India Part 2 – Cool Uttaranchal

June 2, 2008 at 12:47 am | Posted in India | 1 Comment

April 7 – April 27

We had travelled for 10 days in India and after looking at the map we realized we only covered a very small portion of the country. We spent a few days in Delhi recuperating and a couple of nights at Pizza Hut while deciding where to venture next. Without a doubt, it would include our driver, Rajeev, and our nice air conditioned truck. Since our plans to Nepal and Tibet had been dashed, we decided to head north in an attempt to get as close as we could to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas and we read that Uttaranchal had some pretty scenery so, we headed north.

The state of Uttaranchal is mostly agricultural and the photo opportunities of life as it always has been were plentiful. Our first stop was Corbett Tiger Reserve. Rajeev had been there just the week before and had seen 10 tigers. He used his connections to successfully get us lodging deep in the middle of the park so we wouldn’t have to travel over an hour in and out of the park each day. We went on safari in the evening and in the morning and saw elephants, deer, birds, pointy-nosed alligators and jackals – but not one tiger. We heard a tiger roar, we saw tiger footprints but didn’t see one. But the boys got to stand up in the jeep while it was moving so that made up for the disappointment. They thought they were getting away with murder in the lawless Indian jungle! We decided that not seeing the tiger was a lesson for us because if we do not do anything to save the endangered tiger, no one will get to see them anymore and now we know what that would feel like (it appeased them at the time).

Next we headed into the hills to Nanital which is the vacation spot for Indians and includes all the typical relaxing activities one would partake if they were in, say, New Hampshire…boatride on the lake, shopping, playing in the arcades and horseback riding. We stayed in a hauntingly empty, old mountain villa in an oversized, chilly (higher altitude) room that Rajeev had arranged because it had plenty of grass for the boys to run around on (and they did). We saw old women carrying 50 lbs of firewood on their back down the mountain road and we saw maimed children begging for food (the boys “sponsored” one of them for the day) while we tried to enjoy the niceties yet really couldn’t as we observed how difficult it was for others. We learned to not notice the condition of the sheets nor whether the toilet was western or squat. We watched as women rolled dried cow dung into bricks to make fuel for the fire and watched as men labored to bicycle dozens of kilometers with heavy supplies piled high on the back. We learned to accept that litter is the last thing on the minds of India and that Indian people are the hardest working people we had ever seen. The food is incredibly fresh and oranges are known as sweet lemons and young men walk hand-in-hand because they are friends. We learned to pronounce our w’s as v’s and v’s as w’s (Oliver was known as Oliwer) and we learned to take pictures from a fast moving vehicle. We learned to appreciate vegetables in this vegan land and look forward to mattresses without lumps. And most importantly, children were regarded as gifts from the gods and treated accordingly.

We continued on the dizzying road northwards for hours and hours, we took time to contemplate life and the difficult questions such as, “Do snails dream?” and “Who invented infinity?”. At our next stop in Kausani we were rewarded during the dawn hours to a front row seat at our guesthouse of the Himalayas laid out before us 180 degrees across our view. Even the boys were impressed and gladly rose for the occasion. Our guesthouse clung to the mountainside surrounded by rice paddies and 15 member families living in one room amongst the rubble and debris of the harsh mountain lifestyle. Once again, for the boys, the grandeur of the Himalayas was eclipsed by the presence of two black labrador puppies. We are always reminded while travelling with our children that the world is full of things, great and small, foreign and familiar. While we tried to converse the boys simply befriended the neighborhood kids by creating a zoo from small plastic animals and cages made from a donated box of wooden toothpicks from our friendly waiter. They could not converse. This was a big deal for the local children who were seen playing with corn husks for entertainment earlier in the day. We took photos and everyone was anxious to see their image on the camera. We were promptly invited to the family “compound” to meet the elders. We climbed down the muddy, rocky “path” down to their string of rooms. The mother offered us tea and everyone was delighted to have us. The boys were excited to meet the brand spanking new calf and the grandfather of the clan who, with disabled legs, hasn’t walked since he was 30 was excited to have company.

We also went for a 6 mile trek through the hills with a local guide and passed through some remote hill towns with local villagers doing laundry in the river, scything the rice, plowing the fields and bringing supplies home by donkey or on their own backs. Children were tending the herds while groups of girls were taking refuge from the sun under a tree. It was a fantastic walk. We saw a lot of weddings on our adventure. April and May are the popular months for weddings. It was still phenomenal to us that the marriages are arranged and we saw many a somber bride having to leave the security of her family to start a new life with her new acquaintance, her husband. However, there were weddings in almost every town with adorned cars, horses and rented spaces with colorful gateways and streamers. The winding roads in the mountains were too much for our fragile stomachs so we changed our itinerary to head towards the lowlands sooner than originally planned and rested in spiritual Rishikesh and Haridwar. Here we observed the rituals upon the sacred Ganges (Ganga) river and witnessed the unfortunate throngs of people who migrate here for unconditional support from the spiritual sects. It was here that the boys studied those without limbs or eyes or food and tried to make sense of their situation. They rarely said a word but just witnessed and assessed. However, we did cancel our intended trip to Varanasi, the capital of spiritualism and poverty, because we felt that we had witnessed our share and didn’t need to have it intensified exponentially. The boys were quite eager to experience the goodness of the Ganges River and its healing powers and we were all drawn to its blue color and supposed purity. The boys were intrigued by the stories of how the river originates from the head of the god Shiva.

We were saddened by the unfortunate experience of having our shoes stolen. It is customary to leave your shoes outside places of worship and while 99% of the time they were tended by paid attendants, this one time we left our shoes unattended in an ashram. An ashram is a sanctuary for spiritual people who engage in daily rituals such as meditation, prayer and simple ways of living focused on the higher beings. Without hesitation we left our shoes while we went to sign up for a yoga class. 7 minutes later, we returned to only 2 pair of shoes belonging to the boys. The shock was overwhelming as the shoes were more valuable as a sentimental piece of our adventure rather than practical. They were the only possession that was with us every “step” of the way. Our only solice was that the boys still had theirs. We walked back almost a mile barefoot along the intimidating streetscape (you can only imagine). For some strange reason, we never had to walk around anything unsightly and it seemed as though the path had been made clear for us. Perhaps it was a lesson to “walk in someone else’s shoes” (or lack thereof as is the case in India) and take a second look at what is most important to oneself. This experience coupled with Peter’s new bout with “Delhi belly” and Oliver coming down with a 12 hour fever left us with mixed feelings. Perhaps our sins of the past were being detected by the conglomeration of spirits or we were just having a bit of bad luck. Either way we bottled some water from the Ganges for future keeping and mailed it home with all of our other treasures for remembrance of a poignant visit.

Rajeev would play classic Indian cd’s and the boys had their favorite songs that usually originate from religious chants but now are played to a catchy beat and sung about Krishna and others. They fell deeply in love with every place we would visit and would soak up the music, the dance, the vibe, the smells and the sounds. They would grow impatient as we sat for an hour or two participating in some ritual but would yell with excitement at a later date when they recognized a song or clothing or a statue that was part of the scene. It was the same as how they felt with all of the attention they got from Indian people – the petting, patting, pinching, ooohs and aaaahs, “Where are you from?”, “What is your name?”, “How old are you?”, “Are you twins?” They grew tired of it and complained on the side but, in the end, they know that the world loved them and wanted to know them and wanted to be with them and was excited because of them. Their experience, without exception, has always been them positive. They also had a positive effect on others and some people who at first glance were indifferent, bored or tired became excited, happy and eager to engage them in a conversation. Travelling with children has yielded a much more friendly, warm and true experience for us and our children.

(click photo for slideshow)

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1 Comment »

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  1. Hello there. I was sent a link to your blog by a friend a while ago. I have been reading a long for a while now. Just wanted to say HI. Thanks for putting in all the hard work.

    Jennifer Lancey


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