Sunday, October 29, 2006

a not so short update

Where to begin???
Each day has been like a complete adventure in I will try to start from where I last left you.
I left Varanassi 6 days ago on a train ride that was by far one of the most interesting train rides I have taken so far. Since there seems to be a million different festivals going on right now in India, it has been difficult to book a train ticket to just about anywhere. I decided to take my chances and go to the train station. Of course the train was sold out and I had to board a train to Gaya with a general boarding ticket. For anyone who has traveled in India you will understand what I am about to describe. General boarding basically means tht you don't get a seat - you get crammed into a train car with hundreds of other passengers like sardines. I was traveling with a Swiss girl that I met, Conny, and we decided to avoid the hassle and found a spot inbetween two cars (near the toilets). The train was originally suppose to take 4 1/2 hours, but ended up being 7 hours. Because it is very uncommon for foreigners to do this (most travelers get proper sleeper class tickets) we were a constant source of amusement for the guards and passengers throughout or journey. We actually had a guard break into laughter when he saw our tickets (as if now he had seen everything).

But even though it was uncomfortable, smelly and we had cockroaches crawling over us for most of the journey - we got to meet some really interesting people and experience something that most travelers wouldn't try. We arrived into Gaya station just after 1am and hired an autorickshaw to take us the 10kms to the town of Bodhgaya. To our surprise, the drivers had no idea where our guesthouse was and we spent an hour driving through the small town in search of a guesthouse that was within our budget. At one point we even got stopped by a truckload of armed police - the rickshaw driver turned to me and said "police problem"...I didn't even know how to respond... but luckily the guards didn't make much of a fuss and we were waved through. It was only the next day that another traveler told us that Gaya is infamous for being dangerous and that we shouldn't have arrived at night...hmmm.

Anyways, we made it to a guesthouse just after 2am and slept until late the next afternoon. Later that night , Conny met a guy in our guesthouse, Chris, who has been doing some volunteer work at a local orphanage and school. So the next morning we tagged along with Chris to the Ao Zora School (which means Blue Sky School). The students are amazing and very bright. Most of them don't have parents and/or come from very poor families that can't afford to take care of them. The founder of the school, Nikesh, is a very loving man who has given up most of his life to live with and care for these children. Since the orphanage has only been operating for less then 6 months, things are still very basic and the school is in need of a lot of financial assistance. The room that Nikesh rents serves as classroom and dormitory for the children. There are approximately 70 children in the area in need of help. But right now, the school can only accommodate 10 children. Conny and I have been visiting the school for the last couple of days and have been getting to know the children and the Indian teachers. I am planning to stay until November 2nd to help out as much as I can before I continue on with my travels. Besides helping at the school, we have had some time to do a little sightseeing around Bodhgaya. The town itself is quite busy and the markets are always full of people (human traffic jams most of the time) but the temples are quiet and peaceful. As most places in India, things are quite old and a lot of the times I feel like nothing has changed here in the last 100 years. (you will see once I get my photos uploaded) For example, a couple of days ago, we got a ride with a horse and carriage to the Dungeshwari caves - about 12kms north of the town. We actually had to cross a river by foot and at several times push the carriage through deep water and up small hills. We passed through several small villages and even stopped in one where we met a large family (9 children) and enjoyed chai with the women while they painted Bindis on our heads and painted our feet red. Apparently this is a symbol of marriage - even though I told them I am not married. On our way back we relaxed under a Banyan tree with some farmers and watched the cows (painted red of's a Hindu thing) go by.
Yesterday, I had to book my train ticket to Rajasthan so Conny, Chris and I caught a share autorickshaw (another experience...10 people in a small autorickshaw...yep - you get the idea...but it's cheap) to the town of Gaya. It took over 2 hours waiting in a line at the train station (everything in India takes a long time) but I managed to get on a waitlist for a train to Jaipur for November 2nd. Since I am 5th on the waitlist, there should be no problem to be confirmed for my trip next week across country to the desert. The rest of the afternoon, we spent eating Talis and trying to negotiate a ride back to is very common to be quoted prices 3 or 4 times the actual amount - so it took several attempts ( along with a crowd of 20 men staring at us...if I ever had stage fright I am sure it has gone now) to get the real price.

Because there is an important festival (Chat Puja) on right now, this morning there was an important Puja ceremony at the river across from my guesthouse, so we woke up at 4:30am to go and watch the big event. It was incredible!!
There were litrally hundreds of people down by the river giving worship to the sun god as the sun rose over the landscape. We walked through the crowds and enjoyed sharing the food with some families. Then we returned to the school to play with the kids again and sing some songs. This afternoon, Conny and I walked around the town again and saw a few more temples. Tomorrow Conny is leaving for Kolcutta and Chris left for Nepal today, so I will be travelling solo again.

Anyways, I am sure you get the point that everything is still so amazing and I am feeling like each experience I have is part of a bigger destiny...I am just trying to soak it all up. I guarantee there will be plenty of more stories to tell when I get home is so hard to write them all down right now. I have a million photos to add , but as usual the computers are crap and I can't add any photos. But hopefully when I get to Rajasthan I can find a better computer...but no promises. Also, sorry for the length, I am going to try to make an effort to blog more often over the next month.
Love you all (only 30 days until I return to Canada...mark your calendars!!!)



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