“Green Revolution is not a revolution. It is a fraud…Revolution is an attempt to carry mankind towards happiness and spiritual infinity. Green Revolution is a great attempt to carry the farmer and consumers towards mukti…and ultimate death.” -The Philosophy of Spiritual Farming

I wish you could see me now, crouched under my mosquito net in my grass hut bedroom. The laptop spread out, my books, camera, and colored pencils fingertips away, Rihanna blasting in my ears. Sometimes with all this 24/7 nature time I have to have a techno binge to balance myself out.

The two ponds on the farm are so low that on a run yesterday I caught the cows grazing in one of them. Their sweet faces turned towards my footsteps, healthy auburn coats against the verdant bank. I stopped in my tracks, they looked so serene there.  I was too late to call back my two bodyguards, who were already busy chasing a peacock and some egrets into safer tree lines yonder.

Everyday is filled with so many activities. At five o’clock, when the sun has given up for the day, we went out and transplanted some beds of okra seedlings. I also squeezed about 50 limes today to make hibiscus juice syrup, ate a lot of jackfruit, and hung some Tamil natural farming posters in the newly clean Visitor’s Center.

Tonight I smeared my face, arms and neck in a turmeric paste skin treatment. In the last two weeks I have developed heat rash, a bumpy itchy experience that I will be glad to escape when I head to the Pyrenees in ten days.  Even though my heart and head have become bosom friends with the sun, my skin seems to garner some resentment. Multiple coats a day of fresh aloe vera have only seemed to make the rash spread. So today I’m trying turmeric paste.  Turmeric is an antibacterial root crop, used in almost all Indian dishes for its health properties and nice color. I learned how to make fresh turmeric powder: lots of pounding with a mortar and pestle, then a trip through the blender and finally a delicate sifting to get the powder as fine as possible. I pass Tamilian women on the street who go about their day with a thin layer of turmeric paste smeared on their face.  It smells like medecine, but in a good way. My skin is going to glow yellow for days.

Sifting on the veranda

Whoops, I suppose I should have told my parents that I’m planning to stay in India another year before I told all of cyberspace. Oh well. But they forgot to be upset because in October they will be joining me in Pondy for six months. I’m really excited for them to find work that is meaningful and engaging. Needless to say it will be rad to explore more of this crazy country with them. Plus I haven’t even learned how to build my own grass hut, right? If you ask me, there’s nothing to do back home until 2016 anyway…

This post is dedicated to my sister who graduated from Pacific Lutheran University this term. (Don’t worry sis, there is life after college…  but then again, as my friend Niha reminded me recently, my ‘real world’ is an ashram in India…) After months of unpredicted work on the house, I finally hung the informational panels that my sister and I had created in January. Looking back, I see now how those panels started the whole snowball of fixing the farmhouse into the a place where visitors, volunteers and workers can learn and grow together. I couldn’t hang these panels until I had painted the room. I couldn’t paint one room unless I had painted the whole house. Sometimes life is filled with tiny tipping points.  One small act leads to bigger victories towards a more harmonious future.

 

Advertisements

The Height of Summer

There was another fire here last week, this one much bigger than the last. Three firetrucks couldn’t prevent the damage to at least 4 acres. We lost a whole grove of cajurina trees, an amla tree, and some plumeria. After the fire was out, a swarm of Tamilian firefighters overtook the veranda, demanding water and the fan and walking off with a blooming elephant foot, their huge red trucks knocking into the palms on the side of the house. In India you have to pay for the firefighters to come, even though they are run by the government.  

It is May, the height of summer in Pondy. I have tried to ignore the ubiquitous complaints from colleagues about the heat, (after all it is India, what do you expect?) But now I give in. I am sitting on my bed up in the machan under my mosquito net, sweating and begging for the breeze to blow. It’s the humidity that gets to you, like you’re underwater, always wet and struggling to breathe. Baburam says when the air is still like this it means it will rain, plus today he saw a certain snake that indicates rain. Here’s hoping. With this heat I have an unsaatioable desire for sour things, lime and tamarind and raw mango with a pinch of salt.  I have been learning firsthand the myriad of ways to eat rice, papaya, and coconut. There are a lot. Today for dinner I ate coconut jaggery dosa with ripe papaya and sprout salad with some jackfruit for dessert.

When the power comes on in the evening, I water my garden. After I have fought with the hose pipe’s rubbery tangles I move slowly down the length of the garden, the tender leaves trembling with pleasure as they receive their daily shower. It’s good to check in with the pumkin, colocassia root and elephant feet which are really growing now, along with some cow pea, okra, jicama, yam, ridge gourd and bitter gourd. Today I planted the deep rooted Vertivere grass along the roadside fence, which prevents soil erosion and will purify the toxins that come from the main road. We just harvested some Vertivere grass roots to make into cooling juice.  Today I also installed a trellis for the jicama in the mandal of the garden. I always keep the soil covered with dry leaf mulch to retain the soil’s mostiure and to prevent weeds from growing. I’m sprouting some of my favorite vegetable, two varieties of eggplant. Tbere’s always something to do.

Baby colocassia

Painting the house is fnally finished, yay. Today I painted the farm’s name on the front side of the house. It turned out exactly like I wanted, natural yet professional. 

 I only have about 3 weeks left in Pondicherry before I head for Southern France to volunteer on some organic farms with my sister Brett for 3 months. Brett and I have a bee farm, a cheese farm and a ‘musical farm’ lined up before the September Rousseau Reunion. It should be a blast. I am especially looking forward to blogging sur nos aventures. I have decided that in October I will come back to Pondy for another year.  I feel that my true work of building infrastructure at Matrikunj is just getting started.

Banyan shading one of the lily ponds

Lime Delight

April 25, 2012

I usually advocate against the gender binary, but this time I’ll admit a woman’s touch has been good for the farm.  In preparation for painting, I scrubbed the walls, sinks, and doors of the bathrooms with a piece of coconut husk. I can handle sharing a bathroom with the frogs and lizards and ants but does it have to be dirty too? No, it doesn’t. Who knows the last time it had been scrubbed. Plus you get the instant gratification of cleaning something that is really dirty, watching the wall of grime flood to the floor with a spray of the hose.

I was pumped to start painting today! Well, priming actually, but at least I would have a brush in my hand instead of a crowbar.  Compared to painstaking scraping, the paint would go on so fast, No. 7744 Lime Delight magic! Yet when we laid out the tarps in the morning I was a bit anxious. Some of the workers had never painted before. It takes practice. Would we be able to do it? Baburam was hovering, watching us make mistakes and scolding/advising. I took a deep breath and told the perfectionist inside to take the day off.   It wasn’t easy but it felt right, to patiently point out missed patches and to keep their containers topped-up with fresh primer.  I bit my tongue as paint dripped onto the metal roof, the floor, tables and chairs. I sighed and passed out wet rags to wipe it up.  The workers had never seen paint rollers before, and curiously tried them out. (“Did you bring these from the U.S.? We don’t have these in Orissa.”…”How much did it cost?”…”Arey, it’s detachable? I thought there was some sort of mechanized in there!”) I showed them how to cut into corners, how to wash and store the brushes. At the end of the day I surveyed the damage. The floors were pretty clean but the paint line where the wall meets the roof was hopelessly messy. But I’m ok with it, because instead of smooth strokes and straight lines,  I taught these lovely Tamil women how to paint a wall. I made the right choice.

Rajivi

Poison Off!

I am fed up with using chemical insect repellent on my skin. I don’t want to spray toxic liquid on myself twice a day anymore. When trying to live a conscious, natural life, you start to notice more closely what you put on your body. Toothpaste, shampoo, hairspray, creams and make-up: what is really in that stuff? It’s a stretch to imagine that all of the plastics and chemicals we surround ourselves with do not seep into our skin, which we will then pass onto our children throughgenetic abnormalities. But I digress… So off with the Off! I say, and I am making my own natural repellent. I’m infusing a jar of coconut oil with some aromatic plants that mosquitos hate: the spicy bite of purple tulsi basil, bitter neem, and sweet lemongrass.  The key element to repellent is the scent, so the stronger the scent in the oil the more effective it will be.

I know what you’re thinking. Ok, Amelie, enough with the hippy-dippy, “eat this leaf and you’ll be cured” do-it-yourselfing. Does it actually work? YES. I did a study. Yesterday I put the repellent on my left arm and leg and nothing on the right side. Then I sat in the Mosquito Country that is the veranda front table at dusk. After over an hour I had 2 bites on my left leg and 10 on my right. Tonight I lost count at about 9, with only 3 on  my treated left appendages. It works. I watch them land on my left arm and then fly away in disgust/fear, it’s quite fun.

Here’s the very simple and flexible recipe for you to make your own:

You can use any kind of oil, but you want one that is neutral or pleasantly scented. Coconut, olive, and tea tree oil are also good for your skin. If you are worried about grease getting on your clothes, you can also use cooling aloe vera gel mixed in with the oil, but it might not be as strong. In addition to basil, neem and lemongrass, mosquitoes also detest: pennyroyal, citronella, thyme, lavender, yarrow flower, garlic, marigolds, catnip, witch hazel, vinegar, and eucalyptus.

  1.  Fill a jar with desired oil.
  2. Chop or crush plant material. Mix and match with different combinations of plants! A good rule of thumb is to use twice as many flowers as herbs and only a small amount of spices. Fill the jar about half-way with plant material.
  3. Let the jar sit in a sunny windowsill for 48 hours, shaking every 12 hours.
  4. Strain oil through cheesecloth, tightly squeezing plant material to get every last bit of oil. Some of the plant material will soak up the oil, so you need to strain very well.
  5. Put in fresh plant material. Repeat process until you have the scent desired.

With some wicks and beeswax you can also use this oil to make mosquito-repellent candles! (1.5 oz oil to 1 lb beeswax).

Try it! The only thing you have to lose is itchy summer nights.

Follow your nose

 

 

 

 

To Fight the Fire

(I am watching a far-off lightning storm right now, my monitor the only bug-attracting light source on the veranda.)

In the early afternoon on Wednesday we got word that a small fire had started in a roadside ditch along the farm fence on the main road. I was detaching a mountain of cashew nuts from their syrupy fruits when all of a sudden there was much shouting in Tamil and the whole staff began moving faster than I’d ever seen them go. Baburam hurriedly drove the tractor to the pump and began filling the massive water tanks in the tractor’s trailer. When the tanks were full, the tractor chugged slowly onto the open road, the workers and I walking ahead under the midday heat, swinging metal buckets in our hands. At first I didn’t see any sign of fire, no smoke, but  until I went further down the road and saw a palm engulfed in leaping flames, with stumps and brush smoldering around it. “Va, va!” The workers called to the tractor. We started filling up buckets and throwing them on the flames and piles of smoking ash, with a satisfying splash and hiss sound.  It was exciting to be fighting a fire. I was relieved that the fire was manageable, and with the cool splash of the buckets on my ash-smeared toes, I began to enjoy the way the splash of the water lit the furious hiss of the blistering earth.

When the workers were satisfied with the job we headed back, but I could still see small streams of smoke escaping out of the ashes. “Wait, look…what about that there?” I asked, but the workers waved me off, already walking down the road towards water and shade. On the gravel road back to the farmhouse, one amma plucked a pink champa flower off of its leafless tree and clipped it into my hair. It was surreal, witnessing the carnal danger of fire, the frenzy of coordinated action which I had thought impossible in the sleepy universe of Matrikunj. Yet we had conquered it, a small group protecting the land.

Later that night, sans workers, Baburam, Prashant (the cow caretaker) and I returned with the tractor and water tanks to douse the embers once more. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see where they were, but as we chugged closer I saw the deep orange glow of the stumps and chunks of jeweled embers, pulsing like heartbeats in the ruined topsoil. Once we had killed every last spark (“Arey, look there! …Wait, I think that’s a firefly…”) we loaded into the tractor, but the engine wouldn’t start. After 5 minutes of fruitlessly coaxing the ignition, the only thing left to do was get out and push. (It’s a good thing me and my crowbar have been working out.) Once we were able to get the tractor moving veerrrry slowly, the ignition caught and we clambered on for the joy ride back to the farmhouse, the night’s jasmine-scented breeze on our faces. Wayward tree branches scraping my arms and neck, I reached out and grasped the rough, beautiful texture of the day.

A Plot of My Own

“I do some of my best thinking while pulling weeds.” -Martha Smith

Behind the Matrikunj main building lies a grassy space, 8 by 20 paces , covered in tall grass to prevent soil erosion. On Saturday I mentioning to Baburam that I wanted to plant a few herbs around the small tree that stands near the house, which is currently shading a pile of compost and a confetti of styrofoam chunks.  He immediately perked up, saying I could use the whole plot if I wanted. “It would be good to have a model of a small kitchen garden, so people can see how it is possible on a small scale.” Before I knew it he was talking about planting pumpkins and directing one of the workers to clear the whole space for ‘Amelie’s garden.’ I couldn’t believe it, my own space to plant! I grabbed my weeding scythe and went to town on that grass all afternoon and the next. Baburam says “If your clothes aren’t dirty, you’re not a very good farmer.” I must be turning into a really good farmer.

I should still be scraping lyme off walls, but a crowbar just can’t compete with a puppy and a garden. (The painting will commence within the week, I swear…) I have been dreaming of quilted patchworks of tiered herb beds, wind chimes for the trees to wear, ferned islands, a reading bench, and trellises for winding vines of wild cucumber, snake bean, and passionfruit. This space will have a little bit of everything: sugar cane, banana, eggplant, sweet potato, mint, basil, jasmine, okra, aloe vera. Planning a garden is like painting, but instead of flat pigment your medium is creation itself, breathing and and four dimensional.  What a heady and humbling purpose. My garden will not tame the chaos of this jungly place, but highlight the unifying perfection between the stones, animals, water and soil, sun and stars. Today I held a spider that was all white, albino with an abdomen of neon green, as if it was off to graffitti something. 

My garden, born April 12, 2012. 

I spent today hauling coconut shells and laying out my garden design with some rope and lots of patience. They are recycled from Mt. Coconut Shell that towers next to the blacksmithing shed. They will not last forever, but they are pretty and easy to set up. They will also help retain moisture in the soil. I am also building a small bridge over the irrigation ditch, which will be the far entrance into the garden. We will eventually cover the logs with earth to create a nice flat surface. I had so much fun working today, I barely stopped for lunch and a glass of juice at teatime.  One of the farm workers who lugged coconuts with me ended the day with, “Amelie’s garden, super!” Tomorrow we plant.

Oh! And a new friend arrived one morning last week. She weighs 2.6 kg and likes to use my flip-flops as chew toys. She has huge ears and soft, golden fur. She is very smart and curious, sticking her nose in happenings all over the farm. The puppy follows me everywhere, so close underfoot that she gets tangled up in my legs. She is fierce too: when the other dogs snarl at her, she just growls back, completely unaware that she is four times smaller and in foreign territory. I’ve never had a dog before, it’s all very exciting.

I’m in love.

Crowbar in the Garden

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”

-Rudyard Kipling

At Matrikunj, the gathering area for workers and visitors is a stone table that sits under the veranda. While working or eating lunch at the table, I would always look wistfully at the building’s dingy, chipping walls and dream of how nice they would look with a fresh coat of light yellow or green. The lushness of the surrounding gardens seem to make the buildings look even more decrepit.

So last month I decided to go for it.  I mean, I had done smaller house painting projects before, how hard could it be? The bad news was that every available surface had been coated with grey and white lime, which meant that it all has to be scraped off and sanded before we could apply paint. Me and my crowbar have been at it for about 12 or 13 days now. My triceps hate me, but I love that my hands and feet are starting to get that tough farm girl feel.

But of course, it hasn’t been all work and no fun. Last week we prepared hundreds of dried coconuts to press into fragrant coconut oil. Chewing chunks of the sweet meat, I sat with the workers for hours and sliced the round nuts into thin strips that were then sundried on large tarps. Have you ever tasted a coconut sprout before? It looks like a snowball and tastes like an airy, tart macaroon. This month the jackfruit trees are fruiting, so I was awarded the duty of harvesting a few of the the massive, thorny things, their nightmarishly sticky white sap impossible to avoid. The yellow fruit is delicious, sweet and slippery. We ate the large jackfruit seeds cooked in curries and once I helped make a jackfruit and sweet potato chutney that tasted like roasted chesnuts.

Jackfruit peeling

Yesterday I clambered onto the roof to put back the styrofoam sheeting that had flown off the roof in the December cyclone. Today we fixed the rope on the worn-out steps of the machan, Baburam showing me how to tie the rope very tightly. We also pulled out a small drum that Baburam had so that we can play music in the evenings like people used to before there was television.

The ashram farms in this area sit beside a large lake called Ossudu Lake. The ashram ‘lake land’s’ birthday is May 1st, with an annual performance and celebration, where the lake land workers sing songs in Bengali, Tamil and Hindi. As usual, Baburam is performing with the group. The workers and I always hear him in his room singing softly to himself, practicing.

I stop for tea in the afternoon with the farm workers, four Tamilian women who gossip and squabble with each other all day. They do all their weeding, planting, and heavy lifting in saris, which will make you think twice before you complain about the heat. Even though they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Tamil, we still manage to work together, tease each other and goof around while Baburam, caught in the middle of our translation issues, laughs at us. Spending all day with them inspires me very much to learn their tongue. I am learning a few words slowly, daring to defy the impenetrability of local Tamil.

At the end of the day, when the sun is starting its slow goodbye and everything below turns a sparkling gold, the sprinklers are turned on. That means work is over and I take off barefooted through the spray, crisscrossing through the eggplant, the dripping starry leaves of the papaya trees, the squished little orange tomato plants that are on their way out. I crouch down under the spray and pretend I am something green and thirsty, so grateful for this daily shower at the end of the day’s punishing heat. I close my eyes and pretend it is raining, warm and sweet. Sometimes I score a green papaya for dinner or an overripe eggplant whose seeds can be saved for the next planting.

After a run through the sprinklers, I wash all the grime off with a bucket shower. The bathroom itself has its own ecosystem, home to a small multitude of frogs who watch me soap up through their enormous black eyes. They come inside to hide from the snakes. Like the French, the Matrikunj snakes love a tasty frog. The frogs are all very cute, brown and mossy green, with enormous black eyes. They perch on top of the toiletry rack, the window sill, the toilet flush handle. They hide in the sink drain and the toothbrush holder. They crawl up and down the tiled walls with their enviously-effective webbed appendages. They especially like to compete to see how many can fit behind the top of the bathroom mirror. I’ve counted at least ten. Plus they eat mosquitos! So they can stay.

In the evenings I enjoy the pink sky by the lily pond. Some days when I am really tired, I take a grass mat to the Cajurina grove and lying on the cushy ground in the dusk, I listen to the subtle whoosh of the branches’ limbed music. Last night I was reading on my bed and accidentally fell asleep at 7 pm, not waking until first light.

Besides a bit of curd and dahl from the ashram dining room, I eat mainly vegetables and fruit from the farm, lots of eggplant and tomato,  custard apple and sweet potato. Today for dinner I had starfruit curry, beet and papaya salad with neem flowers and a coconut laddoo. Wouldn’t you?

I now happily spend about 95% of my day outside. The power cuts in and out every few hours, and I wake up when my fan shuts off in the middle of the night. I now use the natural outdoor breeze instead, which never dies or runs out of battery. I hung a mosquito net and a mattress on the machan and haven’t looked back. Baburam strung a corded light bulb to the machan so I can  read before bed. As I wait for sleep to descend I can see the flickers of the neon fireflies weaving through the palms. My two furry bodyguards lie nearby on the veranda, keeping watch over the dark of the garden.

Heaven in Hampi

Hampi, Karnataka

After a day in Mumbai, we headed back down south. In Mumbai we were too tired to sight-see so we ate gelato instead and escaped into the cool darkness of the cineplex to see ‘The Artist’, which was really good. It was my first time in a movie theater in over 8 months.

That evening we caught a night bus to Karnataka, and when we awoke we were back in South India, the crowded streets lined with verdant palms, the rice paddies in the distance. I breathed in the garbled ranting of the auto drivers, the bejeweled women carting sugarcane and bananas on their heads, and the tiny dhotied men crowded around the idli stands. Oh how I had missed it. In that moment I knew that no matter how many sojourns I make to the Himalayas, or the Ganges, even if I learn to speak fluent Hindi, South India will always be my first love.

As the center of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1336 to 1565, Hampi used to be a massive center of trade, which eventually fell at the hands of Deccan Muslin rulers. But Hampi has been settled since 1 CE.

The small village of Hampi is surrounded by hills of massive stones, like abandoned games of giant marbles.  We had to cross a river in a ferry boat to get to our guesthouse. Surrounding the strip of small guesthouses and relaxed restaurants are miles of verdant farmland, flooded rice paddy fields shaded by coconut palms, with crystal creeks snaking through them. We spent a day exploring the beautiful temple ruins that were virtually deserted, unless you count a few lizards and a pack of mountain monkeys. Meandering along the riverbank, I sipped tender coconut water and watched a group of boys playing king of the mountain on a giant rock, pulling each other’s limbs into the water.

the Tungabhadra River

We watched free movies on floor cushioned cafes filled with Israelis, Australians, Peruvians, and Germans. Even though it was hot and the power went out all the time, everyone in Hampi is very chilled out. The only measure of time is how high the rice has grown. I could get used to this pace.

An Accidental Crossing

With a wistful sigh, we left Hampi three days later. To get to the village from our hostel we had to take a small ferry boat for Rs. 15, usually packed with other tourists. The boats stopped running at 6 pm, but we had seen the boats going until at least 7 pm to serve all the tourists who arrived late. But when we arrived around 6:30 pm, it was just me, Arielle, and some French guy. We were offered a ride in the “special” boat at Rs. 100 each.

Disgusted, we decided we would try to find a shallow place to cross the river. This sounds sketchier than it really was, as most of the river has almost no current and is only about 4-8 feet deep. But night was quickly falling, so we had to act fast. We walked to the thinnest part of river we could find, although there was no telling how deep the water was.

I started pulling off my shoes, while Arielle took one look at the black water and said, “umm…I’m not sure about this…”  meaning, “Nope, I don’t think so.” She decided to keep going downriver a ways to find a shallower spot. I think she really just didn’t want to get wet. I hitched up my backpack straps and clutched my satchel in my arms like a baby. My satchel contained my most precious possessions: my hiking shoes, journal, ipod, a full water bottle, my camera, and by some ridiculous twist of fate, a small watermelon that I was planning to eat on the train.

I gingerly started into the water, and began slowly stepping sideways through the sandy bottom until the water was up to my waist. At one point my foot hit a large flat rock, and I slipped. I got my balance only a few centimeters from disaster. And then suddenly the deepest part was past and I was wading out of the silent current. I saw the reflection of the first star of the evening, twinkling like a promise.

I called to Arielle who was fumbling further downriver. I could see her flashlight bobbing closer. “Arielle? Come back! I made it! I can help you!” I waded back across without my bags and helped her slowly cross. When we both got across it was almost pitch dark, which was just as well, because no one could see us crouched on the ghat steps as we changed our clothes.

Our misadventure had us laughing the whole auto ride to the train station. Sometimes its worth saving Rs. 100.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

From Hampi we took the train to Bangalore, another to Chennai, and then a 3-hour bus ride back home to Pondy sweet Pondy. We had been gone for almost a month, and it was so nice to see the sea again.

Arielle left three weeks later to finish her last term at UO.  It was so wonderful to have a cooking, exercising, journaling, traveling, ice-cream eating companion. And she’s also fluent in good ol’ American sarcasm. Indians don’t really do sarcasm. I miss her!

On the Ganga

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The city of Varanasi is billed as the oldest still-functioning city in the world. Sitting on the sacred Ganges River, the city is made up of narrow cobbled streets that seem to twist everywhere except to the place you are trying to go. Shops line the tiny streets selling incense, jewelry, Benarasi silk saris, samosas, shoes, and endless numbers of technicolor Ali Baba pants, scarves, and kurtas to tempt tourists. There is excrement and trash everywhere, so hiking shoes are a must. We spent three days wandering up and down the ghats, taking photos and just being.

Said to flow from the hair of Shiva, Hindus believe that a bathe in the Ganges will ensure that their souls will obtain moksha, liberation. The river is now badly polluted, although scientists have been puzzled on the river’s seeming ability to self-purify from bacteria such as cholera and dysentery. Families carry their deceased on ornately decorated stretchers to the water. The bodies are taken to the burning ghat, dipped into the holy water, cremated on pyres of fragrant sandalwood and then the ashes are scattered in the water.

The Sinking Temple

Other than the picturesque riverbank, the craziest part of Varanasi is the people. There are the legions of boatmen and vendors, the guys who grab your hand for a “no money” massage and then demand a hundred rupees, the kids playing cricket and Frisbee on any available flat surface, balls constantly flying into the water or past tourists’ heads. There are innumerable robed sadhus with shaved heads, their walking sticks knocking along to their own beat. Some stare past you into another world, others sit cross-legged on the steps and stare you down with their hand out: “Picture? Picture?”

One early morning we took a rowboat ride to watch the dawn over the water. Stumbling out of bed and down to the riverbank, we found “Terry,” an elderly and amiable boatman. We bought tiny plates filled with marigolds and homemade candles to set upon the water. The world turned midnight blue to sweet lavender as we slipped silently past the ghats, the sinking temple, and countless Hindus taking baths in the sacred water. When touring temple ruins, palaces and forts, I often wish I could see what life had been like when the structures burst with daily life. On the ghats, I exist in the past, present and future. And the everlasting waters flow by.

Thar She Blows!

Bikaner, Rajasthan

 Before we left Pondicherry, Arielle was dying to go on  camel ride. Or an elephant ride. Or both. so you can imagine our excitement when we discovered that the tiny town of Bikaner, only 6 hours away from Jaipur, had affordable camel safaris. We booked a one day/one night safari, where we would camp out in tents under the starry night sky.

We did our safari with the ‘Camel Man’ of Bikaner, Vijay. The Camel Man’s guesthouse was filled with people from France, Germany, Argentina and even one traveler from Portland.

With our bags loaded in the cart, wheld on tight to the straps as we mounted our camels. Our trek started off through the village, the children waving from their houses. The Rajasthani desert is not the stark beauty of Saudia Arabian dunes, but a scrubby gray landscape, with slight slopes and a few barren trees. Shepherds herd black and white goats through the scrub, and the superfluous aimless cow is still wandering, even in the desert.

I dubbed my camel Chewbacca because it kept making these disgusting guttural burping noises. See, camels are exotic and cool looking, but its only when you sit on one for 8 hours that you realize what bad manners they have. Burping, pooping and frothing at the mouth all over the place. They do this thing where they cough up what seems to be a stomach and just let it hang out of the side of their mouth for a minute before they suck it back down. But the worst part is the sound it makes, a gastric, bubbling noise that warns you its coming up again…

The flowers are cute though

Princess Arielle