Newgrange, Ireland

This structure was built 5,200 years ago. Three-ton stones were moved from all around the country to create this thing. Once completed, this structure,  on the light of Winter Solstice, a single ray would shines into the center. Humanities nameless ancestors built three of these, and each with complete precision and magnificence.
Each was a sign of the challenges and bounty for the next season. And, in those circumstances, their lives revolved around these structures. 5,200 years ago, the average lifespan was around 30 to 40 years. Archeologists estimate it took hundreds of years to build Newgrange. From generation to generation, each built on the successes and failures of the last.
There is so much more to this than I can understand, or any of us will ever know, but I believe every generation — every being that touched these structure had a decision: create, preserve or destroy.
What do these three words mean? What do we create (or, build upon)? What do we destroy (or, burn away)? What do we preserve (or, strengthen)?

The Camino De Santiago: The Journey Begins

Where does any journey begin? The beginning is such an elusive word…is the beginning the moment an idea came into being. Or, is it the series of events that led to an idea. Or, is it the series of unforeseen and seen conditions that lead to the events.

In telling any story, I believe we reduce an experience, which contains all of our thoughts, senses and environment to words, which rarely do it justice.
Nonetheless, I will try…

I suppose this story may have began…when I was in Vancouver taking a father-son road trip and stumbled upon the movie “The Way.” I did not know what it was but I liked the cover, so I took a picture of it.

Or, perhaps when I was visiting a close high school friends place and her Mom and her brother were going on the Camino.

Or, perhaps when the top Netflix recommended movie to me was “The Way” — a coming of age story about the Camino.

Camino De Santiago

Or, how the following day I received an email from ServiceSpace regarding a Forrest Call, a weekly inspiring conference call, about two individuals that walked the Camino.

Or, the following day I was looking for a book to read in my fathers bookshelf and the book that caught my eye was the “The Pilgrim” by Paula Choelo (a true story about about the authors journey).

No, the trip began when I visited my friend’s mom who had just walked and she cried when she spoke of the significance of the journey she took.

At the end of the day, something told me — after the past 6 months of exploration, growth and learning — that I must walk the 900 km from St. Jean de Porte to Finesterra (“the end of earth”).

And, perhaps by the end of this path, I will have a better understanding of why I am here…my story of walking the Camino de Santiago.

Best of Istanbul Turkey

I had the opportunity to spend a couple days in the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey with my Mom. Not only was it wonderful place to travel with my Mom, the culture, the people, and the experiences were amazing. Some useful highlights:

1. Where to stay? Tan Hotel: This hotel was gorgeous, simple, quaint and had great service. Aside from enjoying a small business, it had spectacular views of the Blue Mosque from its breakfast area on the roof!

2. What to do? 

  • Cağaloğlu Hamami (or, Turkish Bath): According to the sign in from of the this turkish bath it is one of the 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die, so I figured it had to be done. When you first enter, you can see the age and history behind one of Instanbul’s oldest baths. Men and women bath areas are separate and the service is classically Turkish: simple and good service with a smile. An old man scrubbed every knock-and-cranny on me…and I was probably the cleanest I had been in all my life.
  • Visit During Ramadan: The Blue Mosque, the cistern and the Topikapa palace were all amazing, but, the best part of Istanbul was visiting during Ramandan. Every evening at 5PM, we were able to enjoy the food, culture and people in the evenings.

2. Where to eat if you are vegetarian?  

  • Dubb Indian Restaurant: As a vegetarians, I noticed that all of the food was very similar for vegetarians: vegetable kabobs, yogurt and rice. This Indian restaurant was our salvation: the Indian food was better than most Indian restaurants in NYC and the service was quick and simple.

 

Day 10: Delhi – Leave Indira Gandhi Airport/Arrive in JFK — Parting Thoughts

Sunday, my last day in Delhi was low-key. I had lunch with my family-friends who arranged for me to be treated like a king in Agra.

During lunch we chatted about Red Fort Syndrome/Phenomenon (as my family-friends have begun to refer to the concept amongst friends). Despite how Indian television shows may portray the connected nature of Indian families (i.e. Everyone knows everyones business), seemingly all the changes is forcing individuals to attempt to maintain the pace by working longer hours, traveling more, and being more connected via Blackberrys and laptops.  The result is that families are becoming far more focused on their nuclear families, rather than on the community of families, friends and neighbors.

Indians are known for having chai and snacks with family-friends all the time, but now these events are diminishing. Despite all the leaps in modern conveniences — expressways, Blackberrys, EVDO cards, etc. – that should make connecting with people easier, people are too busy to actually enjoy the increased conveniences.

I have been really lucky to do a fair bit of traveling the past couple years. And, I realize that I am most jealous of the community aspect that so many countries still have. Despite what my family-friends have said about the Red Fort Phenomenon, India still seems very community-based and driven – where people actually know their neighbors.

I recall when our new neighbors were moving in NJ, and my Mom went to welcome them – they quickly went into her house and closed the door. We have tried multiple times and despite the fact that we live 20 feet away, we have no idea what their names are or anything about them.

Three years later, I think we have to simply presume they are afraid of us…

Looking back on the past couple years of the many neighbors I have had, I can barely recall any of their names or anything about them.

I really liked a quote that my neighbor from NJ that is living in Delhi had on her wall:

The Paradox of Our Age — His Holiness the 14th Dalia Lama

We have bigger houses but smaller families;

More conveniences, but less time;

We have more degrees, but less sense;

More knowledge, but less judgment;

More experts but more problems;

More medicines, but less healthiness

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back

But have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever,

But have less communication;

We have become long on quantity,

But short on quality.

These are times of fast foods,

But slow digestion;

Tall man but short character;

Steep profits but shallow relationships.

It’s a time when there is much in the window

But nothing in the room.

I left Delhi around 10PM last Sunday. I was really sad to go: I had an amazing time, in such a short amount of time. I got to meet a friend right before I left on Sunday, she said there has to be a reason you came here all of a sudden. Looking back at how perfectly everything worked out, perhaps there is. I am hoping I will be back very soon.

Right before I got in the car to head for the airport, my Aunt gave me a glass of water to take a quick sip of. Whenever I have gone on long journeys my Mom or Aunts in the states have done the same thing. I believe it’s a way of giving good luck for a safe journey. The small cultural innuendo was comforting, it made me feel at home.

I arrived in the US by 7:30AM on Monday morning, got to my apartment by 8AM, and got to work by 9:30AM — it’s been a busy week. Thanks for listening.

Day 9 : Mathura, Vrindravan – Temples

I woke up early on Saturday morning so I could go to Mathura (the birthplace of Lord Krishna) and Vindravan (where Krishna grew up) – after all, he is my namesake.

The odd aspect of these places is that the cities are quite slum-like, despite their spiritual and religious significance.  Kesava Deo Temple, the temple at the location of Krishna, was well guarded. Due to utter a few stupid Hindu and Muslim fanatics significant religious sites require 24 hour security.
The temple was actually quite simple – nothing too large or pompous. There have been a couple places that I have found very peaceful and calming – this was definitely one of them.
I felt comfortable but a little odd too – I can’t recall the last time I went to any place of religious or spiritual significance without my parents. Usually they led the way with what to do, but this time I had to figure it out on my own.
I then proceeded to Vindravan. After driving this SUV through streets intended only for pedestrians for nearly an hour, we had still not found the temple I wanted to see (there are 15 or more). Eventually, I told Manoj not to worry, and we should just continue on to Delhi. He insisted he would keep looking, so I just went with it. Eventually he took me to the Hari Krishna temple. I am sure it can be imagined, but a majority of the devotees/worshipers were Caucasian which I thought was really cool. Overall, the temple was a site to see – despite the chaos there was something very calming about it. The one difference between Hindu temples, and Mosques and Churches is that the temples are chaotic: there are 101 things going (It’s fun! Very few rules…)
I arrived in Delhi by mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 7 & 8: Agra — Traveling like Royalty

 

I made an early start on Thursday since I wanted to visit the Amber Fort in Jaipur before heading off for Agra. The fort is set high above Jaipur. On the ride up we were stopped in traffic. A gentlemen, around my height and age, said, “Tour, Sir? Very important for Amber Fort.” I quickly said, “No, no.” and looked forward. He continued to follow me at the window, trying to convince me of the importance of the tour. For nearly 30 meters he ran in line with my window as we ascended the mountain – eventually, he ran into a bike and most likely bruised himself up a bit and stopped.

The fort was impressive; however Indian archeological sites of interest have a tendency of not being tourist friendly with respect to maps and history. Tour guides are usually needed, but I was in a hurry.

From Jaipur we drove straight to Agra. We arrived at the Jaypee Palace, my family-friend’s property in Agra. Within the first 30 minutes of being at the hotel, I am greeted by the head managers and the VP of the hotel. They have set up my itinerary for the next two-days and have arranged for one of the managers to accompany me to all the sites.

Anil, a manager from the Jaypee Palace, would accompany everywhere I went over the next two days.  I was hesitant about the idea, but there wasn’t really an option, as they had made all the arrangements for tours, a car, refreshments in the car (just in case I wanted something), meals, etc.

I arrived in Agra by 3PM and we head off to the Taj Mahal by 5PM. Anil bought me a refreshment and told me to wait for him as he bought the tickets. I was utterly confused but my family-friends seemingly took care of everything; I simply had to breathe, walk, and enjoy the sites.

Everyone told me the Taj was magnificent and words cannot describe it.  I just stood there and starred – the only other thing I have starred at similarly are the Swiss mountain ranges. According to Lonely Planet, Rabindranath Tagore attempted to sum up the Taj’s beauty: “a teardrop on the face of eternity.” Perhaps that is a better description? Beats me – just go see itJ

***

The following day we set off for Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort. They – Jaypee Palace management – had packed refreshments in a cooler in case I were to get thirsty. To say the least, I was traveling comfortably.

Anil could speak English quite well, so we chatted quite a bit about the changes in India. What bothered me during the journeys was how he attempted to cater to my every need: “Sir, does the temperature in the car suit you?” or “Sir, could I get you a refreshment” or “Sir, would you like to an Autorickshaw or horse and carriage” The whole concept of “Sir” when someone is older than me has been difficult for me to get used.

During Akbar’s reign of the Mughal Empire, Fatephur Sikri  was the capital. Eventually, they vacated the area because of the lack of water. The palace was magnificent and worth seeing. The most interesting aspect is Akbar’s palace because the architecture meshes Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. Akbar had three wives – one Muslim, one Christian, and one Hindu (and 300 concubines). Given all the conflicts that exist today amongst religions, I think it is awesome to see the representation of all the religions in architecture from long ago.

Day 6: Jaipur — Poverty and Massages

Despite a late start for Jaipur, I arrived by 2PM. Luckily, Mr. T was no longer with me, so I was not slowed down further. Manog, my driver, knows the streets of every City we pass through. I suppose he must do this Golden Triangle journey quite often for NRIs (Non Resident Indians).

Jaipur, “the pink city” is colorful and crazier than Delhi. While entering the City, we passed camels, cows, elephants, monkeys, stray dogs, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, pushcarts, and pedestrians peacefully using the unlined roads to get to their destinations. I was awed.

My hotel booking was at the local Holiday Inn. At the main entrance a guard stood stoically, when

I reached the door, he saluted me, stomped his foot down, smiled and then opened the door. I awkwardly saluted him, and proceeded to the check-in counter.

The clerk asks, “How many of you are there?” I hesitated, because I am confused, “Umm one, I mean two. Actually…I am not sure” In this brief two-second stint, I am sure this clerk thinks I am a fool. But, I am wondering where my driver is supposed to sleep. I quickly called my family-friends in Delhi; however, they did not pick-up. I told the clerk there would be two people staying so I could be on the safe side.

In Jaipur I saw three key sights: City Palace, Jantar Mantar, and Hawa Mahal.  The City palace is still owned by the former Maharajas family; thus, only 25% of the palace is open to tourists. The palace was pompous, as expected, but really didn’t have too much more to offer. Jantar Mantar, contains large astrological measurement devices (e.g., the largest sundial in the world). Hawa Mahal was a building created so that women of the palace could safely view the City and see what is going on.

After running around for a good 4-5 hours, I was pretty tired. I skimmed through my guidebook and found a Kerala Ayurveda Kendra (massage place) – it sounded interesting and Lonely Planet recommended it. We had to drive through the traffic infested City to get there.

At one point, we were stuck for nearly 20 minutes: I was sitting peacefully, recollecting the day’s events. I heard a tapping on the window, a Young Girl, no older than 15, was holding her famished naked baby. She kept tapping on the window and bowing to me and saying “Money…milk for baby. Please sir.” I looked at her for a moment; I looked at her baby for moment; I sunk my head into one hand — I was not sure what to do.

I had heard stories from my parents: Once, my Mom slightly lowered her window to give some money, and in moments 4-5 kids were hanging off the window asking for money. The driver attempted to speed away to get the kids to let go; however, they held on for a couple blocks.

The incessant tapping seemed like it had been going on for an eternity, but it had only been a few seconds. I picked out the first thing of food I saw in my backpack – masala chips – and cautiously looked around to make sure I wouldn’t have 4-5 children hanging off my window and gave them to the girl. I quickly rolled up my window. She looked at the chips and then started to say, “No feed baby. Please sir, money for milk.” This continued for nearly 10 minutes until traffic cleared up. I would like to think had I not been in traffic and had there not been other beggars around, I would have given her some money. I always think that simply giving money is not a solution — it’s like giving Tylenol to someone who has a broken leg – they might feel better for a little, but then what?

I continued on to the Kerala Ayurveda Kendra where I would receive a 70 minute massage for a little under 20 dollars. I felt guilty given that I was unwilling to spare 100 rupees to the girl and her baby.

Day 5: Delhi — More of Delhi, Art, and Buddhist Talks

On Tuesday, we visited the National Museum, National Galley of Modern Art, and Humayan’s Tomb.  I asked my driver to take me to the National Gallery of Modern Art: I asked, “National Art Gallery?” (with an Indian accent). Mr. T and my driver replied “Yes sir. Yes Sir.” I asked again, “National ART Gallery?” and again they replied, “Yes Sir. Yes Sir.” After entering, I could easily see that it wasn’t an art gallery. In general, I hear “Yes Sir” way too much, and I really need to learn Hindi.

Next, we visited the National Gallery of Modern Art.  As some of you may know I enjoy photography quite a bit. The main exhibit was Raghu Rai, he has this ability to capture moments perfectly. I think his photography describes India better than anything you can read. Please go search for him on Google, you will be impressed.

Lastly, I visited Humayans Tomb (the blueprint for the Taj Mahal) – a worthwhile visit and I was able to get a respite from Mr. T (I ran away from him and he could not keep up).  I then went off to my neighbor from NJs place, so I could join her for an art exhibition and a talk on Buddhism.

The art exhibition was awesome because it was the first art exhibition I had gone to, and because it was in Delhi. The two well known Buddhist speakers/authors discussed the concept of faith. I found it really interesting, if you want to hear more, let me know – I jotted down some notes and thoughts. Most everyone at both events was from America and lived in Delhi.

Up next…the Golden Triangle: Jaipur, Agra and (back to) Delhi.

Day 4: Delhi — I have a Body Guard?

My family-friends have kindly found me a driver and a Body Guard (actually, a Personal Security Officer). I am not sure if my parents expressed some concerns about me going around India on my own – I highly doubt this as rarely present any objections to my randomness. Nonetheless, Rathorg (I am not sure how to spell or pronounce his name.), a gentleman from Rajasthan was at my service (I will call him Mr. T for the remainder of my story). Mr. T. introduced himself as the former Prime Ministers body guard and some other credentials (Kung Fu, Tae Kwon do, etc.). Thankfully, he spoke Hindi, so I didn’t have to worry about making awkward conversation. Throughout the rest of my site seeing through Delhi, Mr. T was my shadow – wherever I went, he went.

I …We…Mr. T. and I visited Rajpath, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Connaught Place, and Lodi Gardens. Rajpath is basically a road in Delhi, at one end is India Gate (a memorial for Indians who died in WWII) and at the other end is the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House) – between the two points are government buildings galore. The Gurdwara Bandla Sahib was my first visit to a Sikh Temple — when going in, they tied a pink cloth around my head. I am uncertain why the guard at the front chose pink; however, I am happy to say I looked ridiculous. Connaught Place is a shopping area with mix of high-end stores (Indian and International) and local retail shops. Nearly all prices for similar goods in the US are the same price. After having an amazing lunch at McDonalds (their veggie burgers are a vegetarians dream), I ventured off to Lodi Gardens.

Within Lodi Gardens grounds are the tombs of Lodi rulers. My shadow always was a step behind (by the way, he insisted on carrying my backpack and calling me “Sir”), I found the whole concept awkward and annoying. The grounds are beautiful and serene; however, they are not well kept. Throughout the tombs I saw markings on the walls: “Poonam loves Raj” or “Amy

A couple side notes:
…at the Lodi Gardens and other touristy attractions, I have noticed quite a few lovebirds. Dating, sex, drugs, etcetera are voodoo topics in Indian households, I presume couples come to tourist areas where they are quite certain that they will not be caught.
… I get dinner with my sister (i.e. my neighbor of 20 years in NJ) and some of her friends — one of her friends is Nepalese and tells how the newspapers in Nepal have matrimonial listings by caste!
… I go out to a bar and club with my roommates sister, Aqua and Cuba – I feel like I am in a high-end NYC bar and club. I had a phenomenal time, especially listening to a Thai band sing American songs (None of the singers had a Thai accent!)

Day 3: Malls and Expressways

Since Holi I have been scrubbing myself of industrial-strength green powder — I think I am finally looking like myself again.

On Sunday, I ventured to my family friends place in Visant Vihar, a posh neighborhood. They had their driver come pick me up (the concept is still foreign and odd for me). Basically, he waits outside their house, all set to drive them where ever they need — for the most part this is common amongst most households inIndia.
They took me to a couple sites throughout Delhi: Qutub Minar, Bahai Temple (shaped like a lotus), Select Citywalk Mall, and at the Vasant Intercontinental for dinner. Everything was interesting and awesome to see; however, the most interesting was the Select Citywalk Mall.
I couldn’t help but be fascinated with how nice this mall was compared to any mall in the US (that I have been to). I had the opportunity to see the famous Barista which is far more elegant than Starbucks. All major name brands we are used to seeing could be found at the mall, but there were a multitude of Indian name brands. My family friends were saying that these Indian name brand stores were beginning to pop up in Paris. Not to sound cliche, but it totally sounds like something from “The World is Flat.”
On any given evening there are teenagers hanging around the malls — window shopping, going to movies, etc. As more of these show-up throughout Delhi andIndia, it sounds increasingly like the typical suburban-American teenager entertainment. Given that American suburbs really don’t have much to offer but homes and some shopping centers/malls, I am worried what will happen if and when small Indian cities begin to develop in such a way.
My family friends own a very large company that focuses on infrastructure, energy, real estate throughout India. Their company is developing an expressway (6 to 8 lanes) between Delhi and Agra, this will cut the journey in half from 4 hours to 2 hours. (I would compare it to what happened for NJ, when the NJ Turnpike was created and gave quick and fast access to NYC for a multitude of NJ towns.) Alongside the expressway towns are being developed.
I think these expressways that are being developed throughout India are the best example of the change.  I presume the success of these towns revolves around the value of the land – the key ingredients being:  accessibility (easily accessible by some transportation medium: train or car), convenience (i.e. malls, grocery stores, etc.), education, recreation, and health/safety. If all these small cities emerge and have the same exact ingredients, I worry that the exciting aspect of India – originality and culture of each area/city or village – will get lost in the “Standard Operating Procedure” for creating a “successful” City.