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March 5, 2011


By Jennifer Y

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Colorful lac bangles and chai on a sunny rooftop in the Pink CIty of Jaipur.

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A small chai shop in a narrow back alley with monkey jumping from side to side overhead

Chai oh chai. In India we will start and end our day with a cup of chai... and have several more cups in between. Aside from being a delicious drink (a blend of black tea, milk, cardimum and sometimes ginger), having chai has become a sort of symbol for comfort. In a place where we are constantly exploring, seeing, thinking, questioning, discovering a new side of India every day, having chai with the group becomes a feeling of familiarity--whether it's gathering around the table in the morning at Shivani's house, or at a tea stall down a narrow side street, where monkeys lie in wait (to ambush). Drinking chai is a reminder in the day to calmly reengage myself with my present environment and traveling companions. With that in mind, here's a glimpse of a day in the life of an Arugamama in Jaipur....

I wake up to the beckoning chime of prayer bells and people singing morning mantras at the Jain temple that is literally just beyond the window of my room. My family follows the Digambar Jain tradition, which I have been learning more about through temple visits, speakers, different books, and of course through conversation with my family.
If I'm alive enough by 6am, I will get up to go to yoga. Otherwise I get up an hour later. I eat cereal with fresh cow's milk, and some oranges... my father insists on me taking five more for the road.

Then I hit the roads of Shyam Nagar; a labyrinth of paths and parks and twists and turns. Even at this hour the streets are alive with motorcycles, cow-crossings, people gently sweeping the street, rickshaws carrying school kids, shopkeepers getting ready for a day of selling paan, and women in colourful dress, walking to the jingle-jangle of their bangles.

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With Professor Saleem, our speaker on Islam.

I walk to Shivani's home for an hour of learning Hindi, which is such a graceful and intricate language. This is followed by either an outing to a workshop (Lac Jewelry, for example!) or a speaker. We might be given an introduction to Islam... or ponder the eight limbs of yoga discussed by Shivani... or we might make our way to the rooftop at mid-morning, where Guru "Naw 'MA Stay", aka Ellie, leads a practice of full body relaxation as we bring our minds to understanding Bhakti. In Jaipur, I've noticed a recurring theme: "there is no end to knowledge," as said by both a speaker on Hinduism and my homestay brother, Kiwi. This is especially true as we are saturated with so much new information, so many new perspectives from so many amazing people.

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Enjoying coffee, shakes, and dosas at our favorite lunch joint, India Coffee House

At lunch time we will be enjoying dishes at spots such as the Indian Coffee House, laughing about something or other and refusing chili peppers from Peter, who is insisting to "try this! This one is real nice. Real good."

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Auto rickshaw! Our main mode of transport in Jaipur.

After lunch is our time to split up and head to the ISP via rickshaw, where Amanda and I spend three hilariously amusing hours of learning tabla and sitar in the home of Indian musicians. (This in itself is a whole other entry.)

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This is hilarious! Chowing on cotton candy after a long night at a Rajasthani theme park, Choki Dani. We're exhausted and still manage to eat sugar!

It's evening at this point, and if the group isn't visiting shrines for Shiva or temples for Krishna ("We're on a rickshaw... going temple hopping, man!"), we return to our homestays. This is when I get the chance to really explore culture through watching cricket with my homestay or conversation with my brothers, as we ask each other about differences as well as similarities between life in the West and life here. It's during these talks that I realize how I really am a product of a nation, in my case, Canada. But I feel like through my experiences here this is slowly dissolving, as we continue to simultaneously saturate ourselves with India and SQUEEZE ALL JUICE ALL TIME.

I love Jaipur a little more with each passing day, and I'm a liiittle bummed our stay here is coming to an end. I could definitely live here, for a while at least. We have so much ahead of us... let's see what Dharamsala will materialize-- or maybe dematerialize...

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All chai all time

It's getting late now, I think I will head back home, unwind to another cup of chai. I will I fall asleep to my family members belting Bollywood ballads and distant temple singing.

"Lac bangling" on the rooftop

Some photos from our recent Lac Jewelry workshop. We all got to make our own bangles and try our hand at the craft! It's harder than it looks!

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Showing the sap that makes the base of the bangles and how they make their colors

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Josephine rolling out her own design...even the experts were impressed!

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The whole family (6 families, actually) were around for the occasion

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Jennifer takes notes from a pro on how to make her cobra arm band sparkle.

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Catherine polishing her bangle like a natural...with her foot!

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These two were cracking each other up! Good times.

March 9, 2011

Jaipur - Delhi - Dharamsala


After an amazing time in Jaipur, the group has arrived safely in Delhi. Tomorrow is Peter-la's birthday so they will definitely be doing something fun like going to see a Bollywood film! Then, tomorrow night, they head off on their first overnight train ride to Dharamsala. Keep posted for more of their adventures...


A glimpse into our train car.

March 12, 2011

Jaipur in a Nutshell

By: Catherine

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A farewell picture as we leave Shivani's for the last time :(

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Alas, our time in Jaipur has come to an end. It went by way too quickly. I think I can safely speak for the group when I say we are not ready to leave just yet. On the other hand, we are all looking forward to Dharamsala with much anticipation. I'd like to use this blog post to talk about some of the highlights of my Jaipur experience. But first, a quick recap. When we first arrived in Jaipur, we spent one night with our homestay and then set off to spend a few days in Chomu, a nearby village, visiting the Vidya Gram school and staying with village families. Then we came back to our Jaipur families, where we stayed for just over 2 weeks. As a group we had Hindi classes every morning, then a speaker or occasionally a workshop, and then we usually went on a fieldtrip related to whatever our speaker had talked about. For example, if we had a speaker on Hinduism, we would visit a Hindu temple. After a group lunch, we went off to our ISPs.

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The lecture portion of my Ayurveda ISP.

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Learning how to make a pulse diagnosis.

And that brings me to my first highlight--Ayurveda. As someone interested in studying medicine in the west, it was really interesting to learn a bit about eastern medicine, especially a tradition as ancient and well-respected as Ayurveda. My classes broke down as follows: one hour of classroom lecture followed by two hours of practical learning. In the classroom I learned about all the fundamental concepts and principles of Ayurveda and in my practicals I learned how to perform a variety of Ayurvedic massages and treatments (I got to receive them too!) One of my favorite topics that we discussed was Prakriti, an individual's constitution. Every person has a certain constitution based on the proportion of the three Doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) in their body. It is assessed by an extensive list of characteristics ranging from physical appearance to personality, as well as by pulse. I was super excited when I correctly diagnosed my teacher's Prakriti based on his pulse! My Prakriti is Pitta-Kapha, meaning that Pitta is the most dominant Dosha in my body, followed by Kapha. With knowledge of our own Prakriti, we can make lifestyle decisions that help us live in the most balanced way possible. And in Ayurveda, balance is synonymous with good health.

Practicing the art of giving a proper Ayurvedic head massage

Me with a patient and my practical teacher.

Now on to some other highlights. My favorite speakers by far were Kusum Jain and our very own Shivani-ji. Kusum Jain gave a very compelling and well-articulated talk on Jainism and Shivani spoke about the philosophy behind yoga. I also absolutely loved our workshops in Lac jewelry and miniature painting. I am not very visually artistic, so I get really psyched when I produce a work of art that I actually find asthetically pleasing. Plus, the people leading both workshops were wonderful. Next, I enjoyed our trip to the movie theater, where we saw the Bollywood movie Patiala House, which was difficult to understand because a) it was in Hindi and b) it was about cricket which us Americans know very little about. Nevertheless, we got the general gist of the story and the music was very entertaining. Some of my favorite moments in Jaipur were spent with my homestay family, such as my mother explaining how to make homemade curd (yogurt), something I definitely plan to start doing back home. Also, one night I went to eat dinner with my host family at their Hindu temple, which felt like exactly the kind of authentic Indian experience that I came on this trip for. Another night, we went to one of the grandest Jaipur weddings of the year, which was unlike anything I've ever seen. There were tables and tables of food, a live band, stunning sarees, flower sculptures and even fireworks!
Basically, Jaipur was amazing. I am glad that our group has decided to go to Varanasi for the student-led portion of the trip so that we will get to experience a bit more of Indian culture after spending a good deal of time in Tibetan-influenced areas. But for now, I am psyched to experience something different in Dharamsala. I'm sure it will be just as incredible!

Jaipur ISPs!

Miniature Painting

Ellie and Josephine spent their afternoons learning the delicate art of miniature painting from our guru-ji, Ajay Sharma. We learned the art of patience, making mistakes and how to learn from them, as well as just sharing music, silence, chai, and the occasional roar of the passing trains together.

Ajay and Josephine putting on the finishing touches

Presenting her lovely finished product: Ganesha, the remover of obstacles

Ellie's project: Radha and Krishna, the divine lovers.

Ajay, Ellie, and Josephine working in the studio.

The Musicians: Tabla and Sitar

Amanda and Jennifer worked hard to establish our band, Kushok and the Arugamamas, and produced our first Indian classical music hit for our first album, Squeeze All Juice All Time. They mostly giggled there way though the afternoons with their sitar and tabla teachers and had great fun making music together. The whole group was very impressed with their ISP presentation playing a song for us all!

One of many jam sessions.

Amanda cranking on the tabla

WIth Jennifer on the sitar

The amazing presentation in Central Park!


Check out the previous post for more pictures from Catherine's ISP and some more details on what she did every day. Here's a picture of her telling us about pulse diagnosis.


March 13, 2011

Finding home again in Dharamsala

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McLeod Gang (aka Upper Dharamsala), our home for the next month.

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Josephine turning prayer wheels and obtaining lots of merit!

We safely made it to Dharamsala and spent our first night with our homestays last night. We visiting the Dalai Lama's monestary in anticipation of his public teachings on Monday and Tuesday! It's nice to be up in the mountains with fresher air to breathe and a little less noisy than Jaipur (although this place is packed with people for the Dalai Lama!)

Check out the pictures of the students with their new homestays...

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Catherine with her homestay mother and little brother.

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Amanda and her homestay mother.

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Josephine and her homestay parents.

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Jennifer and her homestay father.

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The whole crew with a nice view of McLeod Ganj and the mountains.

March 18, 2011

I am possible this position long time

Message from Ghandi memorial, and death bed:
"For my needs, village is my world. For my knowledge, world is my village."

I want constant stimulation from the world. An eternal interaction with experience. Never to back away from life and cultural difference. Never look away, as raw as it may be. Don't forget that you are only a piece of the world and that nothing would make you fuller than to see it all, to know as many other pieces as you can. Learn, live, grow. Always and forever and never ever stop. Don't let anyone make you forget who you are right now, before tomorrow and after yesterday. After your dream last night, and before the endless score to come. The world is too great to let go. There are more gifts for you than you could ever ask for or hold. You are a guest in this world. Take and do not ignore what you are given.

Dharamsala. Mcleod Ganj.
The home interior is a train of three box-car rooms, modern in color and the maintenance of closed doors. Amala knits on the balcony, people watching with butter tea. The Dalai Lama's face adorns three walls with ten pictures, tongkas too. I'm curious about religion in the home. It seems to have given way to patriotism, which is familiar. Homeland over faithland.
It is interesting to be a traveler here, but not just passing through. There are hippies and photographers and old people. We will see them come and go.
This town is reminding me that that feeling of stable fragility and broken living and use as aggressive as that of water can come from anywhere. I knew that I romanticized Venice and Ibiza, that they aren't the only crumbling carousels of cities ruined by time in the world. My sister says that houses here are not so permanent. They weren't made to last 50 years.

This place is majestic but tragic.

Bagsu Waterfall.
Sunday. You can see red robes line the rock along the fall's tailing creek, where monks have stripped down to their rosaries and yip at each other in play and tease girls. They have beers in their hands and smiles on their faces. This is the water source, the bathing place, the stream of melted snow that connects this place of exile to it's humbling mountainous birth land.

Lessons from His Holiness.
I will be posting a photo of the notes I took during the teachings.

"Good feel. Relax feel. Happy feel." "Just think 'I am possible this position long time.' "
I will also be describing the yoga sessions we did at a later date.

So much learning. So much to say. This is what I've got (time) for right now....

March 23, 2011

Intro to Buddhism Retreat

The group has just begun their intro to Buddhism retreat at the Tushita Meditation Centre. We don't expect to hear too much from them during the next week and a half, as part of the experience is learning to be in silence and minimize external distractions as the mind settles.

Stay tuned to hear about their adventure once they are out of silence!