My 4th month in India has stared and yet I didn't share a line with you. I am very sorry. As much as I love sharing, this time it has been a bit more challenging.
As you know, I started in Mumbai, where a friend was happy to host me for a week and nicely, mildly introduced me to local customs. I sat one course nearby and visited Igatpuri by my self by local train. It was very nice and exciting, ladies couches are good fun and easy way to get around. Then as planned I met my friend Jan on a platform 4 at central station of a train from Jaipur which brought him to Mumbai - on time!! So we found each other without a mobile phone like in old times. Since then we travel together. And it is a big phew for me. India alone is OK, possible and probably safe as I met other single ladies here and they were just fine. BUT, with a man by side, it becomes a very different experience. For example, I am spared some of the stares, I am spared some very uncomfortable sounds from men when I pass by, I am not talked to most of the time (!) and more little details. One more: men when actually talking to me feel more at ease then when I was alone. It's all about very tiny feelings and when perceptive, one starts understanding this society a little bit, step by step. Indian clothes is just a must, I felt almost naked in a skirt which was covering knees and that was in Mumbai which is very modern compare to other parts.
So why is it so challenging to keep my blog updated here? Well, first of all, WiFi is not available at every corner as I was used to it in SEA, it's hard to find it and it's often paid. Then I didn't really know what to say at first because I didn't really knew much and India is so overwhelming! That is a big reason, it's just all over you. It's such a big country with so many different beliefs, ideas, it works very differently from other societies and is so divers, that it is just very difficult to comprehend it and do it a good justice. Well, I braved up now and I am trying my best to transfer some of my experience to you, but I am sure it will not be perfect. Another reason for writing less is also the fact, that I am not alone anymore and I am actually already sharing my experience here and that is very enjoyable too.
So yes, I confirm, a HUGE country with huge bicycles, huge motorcycles, huge trucks, long trains, many and many train tracks, millions of people, number of ethnicities, casts, levels of living, stray dogs, cows, horses, no waist management, and many customs from 19th century. All those cliches are true... I love it, it is fascinating. Indians would be the world number one if there was a serious staring competition. That is a bit annoying part... But people are always ready to smile, help, try to help or at least try that one word they know in English. Almost any stranger will ask "your country?" And if they speak English, many more nosy questions will follow. But they can also be cute and childish, honest, readable.
Any dealings here take so much more time then back home! Sometimes 10 times more, like sending a parcel or buying a ticket or finding one particular thing which you need to buy. So you do not even know how and days are gone with simple tasks.
So far I met some Indian girls and ladies on Vipassana courses and each encounter was a very interesting story on its own and another small sneak peak to this extremely complicated society. I am not sure I would like to be born in India as a woman. It is very hard for me to understand the whole thing how women are treated here. The more I thought about it and spoke to people about it, I figured out that it is not so much a fault of male side. Yes, they have very dirty minds, I can see and feel it, they do molest and abuse, but the root might be somewhere else. The main word in a family here belongs to the mother. That's it. And family is everything in India. So the mother (and once married, the mother in law) will say how to bring kids up, what you can and cannot wear and will treat her kids (most of the time, this is just an example and is not true for everyone of course) according to their sex. So the boys are pampered and spoiled and the girls are made to kind of slave for their brothers. So a boy is of more value than a girl from day one. One shocking thing which is telling this clearly is that Indian states has passed a law forbidding doctors and anyone else to tell a sex of unborn child or foetus. It is against the law to tell the parents want are they expecting. (You can imagine what was happening before and why there is less girls then boys now.) So, back to that family situation, boys will naturally grow daring, confident and cocky and their sisters will quickly learn how to get around those terrible family arrangements by developing many tricks and ways around. Mothers in law can be very very challenging. So imagine, it is completely normal to be married in an arranged marriage here and dowry is very important and there are tight rules to the first meeting and all is very much tight up by customs and do's and don's. Alright, let's say you like the guy, he likes you, OK, you get married and you think that if you work on this relationship and possibly even fall in love with each other, you have won and this so very non liberal system was outsmarted. Well, actually no, you didn't because you are not marrying only your husband, you are marrying his whole family as well, that is where you belong from now on and have no rights in your previous home. Yes, kind of sold to a new place. And who rules that place? Yep, mother in law. Now, you might be lucky again and get in to an nice mature and understanding family, where everyone is balanced and self confident and just happy with themselves and others. OK, that already sounds like a fairytale. The reality is, that this very mother in law will be jealous of you as you now have her precious and spoiled, pampered son. She is not the only woman in the family anymore and she is also aging and that is painful, you are young and beautiful, so envy will come to visit and so on, it can be countless things and there are countless strategies how to make your life a hell. And this is just one off millions of possible situations in which you can end up. I am trying to say that it's not just machism in India, it's the whole society and it is very complicatedly interlocked. Women are usually the keepers of traditions, bitterness is passed down to young generations and I just do not see how this can change within this century.
I mean, sure, western women can get them selves in trouble if they choose a wrong husband and so on, but at least it's their free decision and free will and they are not a subject, but feel like a self sufficient beings. I know that can be just an illusion too, but from my European perspective it is a bit better option.
Oh dear, you see such a long post and we didn't even leave Maharashtra state yet! :-)
OK, let's move on. After Christmas in Igatpuri, we hopped into a sleeper express to the north and that is Varanasi (around 28 hours with delay). From there we took a rickshaw to Sarnath as Jan's plan was to do the Dhamma Yatra = Buddhist pilgrimage and Sarnath is one of the important places from Buddha's life. It was cold and covered in fog for 3 days,...very cold. Many of the stupas were hardly visible. And there is no indoor heating in India, anywhere!
Varanasi was a tiny bit warmer and had some nice food and shopping opportunities to offer as well as nice walks along the river. Another train took us to Gaya and another rickshaw to Dhamma Bodhi, a meditation center just outside Bodghaya. We sat a 10 day course there which started on the first day of this year. Then we took a 5 day long break in a nice guesthouse in Bodghaya and returned to the center to give service ( volunteer) for another 10 days. Bodghaya is very interesting, it is the place where Gothama the Buddha got enlightened. So a very important place for all Buddhist communities and countries. High number of temples was built here and very high number of monks and nuns are on their pilgrimage or staying in their respective monasteries. Many Nepali's pilgrims and merchants are coming here as well. It was very enjoyable time, we had some nice food, did some shopping and most of all met Dinu, Jan's Facebook friend, who was our guide for couple of days. Dinu took us to nearby cave where Buddha was practicing austerity before deciding on taking the middle path. It was a sunny day, we hired Indian bicycles, crossed (waded) the river and got completely taken by the countryside. It was fun.
Once we finished our service we took a bus to Rajgir and did some sightseeing, meditating, eating,... Another very packed train to muddy Patna just for a transfer for another train to noisy Gorakhpur for a night and then one shared jeep to Kushinagar. Did you know than one jeep without doors can fit in 18 people? Anyway, we stayed in temple's accommodation in Rajgir and Kushinagar, it is quite nice for a change. Few nights in Kushinagar helped me get over a flu and then we went on again, bus back to Gorakhpur and to Gonda by train and then another two shared jeeps to Sravasti, where we are just now.
We have been moving around Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states in last two months and to be true, it's getting more and more poor and basic, English speaking people are very rare here and so are many of the modern life technologies and comforts. It is interesting, new, natural, but only a little comfortable.
So I am very much looking forward to the next destination - Rishikesh! It should be developed and warm. Rishikesh is a famous place for yoga courses and we hope to move our practice forward there as well. Then we meet another friend, Sebastian in Amritsar. Both, Jan and Seb are flying home at the beginning of March from Delhi, so I will wave them good bye and enjoy the Holi festival there. :-)
I will spend another 3 weeks here alone so I hope you will here from me again before I pack all the presents, leave the worn out clothes behind and fly home for good.
What to add, India is showing the impermanence of our world like under a magnifying glass. Everything rots and decays extremely fast, the dirtiness and difficulty to clean, the number of people, the wild life,... and one feels literally like a drop in the ocean. It is a good reminder and it surely makes one thinking and rethinking and reevaluating many aspects of life. I guess that's why people like this country.