Tuesday, June 17, 2014

At work in Hyderabad

We're finally here - the real purpose of the trip. It's so good to be back! I don't have pictures at the moment (I left my SD card at home), but I do want to share a bit of the last few days.

We arrived late Sunday after a few flight delays, and then got straight to work on Monday. We had a sweet reunion with Meera and Urmi from HEAL/SAPID, as well as the rest of the staff. These women are so amazing! They have such an understanding of empowerment and are so dedicated to the communities and individuals they work with.

I haven't explained this well before, but Kyle and I have now joined HEAL - an organization that does work in Hyderabad slums. We're on the U.S. team, which helps with all the non-ground work. So this trip is largely to present some findings from the first official community surveys completed last year, and to improve the survey for this year.

The results are really fantastic. Two BYU graduate teams analyzed the data and the results were overwhelmingly positive. For example, HEAL communities have an average of half the needed vaccinations, verses non-HEAL communities that have 29% - and this relationship holds true with constraints and are statistically significant. That's just one of many really amazing things we've learned from this progress report. I'm sure I'll share more on this later, and the website is being updated so I'm sure it will have them as well.

So we spend Monday having discussions about findings, and then today we went and visited a few different communities. First we met with a women's empowerment group. We learned about the successes they've had with loans they've given to each other, and the other ways they support one another. It's all really inspiring. We'll be getting some case studies next week for the website, so if you're curious I can post more info on that later.

Other communities we visited had impressive strengths in gardening, community cohesion, and income generation programs for women. I am amazed at the work being done!

That's all for now. Going to get some rest for the night! Namasgaram! (Telegu form of Namaste)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Triund: Our little trek into the Himalaya

There isn't much to say that pictures can't tell on this one. Unfortunately, it's taking forever to load photos, so you only get a few. They don't quite do it justice either - it was gorgeous! To think we almost didn't go.

The hike was about 7km (4.3 miles) one-way. All the travel books/blogs we read said it would take 3-4 hours to get up, but we booked it in just under 1:45 (the way down took longer though - trying to save the knees!). The elevation change was about 900 meters (just under 3000 feet), so it was pretty much 100% uphill one-way. Many people camp overnight, which would be pretty neat but we weren't prepared and didn't have time. Plus, we were super quick and it was nice to pack light.

One quick funny thing - we noticed that many Indians liked to take shortcuts. One group of middle-aged adults took a "shortcut" up a really steep hill just to cut off literally only 20 feet of switchback. The climb was so tough that it definitely took them longer. But it was shorter! :)

Most of the path was created by stony steps
On the path (we forgot to get one at the top somehow)
Pack mules bringing up supplies for tiny shops. These shops charged double because of the difficulty (I was surprised it wasn't more!)
A temple at the top
The top, showing some shops and campsites
Kyle enjoying life at the top
When we got back, we headed straight for the restaurant we discovered yesterday and ordered the same thing - except this time we knew to share. So good! The evening was spent relaxing (resting our legs) and then we did a bit of shopping on the street. We said goodbye to our friend Wendy, and we'll be heading out to Hyderabad tomorrow. We were here for just the right amount of time to do all we wanted to do, and at a nice pace. We're sad to see this time end, but also very excited to get to work in Hyderabad!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bhuddist Holiday

The monastery door

To witness the special day today, we re-visited the monastery and the main temple (where the Dalai Lama lives). A the monastery, the monks were chanting in beautiful, low tones. The mantras mixed with occasional gibberish-type noises made for such a soothing and fascinating sound. We sat on the side for a good half hour just listening and watching.
Monks chanting mantras/scripture
Many Buddhists came to pay their devotions. They entered and did prostration movements and then placed money on the altar and gave some to each monk. Some had kettles, and I thought maybe they contained tea until we saw them outside filling candle-bowls with oil. I need to look up more about this practice. Many also carried prayer beads, which we think are pretty neat.

People brought kettles of oil and went around the table to refill these candles/lamps
Many stairs later, we visited the main temple, which was far busier. I didn't get any pictures here because they don't allow cameras, but it was also neat. The biggest difference was that there were many beggars that gathered because Buddhists tend to give donations during this time. We were told by our friend Wendy (who we've been going around with for the past two days) that giving water might be a good idea, so we bought two 2 liter jugs to pour water into cups and hands and mouths. Some didn't really need the water, but some did, and it was nice to have something to give.

Afterwards, we searched around for a restaurant and ended up having an amazing meal. Too amazing - I way overate. It was a Thali - meaning a lunch plate with several small cups of different curries/dishes and rice and bread. Included were a few new things that we found out we LOVE - shahi paneer, dal makhani, and makhani paneer. I think they're more north Indian, and I hope we can find them in the U.S.
The best meal we've had - Bhagsu Thal
We rested for a little while, got cheep massages, and then I went to my cooking class. We made yellow dal (lentils) and aloo ghobi (vegetable dish) along with chapati/roti (bread) - probably the most basic, staple Indian foods. They were delicious, and I hope I can re-create them!

Now we're exhausted. We have been getting up a little after 5am because of the sunrise, but not getting to bed as early as we should with that in mind. Anyway, this morning we walked a few miles to swim in a pool fed by the mountain water. I didn't end up swimming, but Kyle did, and it was cold!

Below are some misc street pictures - finally a quicker upload!
A street view of McLeod
Buddhist prayer wheels in the middle of town
Some street wares

McLeod at night

Thursday, June 12, 2014

McLeod Ganj

This beautiful town is probably most famous for being the residence of the Dalai Lama, and we have loved seeing the beautiful maroon and orange robes of monks and nuns roaming the streets. We've seen a lot more tourists here and we can see why. Not only is it beautiful, but the vibe here is much more chill than in larger Indian cities and there are lots of things to do.

Another view - you can see our pink hotel across the way

So far, we have climbed to a waterfall and played in Himalaya water, visited a Buddhist monastery and a temple, taken a tour of the Tibetan Children's Village, and I've taken a yoga class. Tomorrow is a big Buddhist holiday because it marks the anniversaries of Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and nirvana, so we'll be visiting the smaller monastery again to see what's going down. I'm also going to take an Indian cooking class, and maybe a Tibetan one too. So much to do here, and all within walking distance. It's wonderful.

Visiting the monastery was so interesting. We followed a steep side road down a hill until we came to some stairs. 301 stairs later (Kyle counted), we reached the monastery. Unsure of the protocol, we slowly made our way into their main building. I felt a sort of reverence and wanted to be respectful, but I also realized something that might seem obvious to others - the monk boys are still boys!

Apparently it was a special cleaning day (because of the holiday Friday), so we saw boys finish with drum practice and then haul around a ladder so that widows could be cleaned. Half the time they seemed to carry it just for fun, because they would always bring it back to the same spot afterwards. Another boy came in rolling a small wheel-shaped magnet attached to a string, fixing it each time it fell over. It was just so fun to see them play.
Cleaning day at the monastery

We also met an older monk when everyone came out for lunch, and we got to talk with him for a while. He's the one who told us about Friday, and he answered some other questions we had. His name was Nyima, meaning "sun" in Tibetan. We've met some other Tibetans since and we love how their names all seem to have meaning.

A few-mile walk to the Tibetan Children's Village along a tree-covered road was well worth it. The organization houses and teaches Tibetan children who are orphaned or are from destitute families within India. It was a nice campus, and the children were cute. While there, we met a Tibetan woman and her children who actually live in Austria.

After, she invited us to tea (even though we didn't drink any) and we got to talk for a good hour or two. She had attended TCV as a child, then got married to an Austrian who had been doing service there as a young man. They moved to Austria and she brought her children to attend the school to learn about Tibetan culture. But they were not having it and were in the process of returning home. It was lovely spending time talking with them and exchanging stories. Her 13 year-old daughter was full of fun facts about disgusting foods and world news. Of course, they all speak at least three languages - German, Tibetan, and English. People like this make me want to learn another language!

I'm so glad we have a few more days here!

Inside the monastery
Beautiful monastery doors
Buddhist writings
The water is so clear beneath the waterfall!
On our walk to the waterfall, we watched these two monk boys and thought it was cute how the smaller one kept his hand on the other

To the Himalaya

Delhi has a really impressive metro, which was great for saving rupees getting to the airport. Our plane to Dharamshala was small and nowhere near full and the flight was quick. The landing, however, was the shakiest either of us have ever experienced - we came in so fast and steep we really did hold our breath for a but... but it finally stabilized. Phew.

Now picture an apartment complex down a narrow one-lane dirt road in the middle of nowhere. That's where we found out the room we'd rented was. It was beautiful, but we were absolutely stranded and much further from our destination than we expected. There was no internet and we don't have a phone, and our housekeeper spoke very broken English.
Rice fields with our apartment room in the background
Eventually, we communicated well enough to get to an internet cafe and change our hotel plans. But we were really glad for the mistake, because the walk to the cafe took us through fallow rice fields, a grain mill on a stream, and the housekeeper's residence. We met his family, who lived in a family home along with his mother and brothers and their wives. They had goats and their own little shrine-temple (not sure what it is called). It was so nice out there.
He showed us his mill on the stream running next to their home

But alas, we needed to get up the mountain slopes! So we took a taxi up the winding hillside, narrowly missing oncoming traffic on roads barely barely barely wide enough for two cars (and sometimes not that wide). The drive was so steep! We were amazed that the little taxi we were in could make it, and a little scared on some of the hairpin turns.
Our steep climb up the mountain began
The hassle was all so worth it! McLeod Ganj is a breath of fresh air. It's enchanting staying here at the base of the Himalaya, and it's very different than other parts of India we've visited. There is a mix of Indian and Tibetan culture since so many refugees live here. So far, we have really loved it.

A full post on McLeod Ganj to come. For now, enjoy some phone photos of the views we have from our hotel.

From our hotel roof

These slopes are so colorful!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Favorite people in Delhi

Goodbye, Claire!
On our last morning, we visited the Tibet House with Claire. It was small but really fascinating. We got to see lots of Tibetan artifacts and learned a bit about Tibet and Buddhism. We spent a good hour in the library there, skimming Buddhist books and admiring old Tibetan writings wrapped in cloths in all shades of orange.

Then we parted with Claire (sadly), and headed to the Lodi Gardens - a free park with shrubbery, ruins, and even a running track around it. We saw several couples, and even one getting fresh (a first for us here), so apparently it's the place for dates. The best part of all: there were sprinklers running in one section, and we just happened to stay on that path for a while. It was quite refreshing.

We went to Maggie's mom's house for the evening, and Maggie cooked up an amazing chicken curry! It was wonderful to be in their home, talking and getting to know them better. Maggie and Raju, her husband, are hoping to attend BYU-Hawaii, and we are so excited for them. We felt so blessed by their kindness and generosity-they have such loving hearts. It was by far my favorite experience so far.
Maggie, her son Jeffrey, her husband Raju, and her mother and niece
Lodi Gardens

A Muslim tomb in the Lodi Gardens
Two-liter water bottles are half my size
Headed home

Another hot Delhi day

Going to church in India is always so wonderful and refreshing. Not only is it nice to have something familiar  (and AC...), but the peace and spirit inside church are just what you need after a week in of bustling streets and busy activities. The members are so faithful and pure, and we so enjoy their testimonies and lessons. It always reminds us of what matters most, and inspires us to live more fully Christ's teachings. The branch we attended actually had a handful of people from Africa, and some refugees from Burma, and there were several sets of missionaries.

We met Maggie there along with her husband and their brand new baby- Maggie served a mission in New Zealand with Kyle. It was so nice to see them! We previously hoped to spend the evening with them, but they had plans with family, so we decided to visit a few more places in Delhi. It worked out well too, because we found out that most historical attractions are closed on Mondays.

So we met up with Claire and visited Red Fort and then wandered through the bazaars of Chandi Chowk until we reached the Jama Masjid. We came just in time to enter the functioning mosque, and we ladies had to don robes so that we were covered. A bit after we left it was time for the call to prayer, which was really beautiful to listen to as we sat on the steps just outside.

In the heat we do not get very hungry, so we usually just eat one meal after breakfast - a combined lunch/dinner around 3 or 4. We decided to try paratha, a fried, stuffed Indian bread - they reminded us of papusas, but with more options for filling. I got one with mixed vegetables, Kyle got one with aloo (potatoes), and then we shared one filled with paneer (Indian cheese). And bonus - they came with a plate of sauces/curries/I'm not sure what to call them. As best we could ascertain, you dip in them and eat them plain on the side. It was so cheap, and so delicious!

I wish we could post more pictures - they just take so long to load! And I'll admit, I really don't whip out my camera that much. I like enjoying the moment without it sometimes. And other times when I really want it out I feel uncomfortable because it's just not the right setting for it. So here are our few for now :)
Red Fort's outer gate - very impressive!
Our paratha maker
The back of Jama Masjid with lots of birds (if you can see them)
Jama Masjid
Cement cart

Traveling buddy!

We gained a traveling buddy on day two – her name is Claire. She stayed at the same guesthouse we did, and we made a perfect match to go around Delhi together. A friend of hers just got married here in India, so she came to attend. Since she’s doing TFA, she has summer break and gets to stay in India a while. It’s always more fun to have people to share experiences with, and Claire was a great companion. Also, it made it very convenient to get pictures with both of us together.

Of course we visited some great tourist spots – Lotus Temple, Qutub Minar, and an almost-empty public park with tombs and ruins scattered throughout. 

Lotus temple was especially interesting to me because it was a Baha’i place of worship. I can’t remember ever studying about the Baha’i faith before, but it was really interesting. From the little I understand, they believe all faiths are different paths to one great truth, and they read from several books of scripture during the short fifteen minute service we attended. There was also some beautiful singing by an Indian woman, and the acoustics were really neat – she sounded like multiple people as her echoes cradled her voice.

We ended the day (as all days here in Delhi) very exhausted, and we fall asleep early. The 115 degree weather really sucks it out of you. But boy, do I sleep well!

Here are some pictures! I'm having a difficult time loading them, and they look super huge when I uploaded them, so I had to make them smaller. I hope they are still big enough for everyone to see (at this point, I can't tell).

Friday, June 6, 2014

Day 1: Delhi

We're just waiting for our housekeeper to make us breakfast, so I thought I'd give a little update.

Yesterday was great - we felt less jet-lagged than last time. We think it's a combo of flying business class (being able to lay down helps sleep a bit), knowing what to expect, and because so far Delhi seems quite nice. Though the skies are hazy, the pollution doesn't get to me as much as in Hyderabad, the streets are much nicer (no potholes and less buses), and there are less beggars. Maybe it's because we've only visited a few sections, but that's our impression so far.

We visited a tomb (insert name later...) that the Taj Mahal was fashioned after, Gandhi's martyrdom site, and Nehru's home-turned-museum. Kyle was loving the historical stuff. He wonders why he didn't decide to become a history professor.

I'll put a few pictures up below. I've only seen them in thumbnail form, so hopefully they're decent.

Here are some of the favorite little things so far.

Guy selling us our water: "Where you're from?"
Us: "U.S."
Guy: "Where's the 'A'? Haha"

Auto drivers are un-pleasantly surprised that we know how to barter. "It's a good price, come, come" - not!

We love riding in rickshaws again!

Two power outages so far! Including one while trying to upload pictures to this post! But they've only been a half-hour each, which is cake.