I wake at 6:00am,drink a large glass of water, try to empty my bowels (As Dr. G says, “Did you make the poo?), scrape my tongue, then clear my bed of its linens for yoga. The mattresses are so firm here that I start on my bed doing supine poses to relieve my back and stretch my legs, before moving to the cold floor for standing and balancing poses. At 7:00 am, I take a very quick shower and apply oil to my body, I dress and prepare myself for the day, and the three of us emerge from our room into the cold morning. I’m usually bundled in a sweater and shawl or down coat, leggings under my dress, and hand warmers. I look for curious monkeys waiting to steal anything shiny before I walk over to the apartment to make our morning tea and oats. I toast the oats first to remove the starch, then add water and cook, adding cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, cashews, ghee and a small amount of sugar.
We have class the rest of the day, either here or 6km down the road at Dr. G’s Ayurvedic Center. Our subjects range from philosophy to herbs to practical applications and back again, in no order that makes sense to the Western brain. I am starting to understand more as the pieces from the different days add together. Now I wish I had more time to be here with Dr. G so that I would understand more fully what he is teaching.
On Thursday, we had a day off and decided to travel to the Taj Mahal. Dr. G booked us a driver and unwillingly sent us off without him (he was with the other students, who had already seen the Taj, but was worried like a papa bear). The drive was ever terrifying, although our driver was very good, and we arrived safely. We unloaded the car, held our purses close, and walked through the crowds of people lining the streets to the Taj, begging, selling small shiny objects, or trying to get you in their taxi. It was overwhelming at first, but then I realized that they are people just like me, and I talked to them or joked as I passed, and we both laughed when they realized I couldn’t be sold. These streets were also lined with camels pulling carts, with cute little boys holding the reins. Our driver escorted us all the way to the gate, where we paid the tourist rate of 750 Rupees (about $15) to enter.
The tourist ticket comes with a bottle of water, shoe covers, and a guide. Our guide was a college age man named Yunas, who was clean and well dressed and smelled lightly of perfume. His English was very good, and he told us the story of the Taj as we walked around its marbled grounds. In a nutshell, there was a king with three wives, but only one could bear children. And she did so well, producing 14 before her death at age 39. He was in such sorrow of her passing that he built the Taj as a symbol of his love. (After 14 births, it’s the least that he could do). It’s made of white marble, and the walls and entryways are inlaid with precious and semi precious stones in a flower and vine pattern, and another in Arabic writing. She and the king are buried below the main room.
It was beautiful! Luckily, we chose a good day. The weather was just between warm and cool, and not too crowded. All the Indians were walking around the marble barefoot, while all the tourist were wearing the ever fashionable shoe cover (pictures when I return). It’s hard to put into words what the experience of the Taj was like — the symmetry of the building, the history, the story behind it, mixed with people of all different cultures and nationalities. The building is a thing in and of itself, but the experience is truly special.
Afterwords, my friend Simone knew of a place to eat lunch, so we had our driver take us there. We ate at Zorbha the Buddha, a nice restaurant in a shopping bazar. The food was good, and even better was the jewelry store downstairs. We looked around at beautiful earrings, bracelets, rings made of the Star of India stone while we talked to the owners who were very nice and so excited to show us pictures of their friends who are also from America. Two of us found pieces we loved, and while I thought about it, the owner said, “No hurry, no worry, no chicken curry!” He was funny and I told him so. I got my first real experience bartering. I think I did okay for my first time — not great, but not too shabby. I found a turquoise and silver bracelet that I absolutely adored and talked him down from 2000 Ru to 1500 (about $28), which I was more than happy to pay, given what I’d seen similar items go for in the States. Now that I’ve had some experience with bartering, I’m excited to try again and do better next time.
When we were almost home, we met the rest of the group to walk through a new Durga temple in Vrndavan. Now, if the Taj Mahal is a wonder of the world, this has to be on the list of runners up. It’s so new I can’t seem to find a picture online, but it’s a huge statue of the Goddess Durga riding a lion, with Hanuman at her feet. It must be 140 feet tall and almost as wide and three dimensional. The temple is at the base of the statue, and you walk through caves blasting music and telling her story (in Hindi). It’s spectacular! Durga is the Warrior aspect of Shaki, which is the divine female energy of the universe. She radiates fearlessness, patience, and a non-waving sense of humor. She’s simply divine!
We walked through one more temple as well, a Krishna temple which was very peaceful. It was a lovely day, and I felt sun-baked and happily tired by the end of it. I slept very well that night, except for my dreams, in which I had come home from India for some reason, I think to pick up more clothes, to find my dog was very sick and I was worried about getting him care before my flight back to India left. On top of that, my mother had thrown out my entire closet of clothes and I was so angry at her that I called her bad names and yelled and cried. I felt terribly guilty when I woke up, like I had committed a crime.
I love India. I love the strangeness. I love the shock of filthy streets mixed with the enticing aromas of local food carts. I love the brightly colored fabrics matched every which way on women, and the big smiles of the local children. In the car one day, a boy of maybe 11 or 12 blew me a kiss and shrieked with laughter when I blew one back. Two little girls, the elder about 7 and the younger no older than three, followed us from shop to shop, holding out their hands, as we looked at skirts and scarves. They were so cute under the layers of dirt and grime on their skin that Cathy let them choose something from a food vendor (they chose a Sprite, but what can you do?). I love the monkeys eying my glasses, and the dogs so relieved to hear a friendly voice and touch a gentle hand. I love the cows who are so brave here to wander the crazy streets. I love the way the vendors smile at me as I try to bargain with them, and how everyone — from the man calling you to a taxi to the little girl holding out her hand — is simply trying to survive. At home, survival means keeping my head above water in a sea of never ending bills and the cost of living, while I’m safely tucked in at night in a home that I own with a never-ending supply of food, and choices — we have too many choices! I simply try to survive the choices! Here, survival for many is much more basic. Food. Warmth. Security.
It’s like Dr. Gupta says: “The lifestyle has to fit the Life (that which is within us). You cannot mold the lifestyle around what you want the Life to feel like, it will not work! Learn to be happy in the Life and you will be happy with any lifestyle you have.”