April 11, 2008


Where have I been some of you may ask??
It is true I have been in India since Dec.11 ( and will return to Newfoundland on April 17….maybe). Most of you on this list may be used to periodic e-mails from me and know that they can be long so BE WARNED...THIS IS A LONG ONE WITH MANY PICS!! If you are wondering why I have sent nothing thus far, well the reason I have sent none of those since I came here is simple.

I just didn't feel like it.

However, to give you a sense of what has been going on over here, let me give a synopsis of sorts and some pics. To all of you who read this at the office or don't like to read and usually skim or delete e-mails longer than 2 paragraphs, do as you must…This is for the rest of you.

The old environs of Mylapore in Chennai are essentially where I have been keeping and immersing myself in Karnatak music. Living at my gurus house for most of the time, attending his concerts, assisting and traveling with him. It was an education beyond my expectations musically and otherwise. I am truly blessed to have such an association with a being such as the illustrious Trichy Sankaran…one of the greatest musicians I will ever know.
I will leave it at that.
I have a love/hate relationship with Chennai. For all its maddening traffic, pollution, lack of respect for pedestrians and somewhat suffocating heat, it endears me with its remarkable concentration of some of the most enchanting music I could hope to listen to and learn from, a plethora of culinary adventures and above all else, a familiarity.

But it is always nice to leave that heat for another. So I spent some time in Portuguese inflected and sun/sand soaked Goa with Anu, her wonderful cousin(Anju), her husband (Jeetu) and mother(Mommy) and two dogs. So generous they were..I got fat I believe. Good times.

Later I went with Anu, her other cousin and our friend Jacob to the remote Andaman islands ...many miles into the sea...closer to Burma than India in fact. My only wish is to snorkel and I did just that. And live in a bamboo hut, see a Hindu festival dedicated to Muruga in which devotees pierce themselves and walk on hot coals, get invaded by rats (one nibbled on my toenail while asleep.....I didn't really sleep after that), lazily ride a bicycle from one end of the small island we stayed on to the other, exploring its reefs and the always fascinating underwater world of glowing mountains of coral, embedded with giant purple clams, a turtle, scary sea snake, schools of giant parrot fish and other strange and wonderful fish which I have no idea what to call. This we did each day until we decided to leave.

Flying into the madness of Kolkata. A charming and intense city. Density is the first impression. Taking a night ride in a human powered rickshaw of which there are thousands. It made one giddy to glide through the back alleys of this ancient city at night, high up from street level on our two wheels, past mysterious stalls and bustling bazaars....though it was March 2008, it could have easily seemed to be March 1908. After wading through literal rivers of people at the train station we began our journey to the mystical mountains of Sikkim.

Sikkim. I will have a hard time describing this place and will never forget it. Truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and some of the most honest, sincere and strongest people I have ever met. If that were not enough, plastic bags are banned in Sikkim and most forms of pollution are banned or kept in check which makes Sikkim by far the cleanest place in India....and if you have been to India you will appreciate that fact even more. I felt like I was in some strange warp zone. Streams were actually clean and not clogged with garbage and sewage. The air refreshing, chilly and quiet. Relatively no litter on the roads or in the forests. It was shocking after living in Chennai (or any Indian city). We take a shared jeep for 5 hours, ascending the hills and valleys. Starting at the riverside we slowly take a road that would maybe look like a plate of noodles from above, with so many twists, turns and switchbacks...the only way to ascend to 6000 feet. What a drive!! I was giddy for the whole journey as I had never experienced anything like this before. Altitude may have had something to do with it too. Rolling mountains covered in thick bamboo, flowers, terraced fields, towering forests, houses teetering on the edges of these mountains like goats on a cliff. I am amazed at where humans actually can live and build. Further we go, the vast views through the valleys are getting shrouded now in what seems like fog but is actually clouds. One could get nauseas now from looking over the edge of the road. The wide river from hours before is now a small stream about an inch wide and those people and their houses seem a world away. Our destination is a town called Pelling and offers rich views of the holy Mount Khanchandzonga, sacred to Buddhists and tribal people of Sikkim. Each morning it is what greeted us through our window and kept one mesmerized through the day. Speaking of Buddhists, Sikkim is overflowing with them....for hundreds of years they have been here as many Tibetans have been in Sikkim for the same length of time. Prayer flags, carrying prayers through the valleys, are ubiquitous and seems as natural as the bamboo poles they are strung upon. Visiting gompas (monasteries) leaves one with more questions than answers as you are bombarded with such a living work of art that a gompa is. Such detail in design with ornate animal figures, abstract motifs and colour is the outside. Inside are spectacular murals, rich with stories, deities and symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. An encyclopedia you would need to understand.....but easy to appreciate all the same. And very quiet are these gompas. A few small monks may wander outside and behave as the children they are, but inside all is quiet and serene with large idols of different gurus and incarnations of Buddha. In a some rooms you can hear the intriguing chants of an older monk and the only light you get is that coming through the small window far above your head and the old (some gompas are from 16th century) wooden floor creaks beneath your feet with each step.

But even this place we left for an even greater place. Lake Khecholpalri was said to be formed by the footprint of the goddess Tara and as such is sacred. Pilgrims come often and the circumference of the lake is covered in prayer flags of blue, yellow, red., white, and green left by devotees. In the morning I would come down and be immersed in the low mist that rises from the water and listen to dozens of different birds echoing of the surrounding hills. Those hills. It appears as that the highest point in a given area is the best place to build your house and make a farm or build a monastery. And what views that gives the inhabitants! The effect of always seeing for miles through your valley, or looking above the hill tops to see Himalayan peaks gazing down at you must have an effect on the psyche. Our lodge was not much more than a shack perched upon one of these hills and when not just sitting, wondering and inhaling the vista before me on its porch, we were hiking the hills through mountain jungle or climbing through caves that powerful old lamas had meditated in hundreds of years back. This environment was for me, a complete dreamworld. In the morning the atmosphere is clear and you can see through the valley at the other settlements and lush greenery below, dotted with a house here and there with a little stream of woodsmoke billowing up and tiny figures gathering some leaf or vegetable from their farm. This would slowly be overtaken by clouds, patches of them at first but then your whole scene has disappeared and all you see is mist and the faint figures of mountains or trees through the thickness. And always a little chilly.
For food, our hosts would provide. Sonam, one of the most honest and good hearted people I have ever met) and his friend Pema, made of the same material as Sonam and eventhough he had an impaired leg, he would literally hop up the mountain trails with a smile on his face, were truly endearing.
In the evening, a veritable feast was prepared by them consisting of momos (steamed dumplings), nimkey (seasoned fiddle-heads), rice, dal, some curried vegetables, chutney, churpi (local cheese, cooked with tomato, turmeric and cilantro) and various other delights. On our final night they also presented us with tongba, a local alcoholic drink made from fermented millet and served in a huge bamboo or wooden mug and sipped through a bamboo straw. Steaming hot water would be poured over your portion and you drink it slowly. Every few minutes more water would come so your cup never really ended(!!!!) In these altitudes, even a little booze goes a long way. We stayed there for three days and nights with intermittent electricity, good people and absolutely no plans whatsoever.
Waking up and inhaling the air and the sight of it all was enough.

And then, curiously, we left…

This is all just a short tale and glimpse of what I have been doing. If you want to know more just ask.
Now just 8 days and I leave for home and some semblance of Spring in Newfoundland I hope.
Blessings to all.

FEBRUARY 10, 2011
APRIL 11, 2008
FEBRUARY 27, 2006
FEBRUARY 22, 2006
FEBRUARY 5, 2006
JANUARY 19, 2006
MAY 7, 2003
APRIL 23, 2003
MARCH 30, 2003
MARCH 9, 2003
FEBRUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 31, 2003
JANUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 10, 2003