Delhi, Ladakh, Kerala, Mumbai, Delhi, and back to Kerala again.

Sometimes you start things and never get around to finishing them… and that’s how my last post was.  After spending 2 weeks in a round-India trip, I started a post but never finished… so now, I have not only 2 weeks of traveling stories, but then back to Delhi and 2 weeks back in Kerala for a work trip.  So, basically there is much to be said.  Let’s start from the first trip…

After coming to India in 2010 for the first time, I made a list of places I really wanted to see in India, and naturally it’s such a huge place that I hardly got anything crossed off my list.  So, when the opportunity arose to do my exposure visit, I thought why not be smart and combine it with some comp time from work and … bam, 2 week trip around India, to Leh, Kerala, and Mumbai… you know, places super close to one another, haha.

I started off by flying to Leh on a beautiful Saturday morning.  I was not at ALL prepared for how stunning Leh (and the surrounding areas) would really be.  I imagine taking roads and driving to Leh would be beautiful, but I must admit, the flight in was one of my favorite parts of my Leh leg of the trip.  The mountains go on for ages, and they are so beautiful and snowcapped and truly stunning.  I spent my time on the ground in Leh mostly walking around.  My idea of vacation (especially when traveling alone) is essentially walking/exploring, taking photographs, reading a good book, relaxing, and of course, finding the best food around.  I can say that I managed to do all of those things, granted the relaxing was partly a forced thing because of the altitude in Leh (they aren’t kidding when they say to take it easy when you get there).  My guest house mom lady made the absolutely best Ladakhi breakfast bread, I took so many photos, and went exploring for hours at a time.  It was a really peaceful time all in all.  Though I will say Leh has a bunch of sites (Leh Palace, stupas, etc.) and you have to climb for what seems like forever to get to see any of them.  Leh itself is high altitude, but then it seems they put all their neatest sites on the tops of mountains.  After 4 days of exploring and relaxing and making friends with locals (who were in fact not exactly local, but from Kashmir instead), I had to pack up and leave that beautiful (and INCREDIBLY COLD) place.  Leh did however give me one nice parting gift and one not-so-nice parting gift…snow flurries and a bad sunburn on my last day.

After visiting one of coldest climates I could find at the moment, I headed down to one of the hottest I could find: Kerala.  I spent an entire day flying from Leh to Delhi, then Delhi to Kochi (with a stop in Chennai).  After arriving in Kochi I immediately got a cab down to Alleppey and finally made it to my beach side cottage by 11pm.  I must admit, there was something really wonderful about arriving at night time, hearing the waves crashing from my room, and then seeing the beauty that was Alleppey beach when I woke up in the morning.  After a lovely breakfast of eggs and toast and bread (with a hint of coconut in my eggs) I headed into town to find a boat to float around the backwaters in.  Success.  After searching and a bit of a bargain I hired a motor boat and set off in the backwaters.  It was amazing.  My boat driver was from a village along the waterways, so he took me to bunch of neat places, from small little passageways to the giant openings.  It wasn’t quite the same as floating around on a houseboat with a group of friends would have been, but I’d say I can’t complain at all and enjoyed my solo time on the water more than most things I’ve ever done.  A great lunch of chicken biriyani followed my backwaters time, and then I set off for a relaxing afternoon reading and relaxing by the beach.  I’m not really a beach person, but all in all I definitely enjoyed my stint in and around the waters of Kerala.

The next morning I headed off once again, up to a village outside Thrissur, in northern Kerala.  I was going to visit a partner organization of Pravah – Vayali.  It’s a folklore group that seeks to keep the art, music, culture, and traditions of Kerala alive.  Village life is something that always takes a little getting used, but after a quick nap, I was ready to meet some musicians and artists and just soak up the area, as much as possible in two days.  I made lots of friends quickly, and even got invited to a wedding, though I couldn’t talk to anyone there really.  But it’s okay, we danced and had fun and all was well.  Language definitely helps, but doesn’t stop you from connecting with people by any means.  Being a musician you find that is true more than most people realize; the first night I was there a music night was arranged for me.  While I didn’t know any local songs and couldn’t speak to many of the musicians, we still played together and had a great musical night.

The last stop on my whirlwind trip was Mumbai.  Ever since I first came to India, I’ve wanted to visit Mumbai, but never had the chance.  So when the opportunity for my exposure visit came up and one of the likely places for me to visit was in Mumbai, well, I was more than a little excited about the opportunity!  I gave myself a week’s time in Mumbai – enough for seeing the city, seeing the friends I have there, and seeing Magic Bus, where I was doing my exposure visit.

Seeing the fellows in Mumbai and getting a feel for the city was really lovely.  One thing is for sure – if I were to ever live in India for an extended time, Mumbai is definitely a place I could be.   It’s such a lovely city – a mixture of cultures, of ways of life, of new and old, of east and west, of north and south.  Though I will say, I’m definitely not trendy enough to live in Bandra… with women walking around in heels all the time, I definitely didn’t quite fit in, but still enjoyed it nonetheless.  After spending a few days in the city and hanging out with friends from the fellowship and otherwise (visiting neat places, like the Elephanta caves), I went to work with Sukanya and Ryan for a few days to see what their life and work at Magic Bus was like.  The first day, we went into the field to the Bombay Port Trust community and I was able to observe a session and also Ryan’s interview and photo story work.  It was great to see the children and see how their interacted with one another.  There was a group of 50 children and they were having a fun session for the day’s session.  Each session’s objective is different – but today was a session for bonding and group fun.  They started with introductions and group songs, then split into groups for football matches.  The one that particularly struck me and stayed with me was how the children interacted with one another – girls and boys playing side by side with little or no tension or problems.  It’s rare that girls and boys interact openly and freely in most of my experiences here, so to see that was really nice.  The power of sports in these children’s lives was evident – because they were active they seemed to be happy, keeping up with their studies (a requirement to stay in the Magic Bus program), and building relationships with other children in their community.  The only thing to note about the community was how incredibly dirty it was – a serious health concern for the children.  The field that the children had their sessions on was next to this road that giant shipping trucks came through every day and kicked up lots of dirt, trash, and otherwise and the children and actively running around breathing all of this in.  The second day I went to the Magic Bus office and got a feel for the day to day office work.  I know you aren’t supposed to compare things in your life, but it definitely was difficult not to notice the lack of AC and space and toilet paper and other small comforts in my office after noticing them in the Magic Bus office.  Yeah, I was definitely a little jealous, but that’s okay.  The grass is always greener on the other side they say, so I’ll be happy and content with my office rather than wishing or being jealous.  In addition to the neat physical space of the office, I also really enjoyed meeting some of Ryan and Sukanya’s coworkers, and actually formed a bond with one coworker that has lasted way beyond our meeting and continues to grow even today, while I am no longer in Mumbai.  While this also made me sad that I wasn’t at Magic Bus permanently (as it was one of my choices, it could have been my placement) it also made me realize how easy it is to make friends and get to know people if you only try a little.  I’m so thankful and grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to meet interesting people from all across India.. from Mumbai to the NE to Ladakh and down to Kerala.  I’ve been so fortunate, and hope it only continues.

While there is still so much more I could say about my time on this trip, I will leave it at this thought for now: traveling gives you interesting perspectives on not only new places and new people, but even old places and insights about yourself you couldn’t possibly realize otherwise.  So, with a little fear of making this the longest blog post ever, I will move on to my time post-my exposure/vacation trip.

After returning to Delhi it started to hit me just how little time I have left in India… so, I decided to make some more music happen in my life.  While at Vayali, I really connected with their music mission and wanted to work more with the groups, so struck up the idea of going as a music consultant from Pravah, a partner organization for them.  So, with that in the works, I went about my daily work in the ever increasing heat of Delhi.

After a few weeks, it was time to return to Kerala.  This time, I was there for 2 weeks, and working, not just enjoying the area.  At first, it was slow moving and honestly quite difficult.  Working in a village presents a number of problems…a lack of English or Hindi with the majority of everyone I met, working on village pace, dealing with all living things that invaded my space in the house, and of course being a woman in a village…which means being a little restricted in everything you do.  As not only a woman who has lived in Delhi for the past year, but a woman who is from the west, living in a village feels incredibly restricting.  I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything, or go anywhere, or be unsupervised for any time at all.  It was like being a child, but worse.  After getting over some initial irritation at this though, I got settled into village life.  The first week was a bit difficult, but then it slowly became normal and my routine.  I developed bonds and friendships with people, some through English and actual deep conversation and some through just hanging out and spending time with and using a lot of expressions and gestures.  I got to see a few performances and work with the group on music, sound, compositions, instruments, etc.  All in all, it was a wonderful time and was definitely musically fulfilling, but sadly definitely not enough time.  The two weeks was just enough time to settle in, make friends, get good work going and then have to leave.

Now, I am back in Delhi.  It’s hitting me more and more every day just how little time I have left here.  As much as I am excited to go home and in a lot of ways ready to go home, I am equally incredibly sad to be leaving here.  It’s officially began – the bittersweet feeling of knowing I’m leaving.  When leaving Kerala, I started to get this feeling of such great sadness knowing that I will not see any of those people again for a long time.  I won’t say ever, because that’s probably just not true, but at least I have no idea how long it’ll be before I am able to see them again, and that just makes me so extremely sad.  But, as sad as I am, I will deal with it and move on and be okay, because what other choice is there really?  For now, I’m just trying to enjoy the rest of my time in Delhi, the rest of the trips I have planned, then endpoint and transitioning back to the US before starting my graduate program in the fall.  Basically, life is a whirlwind of activity now and will be from now until August, when I finally get a bit settled down.  There is so much to be done before leaving Delhi.. so many places to go, things to buy, friends to have coffee with… almost not enough time for it all.  But, as always, it will all work out.  It always does in life.

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