Friday, February 20, 2015

Wahe! Amritsar, India- Feb 20, 2015

वही  Wahe!!  Wahe is a Sikh word that means something like “Wow!”  It refers to wonder, awe, excitement, and/or ecstasy.  It is a word frequently uttered in Amritsar, and I can see why.
We have been here 3 days, and tomorrow we will depart for Kathmandu.  I wish we had another couple of days here, in order to really take everything in.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain (and even some hail!) these past 2 days, so some of the time we could have spent at the Golden Temple was spent resting in our hotel room- although that rest was much needed.

The Golden Temple, or Harmandir Sahib, is indeed an amazing place.  It is the “Mecca,” if you will, of the Sikh religion.

Today, I did seva (community service) in the Guru Ka Langer, the Community Kitchen.  This kitchen feeds an average of 75,000 meals PER DAY to anyone who wishes to come, for FREE.  Anyone is also welcome to come and do seva- you could peel and chop onions, cut potatoes, wash dishes, etc.  My appointed job was to hand out bowls to people coming in to eat.  The kitchen is open 24 hours a day, so there is always a need for help. 
In our yoga class this morning, we talked about appreciation and gratitude for the people in our lives and the things that we have and sometimes take for granted.  We bowed humbly in “humble warrior pose,” but what could be more reverent than handing someone a bowl from which they could eat?  A bowl which was lovingly washed by someone just moments before?  (Tim chose to wash dishes today for his seva.) 

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to tour the kitchen and see the vats where they cook the dal.  They are giant enormous vats, set into a second story floor, over large wood fires.  People would carry huge buckets of carrots and onions (it took 2 men to carry each bucket) and transfer them into the cooking vats.  (There were some men cleaning one of the vats- it was so big that one man was standing inside of the vat to scoop the water out of it, and you could hardly see his head poking out the top.)  We each got the opportunity to stir the dal as it was cooking.  Ever stir soup with something the size of a garden shovel?  Seriously, the handle was probably 5 feet long.  Wahe!

Earlier this morning, we went inside the Golden Temple to sit for meditation, along with lots and lots of other people.  It was definitely awe inspiring just to be there.  In the midst of all the noise, the movement, the color, the sparkle, and so forth, it was remarkably easy to just slip into stillness.  To just sit and be.  I was trying to use a meditation technique of listing the things and people I am grateful for, but that was actually hard!  This distraction for the mind was actually taking me out of my meditation.  So, I just sat in the midst of the flow, and found a sense of belonging, (even in a place where I look different from everyone else,) happiness, and inner peace.  It was amazing.  Wahe!

The people here in Amritsar (and especially within the temple walls) are super-friendly, welcoming, trusting, and forgiving if you mess up their customs.  Everyone is welcome, everyone is equal.  (This is a quality of the Sikhs- equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status.  Yeah!)  Many of the local people wanted us to have our pictures taken with them, since they had possibly never been in contact with Westerners before.  It was fun, and really an honor just to be there.  During our yoga class today, we paused and took a moment to appreciate everything it had taken for us to be right where we were in that moment- the support of our family members, the natural resources used for our flights, the hours of work we did to make enough money to pay for our trips, the people who served us breakfast this morning, the farmers who grew our food, and so forth.  To me, this is always where the Wahe comes.  Realizing how we are all connected.  How none of us is really ever separate.  How we support each other.  And even now as I type this, from half-way around the world, I marvel at the technology that allows me to share these words and pictures with you.  May we always have that sense of wonder, of appreciation, and of gratitude.  Wahe!!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day

New Delhi, Old Delhi, I don't know if I can tell the difference between the two.  Yesterday we ventured into Old Delhi (via car and then rickshaw!) to visit the Bina factory.  This is where some of the world's finest harmoniums and other Indian instruments are made.

So, how does one get into the Bina factory?  Well, apparently first you have to know where to look.
 A narrow stairway on a busy city street leads you up to the showroom.  We didn't have an appointment, but we got lucky and arrived when no other customers were in the store.  I had the opportunity to try several different harmoniums, "noodling" around with my Western musical ear.  The salesmen were obviously better skilled at playing than I, but they politely let me go at it.  I seriously felt like a kid in a candy store- what better way to spend Valentine's Day?

Eventually, they brought out what they called the "Mercedes" of Binas.  Even the case on this thing is absolutely gorgeous.  The keys are light and springy, the stops pull out with the greatest of ease, and the air pumps through for what seems like forever.  And yes, I even cranked out a few verses of the Hanuman Chalisa right there in the showroom.

Once we decided on which one to purchase (you guessed it, the Mercedes!) we went upstairs for a tour of the factory.  It's not what I expected!!  Little rooms, all open to an outdoor corridor.  In each little room, one or two men were working, either assembling the cases, applying varnish, etc... we were able to watch one man gluing the keys onto the keyboard.  After the tour, we went back downstairs to complete our purchase- and got to sit in the factory owner's office drinking chai while he wrote up the sale.  We don't think his name is really Mr. Bina, but that's how we'd like to think of him!  It was pretty surreal, actually.

After that, we visited the Swaminarayan Akshardham, which is the location of the Akshardham Mandir, which is one of the largest Hindu temples in the world. It's also one of the newest- having only opened in 2005.  Picture taking is prohibited, but I found a few on the interwebs.  The carvings on and in the building and surrounding gates were most impressive, especially the 140 pink sandstone elephants that surround the base of the mandir.

After that....we finished up the day at a Sufi mosque and heard some kawali kirtan, and then met friends for dinner at the posh Oberoi hotel.  Overall, I'd have to say it was a most exotic Valentine's Day!!  Not your typical flowers and chocolates.  I hope your Valentine's Day was full of love- love for life!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Let the adventure begin!
I am leaving today for my first trip to India.  I'm super excited.  Subscribe to this blog to get all the updates, pictures, musings, etc.

People keep telling me that India will change you.  That it will overwhelm you.  That it is a huge sensory playground full of sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.  I say, "bring it on!"  I don't know that I am going to India looking to be changed- I think many people go there for exactly that purpose, but that isn't my intent, not on this trip, anyway.  I am going as an explorer, as a seeker, with a sense of playful curiosity.  While I am leading a yoga tour/retreat, I see myself as a tourist.  We will be traveling to 5 different cities, New Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Varanasi, and Kathmandu (Nepal.)  I hope to sample a flavor of each of these areas, and I do expect I will take a little bit of India back home with me!

I invite you to join me on this journey.  Follow along.  I'm not sure how good our internet connection will be, but I will try to post at least once in/about each city- hopefully more.

The spirit in me honors the spirit in you.

Love, Cheryl