Hot in Amritsar

Sath siri akal (Punjabi greeting),

I arrived in Amritsar yesterday morning after a 12 hour train ride from Dehradun that proved to be quite the experience and quite the test of my compassion.

Amritsar has been incredible, and very, very hot!  Yesterday’s high was 104.  To put that into perspective for some you, although the high was only 104, it felt like it was 119 outside with the humidity and lack of wind factored in to the equation.  By 9AM it was already 93 and it was still 97 at 9PM.  This is probably the hottest weather I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime, far hotter than Mexico or the Caribbean.  The heat has been so intense that I adjusted my schedule here significantly, waking up around 4AM and going out until about 10AM and then returning to the hotel for the afternoon and going back out again around 6PM.

My first day here was pretty intense and I accomplished a lot.  I went to the Golden Temple, which was built by the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das in the late 1500’s and is considered the most holy of Sikh sites,  in the morning for about an hour, but did not venture inside as the crowd was almost three hours deep.  I tooled around the city after lunch and later went to the India / Pakistani border and watched the rather theatrical but very cool “closing of the border” ceremony.

What a great city filled with beautiful sights and very friendly people.  I have been at an almost celebrity status during my stay as many Punjabis will stop me to ask for one “snap”, wishing to have their picture taken with me.  This morning I woke up early and walked the streets for about an hour, taking in the morning sights and sounds of people starting their day and then walked over to the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre Memorial, where on Sunday April 13th 1919 Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer opened fire on an unarmed group of Indians in a public garden killing between 800 – 1300 unarmed men, women, and children.  Government estimates put the number of those killed to be at only 300.  More than half of those killed were Sikhs.

Everywhere I’ve gone people are very curious about me and some will stop me to ask me where I’m from.  Sikhs are such a very proud people.  Proud that they live in Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple and proud to see so many foreigners coming to visit their city and temple.  Ram Das’s creedo was that the Golden Temple should be a place for worship for all people everywhere, from all religions, welcoming all ethnicities, and welcoming both men and women.  This was a pretty unknown practice in 17th century south Asia.

To beat the heat, I’m waking up at 3AM and will head over to the Golden Temple and pay my respects and hopefully have a shot at getting inside.  After breakfast I will depart for the airport.

Next stop……Varanasi….

Sath Siri Akal,

View of the Golden Temple grounds from my hotel roof

Closer shot of the Temple. You can see the long line of people waiting to get into the Temple.

At Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre site. 8AM and already blazing hot outside.

Indian BSA soldiers with their high kicks during the border closing ceremony at the India / Pakistan border.

Indian BSA soldier marching towards the border gate during the final moments of the ceremony.

The very brethtaking and rather magical Golden Temple by night with lights.

 

 

Day 2 in Dehradun

Namaste everyone,

I wrapped up my second day in and Dehradun with my friend, Karma Tsering yesterday.  He showed me the Tibeatan community of Clement Town located about an hours drive from Dehradun.  We visited the Mindrolling Monastery and I was able to see the 103 foot statue of Buddha dedicated to H.H. the Dalai Lama and theworlds largest Stupa as well.

Pretty amazing day spent with a good friend…

I am in Amritsar, Punjab tonight and will post some more pictures tomorrow.

Tired in Amritsar…

Statue of Buddha in Clement Town, India. 103 feet tall.

World’s largest Stupa

Mindrollng Monastery in Clement Town, India

With my friend, Karma Tsering in Clement Town

Goodbye Mussoorie…Hello India…

Namaste everyone,

After 8 weeks of Hindi instruction, I have finally departed Mussoorie and am now continuing my research for another 3 weeks throughout northern India and Nepal.  I arrived in Dehradun yesterday and spent the afternoon with my friend, Karma Tsering, who is a Buddhist monk here at the Sakya Center.

Created in 1964, the Sakya Center is basically a monastic institute and its course of study is based on the traditional monastic educational system followed by monasteries in Tibet. The Center here in Dehradun provides education K-12 and afer completing their studies, monks and nuns can attend either Sakya College, also in Dehradun, or the Sakya Institute for further education in Higher Buddhist Studies.

I spent yesterday touring the monks’ living areas and was also given a very special tour of the nunnery, their temple, and was also able to see the Songsten Library which functions as a non-political institution geared to the collection and preservation of books, as well as research and publication on various subjects related to Tibet and the Himalayas.  The institution is named after the 33rd Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo (617-650 A.D.).

After breakfast this morning, Karma Tsering and I will be heading to Clement Town, a large Tibetan settlement area located about one and half hours from Dehradun.  Later tonight, I am catching an overnight train to Amritasar, Punjab and will spend two days relaxing in the 105 degree weather!

Kellog Memorial Church, where one of my language classes was held daily…in the belfry!

Riding in rikshaw in Dehradun, India

Inside the Main Temple at the Sakya Center Nunnery in Dehradun, India

A closer view of the front “altar” of the nunnery’s Main Temple in Dehradun, India

Monkey-palooza

Buddies

As squirrels and birds may dominate the urban landscape in America, here it is monkeys who seem to rule the roost and outnumber most other animals.  I have seen just two types of monkeys here in India, the brown furred Macaque,or local monkey, and the grey furred, black faced Langur monkeys which are a bit more rare in this area.

Each type of monkey, while certainly displaying similar and shared traits like times of feedings and usual activity, their very social and protective nature, and their propensity for mischief also keep very much to themselves and do not socialize or interact outside their own kind.

Mornings are the best time to see the monkeys as they are out with their young looking for the choicest treats tossed to the trash bin by their upright relatives.  At my guest house, I am usually awoken by the sound of 3 or 4 large monkeys landing on the top of my tin roof after what seems to be a 200 foot drop from a nearby tree.  The first week I thought perhaps a war zone had begun in the middle of the night only to later discover that my roof provides the best and most efficient route to the trees bearing the tastiest leaves and of course the water spicket, which they have so cleverly learned to operate even going so far as to show their concern for our planet by turning it off after most uses.

Enjoy these great pictures!

A group of Macaques rooftop early in the morning

A rather sage like Langur monkey sitting atop a wall

Don’t touch the third rail!

A Macaque mother with her infant

Macaque infant playing in the tree

A Langur monkey that has climbed rather dextrously to the very end of a slender branch to reach the leaves he wanted

Langur monkey wondering why I’m looking at him

Langur monkey rooftoop

Sunday morning in Mussoorie

Namaste everyone,

Awoke early this morning and decided to head out for a little trek before my weekend breakfast treat which consists of a banana pancake and a coffee with milk at Himgiri café in Char Dukan.  As I strode down the narrow paved road surrounded by nature in all of its glory and as green as it gets, I was reminded of how very fortunate I am to be here and couldn’t help but think about the deep rooted history that surrounds this Hill Station.

I meandered down the road and passed turn after turn of stunningly beautiful and breathtaking views of the surrounding tall trees and valleys below.  All I could hear were the sounds of birds discussing their breakfast plans and the occasional monkey calling out to nearby friends.  The most interesting part of my hike is when I came upon an old British cemetery with headstones dating back to the early 19th century.

Some interesting facts about Mussoorie and the Landour area:

Situated at an altitude of 7,500 feet above sea level, the top of Landour ridge is the highest point in Mussoorie.  British forces occupied the region now known as Landour following the Ghurka wars in the second decade of the 19th century.  Colonel Frederick Young, an Irish officer in the East India Trading Company army constructed the first permanent dwelling here in 1825.  Landour takes its name from Llanddowror, a small town in Wales.  In 1827, it became a convalescent depot for British troops suffering from Malaria and other tropical diseases.  Those who did not survive are buried in a cemetery on the north side of the hill, which is included in a few of my photographs here.

What an amazing way to start a Sunday morning.  Next update:  monkeys, monkeys, and more monkeys…..

From Mussoorie,

Thomas

The road probably more traveled than less, however it provided amazing views all morning long

 

These beautiful flowers blanketed either side of the road for parts of my journey

Apparently and unbeknownst to me, MacGyver owns and operates a retaining wall company here in Mussoorie. How’d he do that???

This small and winding path led down to an old cemetery

A monument inside the cemetery dedicated to the wife of a British Brig. Gen. circa 1900

The gate and entrance to the cemetery

 

This particular head stone was dated 1826

 

My first Indian dinner party…

Namaste everyone,

I am uploading a couple pictures from a dinner party I was invited to by one of my Hindi teachers here in Landour.

From the moment I entered the door of my teacher’s home, I was made to feel very much like a guest of honor and I would imagine the few other students who were also invited felt exactly the same way.  My teacher, Alka-Ji, lives in a modest home on the grounds of The Woodstock School, where her husband is the purchasing director.  The Woodstock School is a world renowned private education institution nestled deep in the hills of Mussoorie and provides a top notch, Christian based, education to children grades K – 12.

Alka – Ji and her husband have two wonderful children, Jianth 11 and his sister Dyksha 12.  Dinner included some very mouth-watering traditional Indian dishes, which I so unfortunately forgot to photograph – I was hungry!  Alka – Ji whipped up the Indian meal staple of Dahl – a small bean like pulse similar to a lentil or pea prepared with tomatoes, onion, and various secret spices; Rice – rice is rice no matter where you go; Chapattis – a small ground flour tortilla like flat bread that is served piping hot and is also used somewhat as a utensil, gripped with you middle finger and thumb and using your index finger to create a type of scoop like edible utensil…quite clever and crafty; Chili chicken – almost like a Tandoori chicken, this dish was made up of small bone in pieces of chicken that were fire grilled and then smothered in a mild red chili sauce with turmeric; Squash – sautéed with curry, onions, and garlic; Raita – a cool and refreshing yogurt based salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro; and Kheer – a tapioca like riced based pudding made by boiling rice in milk and later adding almonds, a touch of vanilla, eggs, and sugar.

If you’ve made it this far in my post you’re probably thinking about grabbing a snack right about now.  I don’t blame you.

From Mussoorie….

The gang at Alka-Ji’s house with her husband, daughter Dyksha, and Pug Maggie.

Alka-Ji, Meg, and myself. How about that nice looking Indian Kurta I’m sporting…

These are the people in my neighborhood…

The temperatures have dropped a great deal and it has been raining here pretty much non-stop, with small windows of sunlight, for the better part of two weeks now.  Reminds me of late summer rain in Iowa and is also reminiscent of parts of Ireland with the very deep shade of green that now blankets the landscape.

Hindi lessons are slowly coming to an end here in Landour and in two weeks’ time I will be saying good bye to the Hill Station that has been my home for nearly two months now.  Although I will I miss Landour immensely, I am equally excited to explore new parts of India, beginning with my trip to the Shakya Buddhist Monastery in Dehradun at the invite of my friend, Karma Tsering, and then continuing on to Amritsar located in heart of the Punjab.

I am including pictures of some friends I have made.  Each one of these people have impacted my stay here and likewise, each one of them have extended an enormous amount of hospitality my way, making me feel less like a visitor and much more like a long lost dear friend or even family.  Shabash.

From Aman, the shopkeeper down in the bazaar who welcomes me to tea each time I pass his uncle’s store and so kindly offers me rides into town on his scooter when he sees me – which I must say is quite a treat, not because of the ease of convenience, but rather watching the heads of every person turn as a Sikh and an American scream through the narrow streets of Mussoorie on a beat up grey scooter;  to Anand, the clothier, who has so graciously taken time to explain the different types of cotton and other fabrics he sells in his store and has helped me to make my clothing purchases;  to Islam, the tailor, who also insists I stop for Chai whenever I pass his small corner shop.  Islam speaks perfect English, helps me with my Hindi, and also sews a mean Kurta; and Manisha, the lovely and ever so elegant woman in Char Dukan who has been preparing my evening meals for nearly 3 weeks now and has an unbelievable gift for preparing the most amazingly delicious home cooked meals for me each evening.  Manisha invites me into her home every evening at 6pm and I sit with her two sons Prakash and Avi and talk about America and Hindi television shows while she so effortless brings the taste of India to my plate.  Each one of these people are the heart and soul of what makes India so inviting and so culturally vibrant.

Stay cool Iowa….

Aman inside his uncle’s shop

Anand, the clothier, hard at work but always with a smile to share

Islam, the tailor, taking a quick break for a photo op. Notice the sewing machine’s lack of any electrical cords……

Ahhhhhh Manisha. This remarkable woman has the taste of India inside her fingers.

A room with a view. Just outside my living room window looking down onto the lower valley and Dehradun