day fourteen: big city, small girl

the sounds of the city. the big city. like being in new york or los angeles or chicago. people starting their day way earlier than in the other towns we have visited. normally we have the mornings to ourselves. quiet, empty. not here. although i did see a billboard that read, “say no to noise.”

by 7:30am, we are at the india gate on the shore of the arabian sea, about a block from our hotel…the regent hotel.

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and not only are we there, but so are several other people. as our yoga progresses in the center of the gate’s courtyard area, more and more faces begin filling the scene. tourists and chaiwalas. street sweepers and street sleepers.

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mumbai is cleaner than any other town we have experienced. i have seen actual garbage trucks here. there are always people sweeping up the sidewalks and alleys. now don’t go crazy and imagine some pristine ocd city…there is definitely dirt and trash, but the effort to keep the city clean is apparent.

the india gate stands right in front of the taj hotel that was attacked and taken over a few years ago. it is completely repaired and filled back up with guests. life goes on here. terrorist attack or not. destruction occurs. construction occurs. the cycle never stops. never pauses for emotional wallowing or human attachment. tomorrow comes after today. always.

time.

i just started reading the book, running on emptiness by john zerzan, due to my buddy zac’s suggestion many months ago. it is a pretty radical book analyzing the crisis of our time. the author rallies for an unmaking of the civilized world. looks at how technology has limited us in more ways than it has helped. unravels a lot of interesting arguments. he cites someone every other line, which is irritating but informative. i don’t know if i agree with all his thoughts, but it is definitely making me think.

chapter two: time and its discontents.

you know when you read something or see something that you have never seen before, and then you suddenly see it everywhere?

i read this chapter about time. the invention of the mechanical clock. life before that. life after that. our relationship to time. the second law of thermodynamics and looking at the possibility that evolution does not have a specific direction.

“time and tidy are related etymologically.”

and then, we walked around mumbai. clocks everywhere. watches for sale on every other cart. clocks hanging in store windows.

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a trip to victoria station (the famous huge train station in mumbai) and two huge clocks keeping the order.

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or trying. train stations are fun in any city. subways and trains. i could sit there are watch people all day. people running to catch their train. people realizing they are on the wrong train. people fighting their luggage. people hugging and kissing loved ones hello and good bye. people sitting. waiting.

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passing the time.
watching the time.

tick tick tick.

even this trip i have been tracking by time. counting the days and labeling them as they pass into memory. do the days really matter? no. next year, i will not care what day it was when i stared at the golden temple glowing against the sky’s darkness.

today we wandered. through the streets. through the train station. through the heat.

i am sticky and sweaty. it is in the 80s and super humid. my cheeks are sun-kissed and energy is being sucked out faster than i would like.

more water! i need to drink more water. do you see a trend? back to square one of my six month nutritional program with nathan mills. drink half your weight in ounces everyday. how many ounces are in a liter?

rows and rows of goods being sold. blankets spread out with even more trinkets and doodads. i want to look, but i also don’t. it is so much effort to not get ripped off. so much effort to collect materials. not to mention, my bag is reaching its limit and we still have nine days remaining.

we stopped to refuel with a sugar cane juice (with unexpected ice…don’t worry no one got sick) and then at a local restaurant on some side street.

then i zoned out. with fast wifi, i dug into work. knocked out a solid three hours of small tasks that had been acquiring. i missed some commotion outside near the india gate and taj hotel. apparently the french prime minister is in town. television trucks and crowds everywhere. or so i heard upon sybille’s return from her starbucks adventure to find free wifi (first starbucks we’ve seen).

i feel good. well rested. sort of on top of work. getting my fill of butterflies from this country. getting my fill of butterflies from home.

i do miss home though. i have now been traveling and living out of a suitcase since december 1. it will be nice to settle down for a minute soon. and eat some american food. i will have to admit that as much as the food is delicious here, i am definitely craving the normal sara diet.

the normal sara diet. hah. anyone who knows me well enough to know my eating habits is probably laughing at this.

yes there are mcdonalds in mumbai. no i have not eaten at one…yet. 🙂

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day thirteen: tapering on valentines

Yoga on the rooftop right after sunrise. The sun still glowing bright orange low in the sky. The morning prayers echoing over loud speakers throughout the town (I have a recording). Everything else still asleep but starting to wake up. Ready to become alive.

But I’m headed for a crash. In order to save myself, I decided to taper today. Like an athlete preparing for the big event. Rest my mind, my muscles, my camera.

It is Valentine’s Day, which means I have officially broken my curse. For the past three years, I have been in the midst of ending relationships. Not to say that they have been bad Valentine’s Days per se, but just not your standard roses and chocolates kind of moments. But, this year, my valentine is this amazing country and this year of self-discovery. March 2012 to March 2013, the year I took to focus on me. I decided to give myself the best Valentine’s gift of all, time to rest.

I know you’re probably thinking, Sara’s past few blogs have been about rest, and you’re right. I am exhausted. But today was perfect. I might have missed out on some interesting people, exciting scenes, and must-buy purchases, but I can always come back to Udaipur. I would rather take a day to recover that run myself into the ground.

So I lounged in the sunshine.

Sitting on the hotel’s perfect resting setup, I opened shop. Laptop. External hard drive. iPhone. iPod. My mobile office.

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Oh you thought I meant that I actually rested today? As in do nothing? Insert big belly laugh here. There was definitely play breaks throughout the day to catch up with someone who makes me smile and someone else who needed me to help her find her smile, but in general, I cleaned up the inbox and knocked out some deadlines.

And then it was time to say good bye to Udaipur, the city of lakes (man-made lakes), and our nice hotel keeper, Taakt aka Eddie. He was just so adorable. I still cannot get over it. As we were getting ready to go…

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Him: When you come back, you stay free. Or you want to stay at Lake Palace [really expensive hotel in the middle of the lake]? I take you there.

Me: Oh, you know someone there [in India, everyone knows someone who knows someone who does whatever you’re looking for]?

Him: Well no…

Me: How can I stay there then?

Him: Just close your eyes, and I’ll make this place there.

Hmmm. He speaks my language. Just use your imagination. I understand. I understand oh too well.

I close my eyes.

When I open them, we are at the airport. I managed to fit all my purchases thus far into the bags I brought. Success. I don’t know how much longer that will last. Some of you might end up with very small, foldable something or others as souvenirs. Or printed photographs upon my return. Or stories. I will give you all my imagination just as Eddie gave me his.

Close your eyes.

When you open them, we will be in Mumbai.

A city. A real city. With a skyline along the Arabian Sea. Couples getting their smooch on along the seashore. Hundreds of them. Is this normal? Oh yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

We sit in traffic in our “cool cab” (one with AC) but without the AC on. We start and stop, stuck in the bumper to bumper traffic. I think our driver needed a lesson from my dad: too many jackrabbit starts and stops are bad for the engine.

I did not expect such a massive city. I don’t know what I expected, but I was blown away. So much happening! Weddings (see photo below, yes that is for a wedding!), warnings, lights, so much.

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Teresa taught me a necessary word for Mumbai, sumundar, or ocean. I think I can remember that one.

An hour or so later (due to traffic), we finally arrive at our hotel, the Regent Hotel, a block from the water. We all hit the sack and sleep like babies. Valentine’s Day dreams of what is to come.

day twelve: the wax, now the wane

it was cold last night. we need more blankets. i awoke wrapped up like a mummy with the same cold nose i get when camping. turned my one blanket into a sleeping bag.

with the sun already in the sky, we head to the rooftop for some yoga at 7am. we each do our own thing.

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everyone seems a little run down today. we are all starting to wane. but we power through the day. eat breakfast, get dressed, and take some time to explore on our own. i decided to stay at the hotel and sit on the rooftop for a bit longer.

it seems like every country has its own hilly setting with colorful houses. we always compare in our heads. this looks like san francisco. this looks like valparaiso. our brain always searches for ways to label our experiences. relate them to something we have experienced.

this looks like udaipur. and only udaipur.

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i am trying to give each experience its own change to be experienced.

we took a walk with our tour guide through the streets to the jagdish temple of lord vishnu. a beautiful structure with stone engravings that caught my eye over and over again. such complexities to hinduism. a god or goddess for everything you could ever think of. how do you keep them all straight?

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and so many people that catch my eye over and over again. such complexities to humans.

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our tour guide was quite entertaining and well trained in asking questions to keep us engaged.

“how many colors in the rainbow?”

“what is the most important thing in life?”

two said breath. one said universal. he said love. i agree. love is the most important thing in life.

the people here are very loving and affectionate. men walk holding hands or arms around each other. even saw one man giving another a head massage randomly. there is no social stigma surrounding their love. strangers give me hugs and kisses. so simple to spread love.

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onto the city palace. lots of city palaces in india. this one is apparently the second largest in india. (i think they all say their palace is the largest.)

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we toured the walls, the shops, looked at the clothes.

“feel like home. just take and wear. if they ask you, just pay them.”

that was the advice our tour guide told me when i started glancing at the garments. oh india.

off to lunch at some swanky hotel restaurant that reminded me of a timeshare presentation. a quick stop for some sugar cane juice (yes, again). and then i crashed. hit the bed harder than i ever have. instantly asleep.

teresa and sybille went out for a sunset boat ride, but jasprit and i stayed and rested. i did head up to the rooftop to catch sunset, but otherwise, i gave myself time to rest. sleep, write, relax.

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tomorrow we fly to mumbai.

day eleven: udaipur by iphone

yoga. a hard morning for me. went to bed with a migraine. woke up in weird sort of disarray. my morning yoga was unfocused and completely disengaged. i just wanted to be sitting. or eating. i wanted to be anywhere but there. sometimes we have those days. days where we just cannot seem to center our mind, stop it from drifting into foreign lands of negativity.

breakfast helps. food always helps.

then we packed up and left our pretty palace to head back out on the road. to udaipur! so far here is our route (mumbai/bombay is next on the list after udaipur).

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another six hour trek in the van, but this time on much better roads. driving sort of sucks, but it also a great way to see the land. staring out the window at the people, the sugar cane fields, the colors, the dirt.

the travel is giving me time to get work done, write, and catch up on sleep. but the travel is also more taxing than i thought. it was so nice to have a home base in delhi. now its two days here, two days there. cram in the sights and head out on the road. there is only so much you can see in 25 days. i think we are doing a good job of making the most of our time.

we arrive in udaipur at dark and no one seems to know where the heck our hotel is. every taxi driver we ask shakes his head at us. nope. so, i do what i do best…whipped out my iphone. thanks google maps. you are magical. even though i love the authenticity and simplicity of rolling down your window, sometimes technology makes life easier.

the streets grow narrower and narrower. we literally have an inch on either side of us as we drive through the alleys. nearly knocking over parked motorcycles and scooters. and of course, being slowed down by the cows in the road.

animals roam free here. cows, pigs, dogs, monkeys, horses, donkeys, they walk next to me as i tour the cities. and yet, i rarely see animal poop on the ground. i remember the streets of argentina being cover in dog poop, but here, nothing. maybe it just dissolves into the dirt. who knows.

we finally find our hotel, the little prince. run by a nice young man who tells me his name is eddie. later i find out that it is actually not eddie. of course. he is a cutie though.

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this hotel is a definite change of pace from our palace. more like the places i am used to staying in. a sort of hostel kind of feel with only eight rooms. simple and gets the job done. but there is a super cozy lounge area with big futons and pillows. a great space to sit and write this blog.

and then there are the locks. the past two hotels we have stayed at have had these massive padlocks. i kept thinking about how someone could come and lock us inside of our room at any moment. good thing there are not a lot of pesky teenagers running around the hotels causing chaos.

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and then, there is the rooftop. i have finally joined the rest of india on the rooftops. you can see it all. i want a rooftop wherever i go from now on. such a great perspective to see from above. and to see the amazing sunsets.

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we are now moving south and you can tell. the sun is hot. the mosquitos are alive. the mountains are beautiful. the change of scenery is welcome, but is taking its toll. the sun drains my energy faster than i can replenish. water. i need to drink more water. but then i have to pee more. and peeing is not always easy. if i were a local, i would be fine. pee wherever i want. but finding a proper toilet can sometimes be a task when traveling.

but it is about the halfway mark. i am missing home, but excited to keep heading south. mumbai is sure to be an adventure and then onto ayervedic land for a few days. this will give us all time to recuperate. rejuvenate. relax.

day ten: jānanā

holy tourists. jaipur is definitely more fueled by tourism than delhi. there are 4.5 million people in jaipur and most of them work in tourism. well, i guess we will go and support their economy.

old jaipur is over 200 years old. new jaipur is only 60 years old. there seems to be the old version and the new version in every city in india. i suppose that is the case in most cities, but perhaps it is not so simply labeled, old and new.

we first headed to the amber fort and palace. we were planning on taking an elephant ride to the top, but the line was atrocious. why waste a couple of our precious hours in line waiting to sit on top of an elephant? so i just took pictures instead. apparently, there are normally 100 elephants, but today there was a parade somewhere else and 40 of the elephants were working that instead. working, yes working. all the elephants are actual employees of the tourism board.

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the fort is surrounded by the great wall of jaipur, 18 km long. and inside the palace is gorgeous. it is fun to close my eyes and imagine the space in the height of its beauty. mirrored work on the walls. jeweled ceilings. bright colors and sun streaming through the windows. women dressed in luxurious sarees and veils. white horses prancing with high knees. ahh to be part of the maharaja.

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you could have twelve wives. the king had twelve queens. when they started getting jealous and fighting, he built them each their own apartment. each apartment was connected by a secret passage way so that the king could come and go as he pleased without the other women knowing. oh and if he got bored with his wives, he could always visit his 19 harems.

oh and he could play with the monkeys too. that is what i would do.

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onto jantar mantar, the observatory full of huge stone instruments telling time and horoscopes by the sun and shadows. it is home to the largest sundial in the world, which shows time down to two second intervals. crazy to think about telling time before watches. crazy to see ancient technology still working.

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our driving to and fro became a bit crowded as thousands of muslims were let out of a very special mosque. some sort of holiday or festival. they all walked the main street back to their homes. cars at a standstill. it made for great people watching and photography.

a quick stop for fresh crushed sugar cane juice (our new group favorite). and a photo shoot with some local young indian boys. don’t worry, none of them were stolen.

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we finally made it to the city palace and eventually picked up a few more items at some local shops. i got to switch over and converse in spanish with one salesman. way easier to bargain when you know the language. i decided i needed to start trying to learn a little bit more hindi. so…

…i downloaded an app. first hindi word of the day: jānanā or knowledge. fun to say.

knowledge. i am gaining so much knowledge. exploring so much knowledge. our conversations in the car, over breakfast, have evolved and deepened. we get into heavy topics about religion and education. about the possible fall of some old structures to make way for new ideas. or old ideas from old cultures applied in new ways.

we are all on this earth together. there is a lot to learn from those who are outside our immediate circumference. i am glad to be exploring just a bit more of this big world.

day nine: fugitives in jaipur

a late start as our new driver takes us on a slight detour. nerhu park! not nerhu palace! oh well, driving around delhi at 7am can be an adventure in itself. we made it to the park and practiced on some boulders and in between some palm trees. my hamstrings welcomed the stretching. my body is in a constant state of confusion here. am i tired, am i awake? am i sore, am i strained? movement. it makes it all better.

we pack in some movement and then check out and settle into our van for the long haul to jaipur in the state of rajasthan. bump bump bump we go along the grand trunk road which apparently goes all the way to europe. however, if i had to drive a road in that condition all the way to europe, i might need to stop and vomit every once in awhile.

a quick stop for lunch and oh, surprise! hello mr. camel sitting by the front door, i did not see you there. camels. they are everywhere. ugly yet regal. scary yet calming. their big faces reminding me of the neverending story. we are in a foreign land.

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and we are fugitives.

our driver gets us safely to jaipur, the pink city. every building painted an orangey-pink color as a surprise for prince albert’s visit. and then it stuck.

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and then we ran a red light.

normally, running a red light in india means nothing. red is more like a blinking yellow. but with our delhi plates and tourist faces, the police take advantage of the situation. our driver was pulled over and had to go talk to the popo. we stared out the window in anticipation. he returned to the car, pretended to look for his documents, then glanced in his rearview, and hightailed it into drive.

and we were on the run.

they never found us. we safely arrived at our palace hotel after stopping to ask a few local taxi drivers how to get there. that is the mapquest of india. roll down your window when you see a bunch of tuk tuk drivers and ask away. then, try to remember as much of the directors as you can. when you forget, just ask again. and always end with, “ok, thank you boss.”

now, i am not kidding when i say palace hotel. there are a lot of old palaces from the maharaja that have been converted into hotels. our room was covered in beautiful artwork of krishna. we had a balcony overlooking a courtyard. there was a pool and fabulous nooks and crannies full of decorative magic.

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and then i found my own magic.

kesar pista. holy crap. move over gulab jamun, there is a new favorite dessert in town. we headed to the rooftop restaurant to enjoy some live music and dancing and dessert. just imagine ice cream. saffron, rose water, and pistachio ice cream. the flavor lingers on your tongue for hours. jasprit and i are milkaholics. we ate our kesar pista ice cream and followed it up with a glass of kesar (saffron) warm milk. too much dairy you say? never!

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we danced the night away with the decorated girls spinning their skirts and snapping their wrists. balancing five pots upon her head as she sways over the floor. of course, they invited us up to dance with them. no video, but we need to work on our moves i can assure you.

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to bed in our royal suites. my mind felt like i was in this scene from one of my favorite childhood movies, “a little princess.” going to watch this as soon as i get home (yes, i own it). who wants in?

good bye delhi. hello jaipur.

day eight: catching back up

so clearly this blog a day thing is starting to become difficult as we travel more and clients need more work completed, but here we go. i have opted to stay behind on a sunset boat ride to play catch up. catch up on me. this blog. my sleep. my journal. my calm.

the past four days have been full of travel and new towns. not necessarily a ton of exciting adventure, but lots of sights and sounds and time to tune into my surroundings.

so rewinding back to where i left off. day 8.

we ended up back in delhi after our short trip to amritsar. arrived back to our hotel at 1am and woke up at 7am and spent our last morning doing yoga in lodhi garden. such a sacred space. welcoming and beautiful. jasprit says we won’t have another place like this to practice in throughout the rest of the trip. the sun gently nudging the fog away over the frosted roses row by row.

a slow day. we head to hamayun’s tomb and tour the pre-cursor to the taj mahal. the buildings here are so spectacular. and to think the amount of time it took to build them.

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the process of construction doesn’t seem to have changed. everything in repair, but with all the time in the world. a couple guys with shovels and miles of unearthed road. one day. it will all come together one day. no one is in a hurry to find order. i like it. it feels more comfortable. a space to be yourself and not so put together all the time.

when hunger struck, we headed to bengali market’s competition, nathu’s sweethouse (literally across the street). i got a mini-meal. we are starting to figure out the amount of food we need to order to not have leftovers between the four of us. usually three dishes is plenty. add in some rice and bread of sort. i am still in dessert heaven here. sugar sugar everywhere. in coffee, in chai, in milk. i have to be careful to not send myself into a sugar coma. but i think i am finding the balance of delicious treats and healthy eats.

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we ended the night with a trip back to janpath street for some more shopping. i found my way into a paper store and walked out with several new journals and a set of fabric greeting cards for $20. an amazing change from the $100 i usually drop when i walking into my favorite paper store in portland. it is heaven running my fingertips over the handmade sheets of paper. all sorts of colors and textures and patterns.

a hot chocolate as my night cap and to sleep we go. packed up and ready to move onto our next destination.

day seven: awakened

every morning the sikh holy book, the guru granth sahib, is transported from its protected storage space into the golden temple around 4am. an impressive processional with care and precision, ritual and tradition.

it is cold at 4am. walking barefoot on marble is cold at 4am. you can see your breath. you can feel your toes going numb one by one. but it doesn’t matter.

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ik onkar is the symbol, universal oneness. we take a seat in the golden temple. i am shown to a space amidst about 30 indian women sitting crossed-legged near the durbar sahib, or altar space/court. i squeeze in and immediately the cold disappears. the warmth of their bodies surrounds me. the warmth of their words surrounds me. i shrink down inside myself. for an hour we sit listening to the music by the raagis. the beating of the tabla and eerie cadence of the harmonium. letting the sounds penetrate the darkness of dawn.

and then, the processional begins. the holy book makes its way to the court. wrapped in crisp, clean white fabric. topped with decorations and flowers. it is carefully unwrapped layer by layer, cleaning off each layer with extreme precision. hymns being recited by multiple rotating men or jathedars. and finally, it opens. we listen. we stand. we sit. we pray. we exit.

you can watch the whole thing here, everyday.

without asking this time, jasprit translated the message of the day to me: you must first realize that you are in everything. you cannot satisfy your hunger until you see yourself in others.

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others. every gurdwara has a langar hall which serves a free meal to anyone who wants one. the one at the golden temple serves 10,000 people per day. we joined for some chai and biscuits. we stopped and watched them make three bean lentil dal in huge vats being stirred with big metal oars. the scent of heaven and smoke filling the air.

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as we exit the golden temple area, it is still dark. i never did see the gurdwara in the daylight. probably better that way, it was so magical in the darkness.

we stop at a small restaurant just outside and get some chai. i opt for a glass of warm milk. jasprit informed me the night before that amritsar has the best milk in the world, so of course the night before i went to bed with a warm glass of milk. the milk here is from water buffalo though. there is definitely a bit of a different taste, but not much.

we drank our chai and got a personalized demonstration on how to make stuffed naan in the tandori oven. every time i see a tandori oven, i think of my good friend aisha and my trip to visit her in ohio in fifth grade. we went to an indian restaurant, and i remember watching the naan slapped up against the hot sides of the oven, the dough bubbling and making my mouth water.

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it still does the same thing. sara ❤ naan.

back to the hotel. time to actually start the day. it is 8am.

rest time. for me this means pump out an e-newsletter, take a business call then a personal call on google hangout, and transfer everyone’s photographs to my external hard drive. seven days, three cameras, over 10gb of photos. eat breakfast and get ready to head out on the town.

a quick stop at the museum of maharaja ranjit singh who donated the money to turn the golden temple gold and was a powerful leader. lots of dioramas that were informative but slightly creepy.

and then into town we go.

jasprit and teresa always buy fabric for the russayog yoga studios from one store in amritsar (they are local celebrities everywhere we go in india). sardar pagri house, a fabric store that has been open for 65 years. shelf after shelf of bright colored fabrics typically meant for the turbans worn by sikh men. at the russayog studio, we create doras with the fabric, and they are used in many of the postures and exercises. i don’t know what i am going to do with nine meters of fabric, but i had to buy some. blue, green, and purple.

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and what goes best with a bunch of beautifully colored fabric? new shoes!

we switched into girl mode and each found a pair of super cute punjabi slip on shoes. yep, i said it, SUPER CUTE. when i am home and you see them on my feet, please refrain from stealing them off my feet like dorothy.

and what goes best with new shoes? a new churidar (indian dress)!

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and what goes best with a new churidar? sugar cane water with lemon and ginger (best drink ever)!

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after we were shopped out, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and head back to the train station. six hours back to delhi. another day in delhi and off to jaipur on sunday morning.

thank you amritsar. you are beautiful. i will be back.

day six: welcome to amritsar

brace yourself to compare all preconceived expectations, and then, nothing. an indian train station at 7am is much like any other train station at 7am. people stopping at the snack bar to get their chai. waiting with their bags to board the train. a really loud “ta-da” video game-esque sound effect playing after every announcement over the loud speaker, oh wait, what? jasprit warns me that this is not ALL indian train stations. just wait until mumbai (hopefully this means that there will be a bollywood dance scene like in slumdog).

now granted, we were in the business class section. our names were even on the list. s. schneider in hindi. the cheaper seats get a bit more crowded i hear.

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but for us, the train ride from delhi to amritsar was a breeze. six hours for me to crank out some serious graphic design and jam out to the civil wars (yes brian, they have been on repeat for the past few months) while gazing out the window pretending i could actually see things through the dirty, foggy glass. bottled water, expired yet delicious mango juice box, meal, and tea service included. sounds great right? it was, until you have to pee. fast-moving, bumpy trains make squatting over a hole in the ground quite an interesting endeavor. good thing i have good balance and a dirtbag soul.

we arrive in amritsar around 2pm. jasprit scouts out sunny, our driver for the next two days, and we pile into his old white land rover. onto our hotel, hong kong hotel. we settle in and ask for a good restaurant to grab lunch. restaurant! phissh. they will cook for us and bring it to the room. what do we want? jasprit has been the best personal food-selecter ever. basically, i cannot tell you anything i have eaten but i can tell you it has been delicious. simple yet spiced to perfection. usually involving some form of bread, potatoes, and dal (porridge-like dish). and for me, the best part is that i get to eat with my hands. when in rome!

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or i suppose when in india…go to see one of the most entertaining traditions, the opening of the gates every evening at the pakistan-india border. hundreds of people come and fill the stands. pakistanis on their side and indians on their side. everyone cheering and dancing and chanting and waving flags. guards dressed up to the nines and putting on quite the show. each country’s guards have a march off complete with over 6’ men high-kicking to their noses, not even kidding. a true celebration of the calm that is currently forming between the two bordering countries.

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the highlight? of course it was the school children. indian boys are the best dancers in the world. scientifically proven. you heard it here. put on a bhangra beat and watch the freestyle explode. if only i had as much rhythm as they do. don’t worry, there is video.

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the runner up? sybille and i getting to run in front of the crowd with a huge indian flag. what makes this moment even better was that teresa grabbed my camera, with a zoom lens, and captured this amazingly close up shot of my extreme joy. flag? what flag?

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walk back to the car with the masses snapping photos of every indian child i could along the way.

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enjoy a quick chai and head back to amritsar (30 minute drive) for the main attraction, harimandar sahib, better known as the golden temple. amritsar is in the state of punjab, a predominantly sikh population.

the domes shined in the darkness, and as we removed our shoes and covered our heads, i did what i always do, asked my guru jasprit to translate the message of the day to me: remember how valuable you are and don’t let things distract you from that. keep universal oneness as your focus.

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have you ever caught yourself holding your breath? visit the golden temple. you just might.

a large pond surrounding a building completely covered in gold. its reflection sending orange rays over the ripples. punjabi words singing throughout the air. a sense of serenity. the darkness engulfing my mind, the gold enlivening my soul. i barely feel the cold marble under my feet. i completely forget my bladder is ready to burst.

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close your eyes. the language is foreign yet you know what they are saying.

day five: food and reflection

more than usual, this trip is turning my skin inside out. my normal outgoing demeanor has become introspective and reflective. a connecting to my surroundings that silences my desire to be social. i sifted myself through the day. a late start after a late night allowed me to get an hour of work in before breakfast. i am finding a good balance of work and play. now i just need to find a space to rest.

as the day warmed up, we strolled around qutab minar, a very tall tower (238 ft.) that was build for the victory attached to quwwat-ul-islam mosque.

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almost instantly, flocks of school children were surrounding us asked for their photos to be taken. boys and girls in their uniforms strutting their stuff in front of the lens. showing off their english and handshakes before abandoning all barriers and smothering us with hugs and kisses. i read an article once that you should get ten hugs per day. i am pretty sure i am set for the next week with the amount of squeezes shared. such attitude as they strike a pose. laughter as the run away and push their friend up. even the shy ones eventually got in the action.

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and speaking of action, our next stop was full of it. we went for a short walk through the garden of five senses or lover’s park (a nickname whose origins became apparent fairly quickly). teenagers sprawled throughout the park with backs pressed against trees and lips locked. an entertaining spectacle as we ate our kulfi (ice cream) from a clay pot. the pots are just sun-dried, so when you are done, you can just throw them back to the earth to dissolve back into mud. a climb up amphitheater stairs and a brilliant view of delhi from above.

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up high.

i always find myself looking up high. at the telephone wires, clouds, tops of buildings. my brain never expects to see humans, but in india, you do.

look up.

there is always someone hanging out on the rooftop. every building topped with people enjoying being up high, just like us at that moment.

and what is the one way to get even higher in india? no. the answer is good food. not just good food, but the best food in the country (colby, this paragraph is for you by demand). that’s right, the whole country. jasprit is friends with a man whose son lives in ann arbor. he owns park balluchi restaurant, a restaurant in the middle of a deer park in delhi. the indian tourism bureau voted him the best restaurant in the country for five years in a row. indian cuisine with afghanistan influences. wow. nothing like dining with the boss. course after course came out cooked to perfection. fish and chicken and dal and naan. finish it all up with one of my favorite desserts, gajar kahalva, a sort of carrot cake pudding. we left with full bellies and happy hearts.

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best way to digest such spectacular cuisine…walk it off…at the lotus temple, a bahá’í house of worship shaped like a huge lotus flower. an impressive feat of architecture inside and out. simple yet complex. it sort of reminded me of the sydney opera house (from the photos i have seen anyways). a moment to reflect in the massive structure. a silent space for meditation.

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i decided to stay in at night. my energy was low and walking around karol bagh to do some shopping seemed too taxing. i sent teresa, jasprit, and sybille out with a mission to bring me back a long sleeve top, and i took some time to myself in the hotel. took a shower, caught up with a friend, did some work, and wrote in my journal. i think finding your moments to be alone is one of the most important things a person can do when traveling with a group. every minute has a plan, and it is about recognizing how you need to spend your unplanned minutes to stay sane.

my companions returned with gifts galore. three hilariously awesome long sleeve shirts (dan, think something along the lines of the ones you always bring me back from japan), a super cute turquoise top, and two pairs of leggings. i officially ordained them as my personal shoppers from here on out.

the gift of giving is so simple and goes such a long way. i am grateful to be surrounded by such thoughtfulness.