology class. Sophomore year, spring semester, I used to describe my engineering course work as a rock class and water class. At that point, I literally was taking the class because I had to. I mean, I already knew about metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rock formation and who would want to go on a full-day field trip around the bay to look at rock structures? It was well after the countless hours of reading about earth processes that I began to appreciate the knowledge that I had taken for granted. Many times, not only on this trip, I have tried to identify the rocks that make up the landscape and feel some remorse that I cannot recall/name all the possibilities. If only I had my cheat sheet from our rock id test.

[Heather- which one is the zebra rock and which one only has specks? (I saw the non-zebra one on the way to Gaumukh)]

Call me an enginerd, but its cool to be able to understand how the mountains and valleys have formed. The recognition of the antiquity of the planet and the length of time it has taken for each feature to develop is quite humbling, while the understanding of the amount of change created by man within such a short time period is equally disturbing.

As I looked down at the river raging in the valley below me, I can't help but reflect upon the ancient battle between water and earth. The "small" river which lies hundreds of feet from the peaks of the mountains is the force that has created the valleys in the first place. Gently, yet persistently wearing away at the seemingly hard, immovable blocks of rock, forging its own path. The rocks and boulder, strong and sturdy, attempt to block its path, but ultimately, its resistance will diminish to that of gravel and sand which will flow along the river's path. It will take masses of water and years of resilience, but in the end, it will succeed. As wave upon wave crashes upon the rocks and mountain side, the water continues on its course. As drop after drop falls down to the earth, the rain takes with it, rocks and boulders down to the river bed. In this moment, it seems like the earth is the victor in the battle between water and earth, but ultimately, water will win the war.

[Footnote: Perhaps, viewing it as a battle is cynical, but the imagery is quite powerful. The ideas and thoughts continually change, I simply am taking note of those that cross the mind through the moments of my trip.]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back in Gujarat

Lots of posts coming as soon as all of them are completed in terms of typing them up and I get net access on my laptop.

What I did in a nutshell:

June 30- 28 train ride from Ahmedabad to Dehradun
July 2- left Dehradun for Yamnotri, stayed in Barkot for the night
July 3- Walked to and from Jankichatti? to Yamnotri (12 km roundtrip), close to where the Yamuna begins
July 4- Travelled from Barkot to Gangotri
July 5- Roundtrip from Gangotri to Gaumukh (where the Ganga actually emerges from glacial rock)- 36km round trip on pony and foot
July 6- Travelled from Gangotri to Gaurikund, stopped 4hr from Gaurikund
July 7- Got to Gaurikund at noon and took a horse to Kedarnath (on horse) through drizzle/rain- 14km
July 8- Walked back from Kedarnath to Gaurikund and made our way towards Badrinath, stopped in Joshimath for the night
July 9- Day trip to Badrinath, spent the night in Joshimath
July 10- Travelled to Rishikesh, spent the night in Haridwar
July 11- Travelled to Mathura
July 12- Did a milk parikrama around Govardhan Mountain (which is a hill now) - 15km, visited Ramanreeth (where Krishna played), saw Yamunaji's aarti
July 13- Spent a few hours in Delhi and board a 14 hr train back to Nadiad

I travelled the valleys and mountains, visited the city and valley of the Gods, went to the places frequented by saints, gods and goddesses. imagine the vibrations at these locations.

pages to come

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Rude or Courteous City

LAst week in Trishna, Sejal and I were discussing rude cities in the world. One of them mentioned a recent study of major cities around the world and found that NYC was the rudest. A couple of days, I was surprised to read on Quote of the Day that a Reader's Digest did a survey of 20 cities to measure their politness (can someone add the link as a comment since I don't have it on me right now). Interestingly, they found that NYC was the most courteous.

As we left for our trip to the Himalayas, unplanned and with a slight modification, my cousin and I tried the Reader's Digest test in Nadiad. As my cousin stepped out of the car at the medic store, she dropped our cousin's cell phone. The battery, sim card and cover went in different directions. Immediately, the two of us and the driver were peering into the dirt, trash and puddles for the sim card. Right away, people passing by and nearby asked what we were looking for. Over the course of the 10 minutes, 10 different people were helping us looking for the card! We didn't find the sim and finally we gave up and headed home after thanking out helpers. Luckily, we later found out that the phone didn't have a card to begin with! But nonetheless, our test was a success. Rude or courteous city? Nadiad no doubt is the latter.

I'll try to post during our 14 days trip to the Himalayas, but it's going to sparse. LOTS will be put up once I'm back.

Ps. met great people on the 24 hr train ride to dehradun and spent the morning at Manav Sadhna before leaving =)