Thursday, May 5, 2011

MacLeod Ganj April 7th-10th

From Jammu we took a day train to Pathankot and from there took a five hour bus ride into the lower mountain range of MacLeod Ganj. When people talk about the Dali Lama and the Tibetan exile government they often incorrectly say it is in Dharmasala-- in reality it is another 10kms further up the mountain in a town called MacLeod Ganj. Named after a Scottish member of the ruling Raj-- MacLeod, not Ganj.

MacLeod Ganj is a site of refuge for the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government, and any Tibetan refugees. In the 1950s the Chinese government "liberated" Tibet because it saw it as a historical part of China. In the years that have followed the Chinese have killed over 1 million Tibetans and destroyed over 95% of the Temples and religious spaces of the Buddhist Tibetans. In recent years China has completed a fast rail system directly into the heart of Tibet. This makes the forced relocation of Chinese into Tibet much easier. They are slowly breeding out the native Tibetans and killing their culture. Currently it is against the law even to own a picture of the Dali Lama, the incarnation of Buddha.

Despite this tragic story the Tibetans are still the most loving and compassionate people around. Monks frequently express their distress about "losing compassion for the Chinese" a lesson that many of us, including myself, can learn from.

MacLeod Ganj for us was a time of rest and relaxation amongst the wonderful people of Tibet. We spent the days lounging around, talking to monks and Tibetan exiles. We even taught an English class or two with an organization that has been established to teach Tibetans English as well as to teach foreigners about the struggle that Tibet has and continues to face.

To me, the Tibetans, although Buddhist, exemplify how we are called to live as Christians or more generally just as good people. The love they show not only for their fellow man, all God's creatures, and most importantly towards their enemies is something we can all try to emulate.

Perhaps the best thing about Tibetans though is their love of laughter and the joy with which they live their lives.

From MacLeod Ganj we headed west on the train towards Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

April 3rd-6th Srinagar, Kashmir

Kashmir is an occupied state. Controlled both by India and Pakistan, it lies between the tense border of the two countries to the west and the stunning Himalayas to the East. To the north it is bordered by China. The people of Kashmir want independence but neither India nor Pakistan are willing to surrender this fertile and resource wealthy region.
The first thing you will notice upon entering into Kashmir either by car or, like us, by plane, is the large military presence everywhere. The military is there to control the militancy and the militancy is there to get rid of the military. It is a deadly game of the chicken versus the egg. Because of the military presence and the militancy activity it is not an area then many people visit while in India. This made it all the more appealing to us.
We arrived on a flight from Delhi into the Srinagar airport which is a military airport that allows a handful of commercial flights in daily. The runway is lined with barbed wire, tanks, and lots of AK-47 holding soldiers. Quite the welcome.
It was freezing cold and drizzling, a huge change from the humid sweltering climate of Kerala. We stayed at a small hotel just outside of the city center. And the first item on our agenda was getting clothes appropriate for the cold. Luckily the Sunday Used-Clothes Market was in full swing and so we headed down to escape the cold.
The area is almost entirely Muslim with very small Christian and Hindu populations. They were no where to be seen. The market was filled with brand name clothes several years out of fashion and I asked a younger shop keeper where they got the clothes from and he said, "American aid packages sent to Pakistan are sold to merchants who bring them in bulk to Srinagar to be sold in this market". Wonderful. After getting jackets and boots we headed back to the hotel to plan our next excursion.
Srinagar is known for its large numer of Mughal gardens that were built starting in the 1600s. We spent the day going around them. It was the first time I had felt cold in over seven months.
Kashmir is known for its lamb but unfortunately the lamb union was on strike and there was no lamb to be had. We had chicken and lentils instead.
The next day we woke up early to go and visit the Jammu Masjid, the biggest mosque in the city. Two days after our visit there was a deadly bombing targeting, succesfully, the Imam of the mosque because he opposed the violence of the militancy.
We spent the rest of the day viewing more sites around the city and had dinner at a small Tibetan restaurant near the hotel.
After dinner I was speaking to the hotel owner, Ruf, who expressed his grievances of the militancy because, "One grenade attack and tourist season over." To true Ruf.
The next day we got up early and took a rented car up to Gulmarg, seventh best Ski resort (supposedly) in the world. It was a winter wonderland. Eight feet of snow on the ground. I spent a few hours skiing in the Himalayas and then met up with the girls. We then had a snowball fight. It was Madison's first time seeing snow and my first time in the Himalayas. Very exciting.
The next day we took a taxi down to the southern city of Jammu. To get there you have to drive over the mountains and through a 3 miles tunnel which is cut through the mountain. Once through the tunnel you enter a vastly different environment.
After another hour of driving you are in fertile valleys fed by water from the Himalayas. It is a beautiful region.
We spent the night in Jammu which doesn't have much to see and woke up the next morning for our train ride to Dharmasala.

To be continued...


Saturday, April 2, 2011


Apologies for the non-existent Mumbai blog. I promise that will be posted at some point.

I am writing from an internet cafe in the Tibetan camp in Delhi. We have filled the past two days with a very busy schedule. Our only time of rest was during the first half of the Cricket World Cup finals taking place in Mumbai between India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka finished their batting with a solid run total and India's best batsman was unable to produce any significant amount of runs before getting out. It doesn't look good.

We have seen the Jammu Masjid (largest mosque in the world outside of the Middle East), Humayun's Tomb, the India Gate, the parliament house, the Red Fort, Connaught Circle, Paharganj, and much much more. It has been a very busy and tiring two days but we have found rest and quite in the Tibetan Camp.

Unlike the rest of Delhi where you are constantly swarmed with people will to make a deal for "a friend", give you special prices for auto-rickshaw rides, or escort you to a "official government tourist office", the Tibetan area is a quite oasis filled with friendly, spiritual, and passive (literally and figuratively). Delhi is an amazing city with a lot to offer but I think the lasting impression of this city will be from those forced into residence here as refugees in exile from a land that was taken from them.

I will update soon.

PS Go outside the camp.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Good news!

Medical Update:

Luckily for me the lack of emphasis placed on the importance of deadlines and schedules has worked in my favor. Although the doctor told me the biopsy results would take 8-10 days to get back I called them this morning in the off-chance that they might be finished. They were.

It's not cancer and it's not tuberculosis (which they suspected). It simply a bacetrial infection that, hopefully, should be completely treated within a month or two with antibiotics. This is a huge relief and I cannot thank you all enough for the incredible outpouring of love and support. It is time like these when we are reminded of the community of people surrounding us who love and care for us always. As my Aunt, an eternal optimist, put it: we are there through the good and the not so good.

For all those who sent emails and messages I thank you so much. Your kind words were a huge support to me. For all those who kept my family and I in their thoughts and prayers, thank you. I feel truly blessed.

In one of those very coincidental moments in life I awoke this morning to a text from a young man I met a few weeks ago (it's common for me to receive texts like these). It said, "Sometimes, god fills our eyes with tears... Perhaps he makes our eyes get washed once in a while so that we could see life with a good vision again". Well put Roshan.

Thank you again to everyone for all of their wonderful support!

Check back soon for the much belated blog covering my trip to Mumbai!

Friday, February 25, 2011


I knew that there were going to be difficult periods during my YAV year. I thought that in preparing for this year I had considered all of the possible challenges that I might face. I was wrong.
About a month ago I went to the doctor because my stomach was giving me problems.  They started with a general exam, followed by a complete blood test, ultrasound and later an endoscopy. The ultrasound showed that my spleen was slightly enlarged but they told me to wait on it for a week or so to see if it got better. It didn't really. So then I went back and they conducted a CT scan which showed some irregularities, nothing too serious but enough to warrant and colonoscopy. The colonoscopy came back all normal apart from an ulcer in my upper colon which they have taken tissue from for a biopsy. The colonoscopy was done on Tuesday. Although they seem hopeful that it is nothing serious we will not know for sure until the end of next week. This has been a draining and nerve-racking process that has been made especially difficult by nature of the fact that I am so far away from my normal support group.
Having said that… everyone here has been extremely helpful and supportive. Thomas John was able to use his wide spread connections to get me appointments in, what must be, record time. Madison and Maggie have been by my side (often quite literally) through the whole process. And here at my site I have had the support and encouragement of my supervisor, Gigi Sir, and the students.
 All I ask is that you keep me in your thoughts and, for those so inclined, prayers. Take this opportunity not just to think about me but all of the people suffering around the world. I will be sure to update you on the situation when I know further details. I should be getting back the biopsy results towards the end of next week.
And for those of you who see my parents on a regular basis give them a big hug for me please. They have been incredible through-out all of this. I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Latest Malayalam word: Kallan-- thief.

It was the weekend. I slept in, did a small amount of laundry, made myself some chai, read a little, took a shower and then decided where I wanted to get some lunch from: Shalimar (one of the usual spots). I enjoyed my masala dosa and second or third cup of chai for the day. Began walking back to the college and decided to run by the small store and pick up some supplies. It was a truly spectacular day and, when in the shade it was an enjoyable temperature. As I entered the campus I remember thinking to myself how lovely the weather was outside. Campus was busy because of a two day job fair for students from many surrounding colleges and universities. I stopped briefly to chat with some of the CMS students I saw there and was introduced to several students from nearby colleges. After talking for a while I continued on the final short distance to my room. I walked in, placed my padlock down on the table and instantly noticed it was missing.

My laptop. My laptop is gone. What the hell?!? I searched around the room just to make sure I didn’t leave it anywhere before heading out. No, I’m sure I had left it on my table. Yep… proof. All of the items on my desk are messed up and the wiring has all been pulled towards the window. It’s gone.

I called my supervisor and he told me to go and tell the campus security. Because of the job fair though there were uniformed Kerala Police Officers on campus. So I explain to them what has happened. Or, rather, I explain to one of the CMS students who then translated for me.
The police then came down to investigate and decided that I should write a letter of enquiry to the Circle Inspector of Police and he will conduct the further investigation. That investigation has come and gone and, seeing as it entailed two questions (what day did it happen? What time?), I am not hopeful for the return of my laptop.

Losing the laptop is one thing. But it wasn’t losing the replaceable plastic skeleton that bothered me. It’s losing everything that was in it-- including all of my documentation of India. At times like this only one thing comes to mind. And, it just so happens that these words came from a man who’s life experience was also shaped by this country and who lured many an adventurous Westerner out to the land of the Jungle Book.  In his poem If--, Rudyard Kipling says of losing everything you have, “And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;”

So, that’s it. I shall say no more on the subject.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

November Retreat and the start of December

Once again I find myself apologizing for my lack of posts. It has been a busy few weeks culminating with a wonderful retreat with my whole India family.

This month our retreat was in Wayanad in the north-eastern portion of Kerala. To get there we had to take a 3 hour train ride followed by a 3 hour bus ride up into the mountains. Wayanad is know, amongst other things, for its tea production and in the cool climate it thrives.

The mountains, which are part of a long range of moutains (the Western Ghats), are home to a large tribal population. If you remember one of my past blogs I discussed the lives of Dalits. Tribals do not technically fall in the caste system but they are none the less of the most marginalized and systematically oppressed people.

In Kerala at the time of Indian Independence and the creation of the modern state of Kerala the elections were one by the Communist Party of India. One of the first pieces of legislation that the party passed was a land reform act returning land to Tribal groups who had, for various reasons, lost their land.

Now, however, many of them still find themselves landless-- having sold their land for as little as a few bottles of alcohol and some cigarettes.

These people education is poor and that was often taken advantage of by wealthier land prospectors.

In Tribal communities today alcoholism and unemployment are high and, like the Dalits, structural system in place on help to keep these people down.

During our four day stay amongst their community we were able to meet many Tribal people. We even attended an Alcoholics Annonymous meeting at a local home.

The people of this region are trying to struggle with the challenges ahead.

We will be returning to Wayanad in late Spring and we are all looking forward to the refreshing cool mountain air!


We are finally into December and I only have two more days as a 22 year old which is quite hard to believe. I can remember being 8 as if it were yesterday. But experiencing this time of year is integral to my time here in India. Spending this time away from friends and family only reminds me of how important they truly are.