Let me just say, Goa is a great time. Emma and I just got back from a four-day vacation in India’s smallest state, Goa. It was glorious. I can’t even begin to explain. Since I have papers to write and finals to study for, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. But basically all we did was eat, swim, “tan” (don’t worry Mom I didn’t forget to use sunscreen), drink, and repeat. I tried feni, which is a Goan liquor. I have never had such a strong drink. Each shot is 45% alcohol. Yikes. You can buy beer anywhere and it’s encouraged. Our cab driver actually stopped to find us a bottle opener so we could drink in the car. I’ll spare you the other details. Mom and Dad, I think ignorance is bliss on this one. But it’s a miracle, Emma and I survived.

It wasn’t a very Indian experience but it was a great break to take right before finals. Since it is a very touristy area, I was able to wear shorts for the first time in five months. I felt like I was incredibely exposed. I also saw more white people than I have anywhere else. It was actually shocking. I think I’m going to be freaked out when I get to the London airport. We went parasailing which was amazing and scary. In retrospect, it wasn’t the safest thing. They just kind of pushed us off the boat and let us go. It was exhilarating and the view was beautiful. My favorite beach was Vagator which had cliffs and was less commercial than the others. We visited the Basilica Bom Jesus which is the home of St. Francis Xavier’s relics. We stayed in a great guest house in Anjuna. We also toured a spice plantation in Ponda and ate a great lunch on an leaf.Oh and every restaurant had nutella pancakes. Life doesn’t get better than Goa.

 

I spent this weekend in Hyderabad. On Thursday my Ayurveda class took a trip to the Andhra Pradesh Forest Academy. We walked through this really beautiful nature trail and looked all the trees with medicinal qualities. It was a gorgeous day and the trees shaded us from the hot sun. We saw an herbal garden too. I really liked the Touch Me Not planets which shrivel up when you touch them. It was great, I didn’t have to go to class and I got to spend the day in the woods.

On Friday a group of SIP kids went to the India vs England cricket game. We had ordered our tickets online which clearly turned into a huge debacle. So we got the stadium and it turns out that we were supposed to pick up our tickets beforehand. The ticket counter claims that our tickets have been sold and we need to buy new tickets for 500 rupees. OK, not the end of the world, I can do that. So we buy these new tickets and make our way to the gate. As soon as we get close to the entrance, the crowd turns into a mob and the police come running with their batons. It got pretty intense real quick. I happened to be the closest to the riot so I pulled my Dedham Youth Basketball skills out and started boxing my friends out of the crowd. Eventually with a lot of pushing and shoving, we made it out of the mess and down the street. We got a phone call a minute later sawing somehow our tickets have been found. Great so now I went from having one ticket, to no ticket, to two tickets. After about an hour we made it in to the stadium. Luckily cricket games last about six hours so we didn’t end up missing much. The game was totally worth all the hassle. The crowd was constantly jumping, dancing, cheering and waving their Indian flags. It was definitely a true Indian experience. For a minute I felt like I was at Fenway except instead of selling hot dogs, everyone was selling samosas. India won. I am working on getting Dhoni, the India team captain, to marry me. Then I will never have to leave.

Saturday we went to the Charminar. It is one of Hyderabad’s most famous sites. The top of the towers gives a great view of the Old City. We also saw the Chowmahalla Palace. It looked like a smaller, Indian version of Versailles. I liked the Palace a lot. It had a cool museum attached to it. We went to this amazing South Indian restaurant for lunch. I ordered the Bisi Bele Bhath which is basically rice and lentils cooked together. It was delicious and the restaurant was really cheap. A great meal for $2.

Lazy Sunday was not very exciting. I worked on a paper and just hung around Tagore. I don’t get homesick much but when I am just sitting around, I start to miss home and school. I don’t want to leave here but I want to see all my friends and family again. Plus I could really use some Ben and Jerry’s in my life.

 

Maggie, Elizabeth, Emma and I travelled to Mumbai last weekend. Since Thursday was Vijaya Dashami, a Hindu festival, we didn’t have classes and were able to leave campus on Wednesday night. We took an overnight bus which wasn’t too bad, just a little bumpy. We arrived in Mumbai on Thursday morning ready for a good weekend. Luckily, we were able to check in to the Salvation Army early so we wouldn’t have to carry our bags around all day. So we headed out to the ElephantaCaves. The caves are on an island which is about an hour boat ride away from shore. The breeze coming off the water felt very refreshing since Mumbai was particularly hot. The caves are on a hill so we climbed up a lot of steps to get to the top. When we made it to the ticket counter, we ran into some trouble. Again with the damn foreigner price. Seriously c’mon. We tried to show the man our school ids which prove that we actually live here but he wasn’t having any of it. I understand that making foreigners pay a higher price than Indians is a great way to make a good profit but I’m getting sick of it. What I want to know is how can they tell who is Indian? Northeast Indians look more Asian, while Pakistanis look just the same as mainland Indians. I don’t see any of these people getting asked to present their passport. And if they were asked to, how pissed does that make them? You shouldn’t have to prove your nationality. So for me, it’s just frustrating that no one believes that I live here but for these people it must be downright unfair. How dare you question someone’s nationality like that?

Ok so other than that, the Elephanta Caves were pretty cool. There are five Hindu caves on one side and a smaller area of Buddhist caves on the other. The Hindu caves were dedicated to Shiva while the Buddhists ones were more for meditation. The most impressive part of the caves was the depiction of Trimurti, which is Shiva with three heads, representing creation, protection and destruction. After seeing the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the Elephanta caves seemed to be a little dull. I am such a brat when it comes to seeing cool stuff.

After we got back from the island, we stopped at this cafe for some snacks. We had hummus for the first time in India. It was delicious. After refueling we headed across town to Chowpatty Beach for the festival activities. We were able to sneak in front of the fence and sit in the sand while we watched three people dressed as Hindu gods walk onto the stage. Everyone was singing along and giving them offerings. Then the fireworks started. Apparently India does not have very strict firework regulations (no surprise there) because they were going off about three yards away from us. Ambers were falling on me. That’s not an exaggeration. So the firework mishaps at my going-away party in NH done by Lisa and Maddy are no longer the most dangerous encounter I have had with explosives. We walked along the beach and admired the lights of Marine Drive or Queen’s Necklace as most people call it. The shore line creates a circular shape so when it all lights up, it makes this beautiful view of the Arabian Sea. We left the beach to get a pitcher of Kingfisher and some ice cream at Leopold’s Cafe. Not too much partying though because the Salvation Army has a curfew of 12:30. I felt like I was in high school again.

The next day we went to the Jehangir Modern Art Museum. It was nice to finally see some Indian art. Every time I look up museums, they are all impressionists but I can see that at home. So we admired the paintings and sculptures. Upstairs we met some Americans who were studying in Pune. We also got to talk to one of the artists. He explained his techniques and even gave us little scrap paintings that he had been working on. What a guy.

After the museum we walked around the city looking for a cathedral. Well we never actually found it but along the way we saw a good amount of Mumbai. We passed the Prince of Wales Museum and an outdoor art gallery. We walked through the Natural History Society and learned about the environment and current eco-friendly projects. By the shore was Mumbai University which was so gorgeous I couldn’t believe it was actually a school. It even put my beautiful St. Mike’s to shame. My favorite was the street book fair. Paradise. I ended up only buying one book. I am learning self restraint. We took a cab to Crawford Market. The great thing about Mumbai is that all the cabs and rickshaws have to use the meter so we didn’t have to haggle for a decent rate. Well this particular cab driver was quite the jerk. He tried to tell us that the fare was 280 rupees which is absurd. Emma wasn’t having any of that. She looked at him and shouted “I live in India, don’t try to [obscenity] with me.” This nice hawker saw that we were having trouble and kindly came over to intervene. Needless to say, we got the appropriate fare, 50 rupees. One point for the foreigners. We ran into some more interesting people inside the market. This man came up to us and was trying to give us a tour of the market. We very clearly declined his offer and went on our way. Apparently, “no” was not enough for this one-armed man. He followed us until finally we said “go find some other firangis to bother.” Firangi is the term for a white foreigner. If you use this word, it becomes clear that you know what’s up. He finally got the clue. We tried some chikki, Mumbai’s famous snack. It is almost like a peanut brittle made of cashews and jaggery.

We headed to Malabar Hill which is the wealthy area of Mumbai where most of the Bollywood stars live. We hung out in the Hanging Garden for awhile. Elizabeth was waiting for the rest of us to get out of the washroom when she started getting hawked. So she started to speak to this hawker in Spanish thinking he wouldn’t understand her and leave her alone. Well he was a smart one because he responded in Spanish. He knows English, Spanish, Hindi and Gujarati. It is incredible how he could just pick up these languages from listening to tourists. He explained that the garden is called the Hanging Garden because it is elevated over a system of water. This way the plants get water constantly. It was a beautiful garden. We were being followed by some lurker. Eventually some other man joined him and the two of them proceeded to stare at us as we sat on a bench. We asked them to stop multiple times but that never happened. Elizabeth, who is this very petite girl packed with lots of sass, jumps up and starts yelling at them in Hindi. They quickly scampered away. We went across the street to see this smaller garden, Kamala Nehru Park, which had a great view of all of Mumbai. There was a giant yellow shoe like the one at Story Land, I’m not exactly sure why. We walked further down the hill and came to the Parsi Towers of Silence. This is where the Parsi people leave their dead bodies. Parsis do not bury or cremate bodies so the corpse is just laid out here. We had read that you are not allowed inside the actual area, and understandably so. I wasn’t looking to see any dead bodies but I heard that you could at least see the tops of the towers and the garden in the front. Well the man at the front gate wouldn’t even let us into the front area. I guess this white face of mine is not permitted. You could see the large swarms of vultures hovering in the sky. That’s creepy.  We stopped at a temple on the way down Malabar Hill. It was gorgeous. The smell of incense and the sound of bells took over the air.

We ended up going to the Gateway of India to hang out before getting dinner. The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We sat outside and walked through the large crowds of people. The hawkers around the Gateway were selling pretty weird items. These guys were selling these massive balloons. We saw them all over Mumbai. I was joking that I wanted to buy some because who doesn’t want giant balloons? So Elizabeth ended up buying a pack of them. We opened them up and they were tiny! That is what you call false advertisement. Another vendor came up to us and grabbed one of our balloons and started to blow it up. Thanks for ruining one of our balloons sir. We explained our situation to him and he just shouted “he’s a cheater man!” Yes sir, he is. And then there were the people with scales. Why do you think I want to pay you to see how much my fat ass weighs? We saw at least four different people with scales. That’s just beyond bizarre.

Across from the Gateway is the Taj Mahal Hotel. This is one of the most expensive hotels in the entire world. It costs around 30,000 rupees to stay there a night. I have never seen a nicer hotel. Unfortunately, the Taj was also the target of terrorist attacks on 26/11. We were told that if you went to the top you could still see the bullet shots but they wouldn’t let us. The hotel has six different restaurants inside of it. We checked out the menu. I could have bought a cup of chai. So we went back to Leopold’s Café for dinner. I ordered some pesto pasta and oh my God, I forgot how much I love pasta. Which is remarkable considering how much pasta I consume at home. We met these two guys who were visiting Mumbai on business. One was American and the other was from Jaipur, India. They ended up buying us a round of drinks. Lisa D’Angelo, it was real good whiskey. Ten High is not quite as good as this stuff. After a long day we couldn’t think about going to the clubs so we headed back to the Salvation Army to make our curfew. Well the man working the night shift was not as friendly as the man during the day because he told us to come back at 6am. Hell no sir. We showed him our receipts and forcefully let ourselves in.

The next day we went to three different places before heading to our bus stop. We went to the Mahalaxmi temple. It was much more crowded than the other one. There was a throng of worshippers shuffling their way to the altar. It was incredibly ornate but not as peaceful as the previous one. We didn’t get to spend much time inside but the alleyways of people selling offerings and bindi powder were fun. Next we went to the Dhobi Ghat. A lesson to everyone, never complain about doing laundry. This place is a network of basins and clothes lines for washer-men to do their work. Washing is considered hard labor and only men are allowed to do it. It was nuts seeing all that laundry being hung out to dry. One hawker came up to us to try to sell us some postcards. She spoke English very well. I was very impressed. She was such a sweetheart. I bought her postcards.

Our final stop in Mumbai was Dharavi. Most of you probably don’t know this but if you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, you have seen parts of Dharavi. Dharavi is the largest slum in India and quite possibly the world. We drove all around the neighborhood but our cab driver would not let us get out of the car. He said it was too dangerous for us to walk through the streets. I wish we had been able to but I trust his judgment. Being in India for three months, I have seen my fair share of poverty. I see shacks on the side of the road, starving children and physically disabled people on the streets almost everyday. But I have never seen anything like Dharavi. A little piece of my heart broke. Not many kids here will end up winning one million dollars. The unfortunate truth is that most of these people will never get out. I’m not a religious person but all I can do is pray.

After Dharavi we headed to the bus stop to get back to Hyderabad. Our ride was filled with creepers, fits of laughter, and quite possibly a drunken bus driver. But we made it back safely. I loved Mumbai and I know this won’t be the last time I will be there. Maybe Mumbai University has a good graduate program.

 

We had to stay on campus for the most of this weekend because of bandhs and Telangana activities. It’s not because things are particularly unsafe, it is more an issue of transportation. Most city buses and trains weren’t running and a lot of places were closed. We did however get to go to Sumana’s apartment complex last night for Raas Garba, a Gujarati dance festival. You use dandiya, decorated sticks, in this style of dance. It consists of hitting your sticks with a partner’s and twirling around. Anjali has been to a Raas Garba before so she helped some of us get started. Sumana’s daughter taught us some Bollywood dancing. She is only 11 years old but she has some serious moves. I know I keep saying this, but it was awesome. The locals were so welcoming. This one Gujarati woman grabbed my arm and taught me more Gujarati dance moves. She was wearing one of the most beautiful outfits. It was so colorful and covered in sequins. I loved every bit of it.

Last weekend was my mid-semester trip with my program, AIFS, to Ajanta and Ellora. We took a train on Thursday night to Aurangabad. Train rides are my favorite means of transportation. Each bunk has six beds which means I can usually sleep for most of the ride. Plus, there are bathrooms with squatters that are literally just holes in the bottom of the train so you can see the tracks while you pee. That’s my favorite. But seriously, I think it’s really fun. My standards of clean have gone pretty far down. While I was lying down in my berth there was a mini cockroach crawling on the wall next to my head. And the weirdest part was I didn’t really mind. I just pushed it away. There was this Punjabi family in the same bunk as me. They had the cutest little puppy but since animals aren’t allowed on the train they had to keep him hidden in a crate underneath the seat. The son and daughter were playing UNO for awhile; it made me think of playing UNO with my brother on road trips. They switched to Angry Birds later. They thought it was funny that I could tell what they were playing. What can I tell ya, everybody loves the Birds. By the time we got to Aurangabad, the puppy started barking. Eventually the whole train knew there was a dog on board. One man asked if it was a “mobile tone.” Everyone couldn’t stop laughing.

When we got to the hotel it was around midnight. AIFS clearly hooked us up with one of the best hotels, The Lemon Tree. It had this gorgeous pool and waterfall. And the bed, oh my God, the bed. I forgot what an actual bed felt like. It had to be the most comfortable bed in all of India.

We woke up early the next morning to get a head start on our trip to Ajanta. The hotel buffet breakfast was heavenly. It had everything you could imagine. There was even chicken nuggets and bacon. My vegetarianism was really put to the test. The ride to Ajanta was beautiful. All the caves in Ajanta are Buddhist and man-made. These caves were discovered by a British soldier in the early part of the 19th century. They date between 200 BC to 800 AD and were meant for worship and living space for monks.

The caves are in a horse shoe shape all around this canyon. It was an unbelieveable view. Anjali read about each cave before we walked through them. It was a hot day and we had to keep our shoes off so when we got into each cave, the darkness was refreshing. Unfortunately, the dark meant I didn’t get many great pictures, sorry. We met a group of British guys who were traveling through India for a month. We walked with them across the bridge to the other side of the canyon where you could see the waterfall. We climbed up the hillside to the top of the canyon and looked down on the same waterfall. There was a really cool hut at the top and a few farmers herding their cattle.

That night we went to Thaat Baat Restaurant in Aurangabad for a traditional thali dinner. The restaurant was quite the place. Outside there was a great puppet show and a woman giving henna or mehendi. The food was amazing. It was the second time I have had thali. The first time was in the north during my first week in India. I remembered liking it but my stomach was also still adjusting then so I was not as adventurous. This time around I tried just about everything on my plate, and trust me there was a ton to try. A group of waiters just swarm your table with buckets of all different things, dumping everything onto your plate. And they kept coming. Whenever my plate came a little bit close to being empty, they would fill it right up. We got henna on the way out and returned to the hotel. Anjali, Emma and I watched the Bollywood movie, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai before we went to sleep. The soundtrack has been on repeat in our room ever since.

The next day we headed to Ellora. Unlike the Ajanta caves, the Ellora caves are a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain and represent one of the largest temple complexes in the world. They date between the 7th and 9th century and were executed in the time of the Pashtrakuta Dynasty. We visited the Buddhist caves first, and then the Hindu caves. The most impressive part of Ellora was definitely the Kailash Temple. It is dedicated to the Lord Shiva and is considered the largest monolithic temple on the world. The thing that struck me the most is the fact that this massive temple was carved out of a single stone. So it’s safe to say that I have seen some pretty cool things in the last 3 months but this may have been my favorite. I know that’s a bold statement but even the Taj Mahal can’t really compete with this temple. Every inch is so ornately carved. On the back side you could look up and see the face of the rock that was carved out to make this temple. After being completely awed but the Kailash Temple, we went to see the Jain caves. It was the first time I have seen Jain architecture so I was excited to see what it would be like. The second we walked in this man shoved a camera phone right in our faces. Now Anjali is an Indian American so she speaks a good amount of Hindi and her mother happens to be Jain. So she was less than amused by this man’s behavior. So she turns and says “he doesn’t have a brain” in Hindi. Well the man’s wife was pretty angry and starts shouting “madam, madam, he DOES have a brain.” Needless to say, we could not stop laughing. It was obvious that this man was not using his brain. Other than that, the Jain caves were amazing. This security guard called us over and took us into this dark cave in the very back. He showed us this huge painting of Mahavir, one of the Tirthankara or Gods of Jainism. Seeing a painting almost fully intact was incredible. All the other paintings have pretty much eroded. It was worth the 10 rupee tip to able to see this painting that most tourists probably don’t get to see. Overall, I liked Ellora the most. Just the idea that there are three different religions represented in one area is interesting. And obviously the Kailash Temple.

We stopped at the Bibi ka Maqbara on the way back to the hotel. It is basically a mini Taj Mahal imitation. I guess I’m spoiled when it comes to sightseeing because I was not impressed by this. The real Taj was one hundred times better. It was weird being there though. It felt like we were back in the first week. It seems like so long ago but at the same time, time is flying.

Originally the plan was to go back to Hyderabadon Saturday night but Telangana activity has picked up. All trains to Hyderabad were cancelled so we had to spend an extra night and then take a mini bus on Sunday. No complaints here though because I got to stay in that amazing hotel one more night and watch Bollywood movies until I passed out. Plus we ate dinner at the hotel and I had broccoli. The bus ride back was pretty brutal though. It ended up being around 13 hours. I had to pee on the side of the road many times. We stopped at a gas station to use their bathroom and let me tell you I will never complain about a gas station bathroom again. This was not even a squatter. It was a drain in the ground with a huge animal poop in the corner. Again, my standards of clean are no longer existent. But the drive was pretty and almost calming. It was nice to have time to just sit and do nothing. There were gardens of sunflowers and corn fields. I never pictured India being this beautiful.

Even though I have not travelled outside of Hyderabad in the last two weeks, I’ve been pretty busy. I had two of my midterms, known as internals, and finished my first paper. Thursday, September 8th was Emma’s 20th birthday. Luckily, Thursday is Ladies Night here so we were able to go out and not spend any money. This is the only benefit of being a woman in India. I’m not joking, this is literally the only plus to being a girl here. We had a lot of fun. Friday morning we had to wake up early though to go to our first cooking lesson. The food was incredibly delicious. We learned about all the different spices. I did not think it would ever happen but I have become very tough when it comes to spicy food. I think I’m ready for a Man Vs. Food Challenge.

That Saturday (9/10) I went to met with one of my professors at Ananda Buddha Vihara in Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s twin city. My Indian Writing in English professor, Prof. Rao, is very interested in Buddhism and he visits this particular temple frequently. He took us into the office to meet with one of the monks. We got to sit and have tea with him. He even took us into the area where monks perform their Vipassana meditation. The temple is located on top of a hill so you can see all of Secunderabad from the window. After we sat in the temple, we went to Prof. Rao’s house to look at his collection of books. I have to say, his library was quite impressive. I want to have this kind of library some day.

Sunday (9-11) was Anant Chaturdashi, the eleventh day after Ganesh Chaturthi. On this day, all the Hindus take their Ganesh idols out of their homes and  bring them to lakes and rivers to immerse them. Emma and I went to a nearby lake to see the biggest and tallest clay Ganesha go for a swim. We got there pretty early and we were able to move up to the front. The place got crowded pretty quickly. A band started playing music and everyone began praying. I love the music. The actual immersion took a pretty long time but I’m so glad we stayed to watch it. A local reporter insisted that Emma and I join her in the VIP section so we were brought in front of the barrier and taken right up to Ganesh. Sometimes there are perks to being an obvious foreigner.

My Indian Writing internal was on the following Tuesday. My professor had already given us the topic so it was not going to be that challenging. Well, I get to the class and one of the students jokingly asked if the exam could be open book. To my utter surprise and almost disgust, the professor agreed. Now, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but this is a graduate level school and they are taking exams with their notes. Seems like a mockery of the education system if you ask me.

Wednesday (9/14) we went to the Park Hotel to see the Parijat Desai Dance Company perform a blend of Indian classical and Western contemporary dance. One of the dancers was actually a former study abroad student at Central so she arranged for us to have front row seats.

On Friday (9/16) the AIFS group went to see a Sufi Concert at the Qutab Shahi Tomb. It was maybe one of my favorite cultural events I have been to so far. It was a perfect night for an outdoor concert and the music was simply amazing. The lead singer and musician, Fareed Ayaz, had the best dance moves and he never stopped being entertaining. The crowd was so energetic, dancing and clapping the entire time. My only question was how did this Pakistani group get into India?!

We ended the weekend with a day trip sightseeing in Hyderabad on Sunday. We started off going to the Qutab Shahi Tomb, which is where the Sufi concert was.  This time we were able to wander around all the different tombs of sultans. I felt like Joanie Conklin, exploring a cemetery. The tombs were painted with ink from vegetables, herbs and animals. Unfortunately, the tombs have not been well perserved so you can only find this original paint in small patches. Next we headed to the New Fort. It was nice to climb to the top and enjoy the breeze. This fort is a lot less touristy so we were some of the only people in sight. We made out way to the Golconda Fort, one of Hyderabad’s most famous landmarks. It was a long walk to the top of the fort but it was worth it. The whole fort is just incredible. It’s so massive, it almost looks like a mini version of the Great Wall.

 

Half way? No way. Tomorrow marks the official half way point of my semester. I’ll be travelling to Ajanta and Ellora this weekend to see some cool Buddhist caves and temples.

 

SMC WIH, I hope you are surviving dryland. I miss you so much team.

 

I just got back from a long weekend trip to Pondicherry and Mamallapuram. While everyone at home is celebrating Labor Day weekend, here we had a holiday for the Ganesha Puja, a Hindu festival which marks Ganesh’s birthday. We left campus on Tuesday night and took an overnight bus to Chennai. Lucky for us, our bus was three hours late so we ended up getting to Chennai much later than expected. We then got on another bus to Pondicherry. Pondicherry is the former capital of French India and it is visable in the town’s French Quarter. On Thursday we walked down the seaside promenade, Goubert Salai and saw the Bay of Bengal for the first time. It looks exactly like a little French town, I almost forgot I was in India. We stopped to have some hibiscus soda, which is the syrup from a hibiscus flower mixed with tonic water. We went to the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple to see the Ganesha festivities. It was amazing. There were musicians inside playing music that could be heard all the way down the street. People were everywhere singing along and praying. Inside the temple you could see people making offerings and receiving bindis. On the way out we were given punjal (sp?) which is this rice like pudding that was served in a leaf. It was delicious. Lakshmi, the elephant, was outside the door blessing people if they offered her one rupee. She was so beautiful.

Next we went to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Aurobindo spent forty years in Pondicherry devoting himself to his inner spiritual self after petitioning for the country’s entire indepepdence. It was in Pondy where he developed a new kind of spiritual practice known as Internal Yoga. Along with “The Mother” Sri Aurobindo created the ashram in 1926. We spent some time meditating inside the ashram.

On Saturday we went to Auroville, which is basically an offshoot of the ashram. It was created by “The Mother” in 1968 as an international project. The mission of Auroville is to create a place which “no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth and Divine Consciousness.” So basically it’s this really cool hippy commune that betters the environment, the community as a whole and its individual members. I want to live here after graduation. At the center of Auroville is the Matriminar. It is this huge ball that looks just like Epicot, or so I hear… Visitors aren’t allowed inside because it is seen as the most sacred part of Auroville where residents go to practice extreme concentration, free from any distractions. Near the Matriminar is the amphitheatre which centers around the urn that contains soil from each of the 120 or so countries that worked together to create Auroville. We spent the rest of the afternoon at out guest house, since it was paradise. It used to be an ayurvedic spa but now it just serves as a homestay. We hung out in the fresh water pool and on the patio, drinking chai and reading.

Saturday morning we woke up at the butt crack of dawn to get to Mamallapuram. We visited the Five Rathas, Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butter Ball and the Shore Temple. Emma and I ventured down to the beach to put our feet into the Bay of Bengal. We didn’t have a lot of time because we had to make it back to Chennai in order to catch our train back to Hyderabad. The train ride was quite the experience, but then again I feel like everything is here. All five of us were in this one bunk with one man. At first I felt bad for him because he had to deal with this giggly group of American girls who were clearly sleep-deprived. But he ended up showing us pictures of the wedding he just came from and telling us all about Indian society. But every now and then we would get a whiff of this really bizarre scent. We kept freaking out, thinking it was one of us. Now in the past two months I have become very desensitized. Let’s face it, India can smell really bad. But this was a smell I was not familiar with. A little while later, a man came up to our bunk and asked if he could look under our seat because he could smell something weird in the bunk next door. There was a dead rat underneath our seat. So we had to have a conductor come over to remove the dead animal. The man in our bunk had never seen this happen before. India man, you can’t make this shit up.