Friday, June 15, 2007

to tha bricks...

My plane leaves in 12 hours, and the monsoon arrived today after an apocolyptically hot summer. A cool departure, and nice that the change in season is right on time with my change in location.

Not killed in India: check

Best. Year/Thing/Trip. Ever.

still posting here a little longer, at least to put pictures up.

Friday, June 01, 2007


The truth is that I've been reluctant to write this entry for about a week. I thought waiting around might spark some enthusiasm, but I'm just not in it. On the other hand my paper journal entries are more meaningful and well thought out, so I can't quite complain of widespread, long- term writer's block.

I'm back from Nepal after a tense border dispute involving Bhutanese refugees on one side and the Indian army on the other with strict orders not to let refugees in. I spent tens of sweaty, frustrating, hours at the immigration office clinging from one thread of dubious border news to another, remaining clueless about what was going on. But there were about 20 other whities stuck with me--cards were played, snacks were shared, and stories bested.

On the final afternoon we watched crowds running from bullets followed by serious protest breaking by the Nepal riot police. Young Maoists in the front of the crowd waving their flags were met with swift beatings by police. Only one protester was killed in the conflict, but I'm sure the conflict wouldn't have been so bloodless if the Nepali government hadn't taken away the police force's guns a month prior fearing a coup. After the crowd grew tired of being tear gassed and went home those of us camping at the immigration office had a chance to talk to the border officials and army brass. They made some calls to Kathmandu and Delhi and let us slip by, but not before shouting at us as we crossed with guns raised, telling us to drop our bags on the bridge so they could search them*

Now I'm back in Darjeeling and finished with all my trekking and lounging for the year. With not quite two weeks left I'm itching to get back. My plan is a last hurrah in Maharashtra with the few remaining exchange students and then some time in Mumbai to collect tons upon tons of gifts for everyone I can. Summer home, summer travelling all over America, music, friends, college....question mark.

*To the army's credit I was carrying several Bhutanese refugees in my luggage. They were not discovered.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Life Is On My Side

When my days aren't so full I have the luxury of planning blog entries, thinking about what I'm writing, and occasionally posting relevent photos. But those empty days are few. Now, I scramble to slap some updates on the blog to let America to know if I'm still alive, and if so how I'm doing. Emails are almost always a one way thing with me now; apologies all around to the kind people who have sent me unanswered mail. I'm doing my best, and still love reading it.

My month of training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was dy-no-myte. I'm now a practiced rock climber, can tie useful knots, and know my way around a glacier. I spent 10 days living right on the Rhatong Glacier at 14,600 ft., each day full of ice climbing practice and struggling to catch my breath in thin air. Getting back to low altitude made me fully appreciate good, full lung, heavy-aired breathing. Now, being out of breath isn't half as tiring.

Living on the glacier made global warming apparent as ever: when the HMI base camp was built, it was a 5 minute walk from the glacier. 50 years later, students have to walk 1 and half hours before they reach continuous ice. Mountaineering will be the first sport to fall if global warming keeps its speed, though mountaineering doesn't command the same public outcry as the plight of the polar bear.

One HMI instructor, Kushang, holds the record as the only man to summit Mt. Everest from all 5 faces, and without oxygen. The oxygen debate in mountaineering is a little insane. One teacher noted wisely that, "Strictly speaking, oxygen is no more a technical aid to a mountaineer than food is" When I head for the top of a Himalayan peak--and I will--I don't see the harm in bringing along extra air.

The rest of the instructors are equally accomplished. One spent 10 years as a helicopter ski instructor and starred in several North Face adventure films, another spent one month climbing an ice cliff during the Kargil wars with Pakistan, and several taught at the acclaimed Indian High Altitude Warfare School, where students learn to ski and fight at four thousand meters and above.

But I have no plans to use my mountaincraft for war. My hope is that my HMI training will set me up with good jobs in America as an Outward Bound or NOLS counselor, or as a private adventure trekking guide. Rock climbing seems like the easiest job I could get soon, but my long term sights are set on high altitude trekking in the American and Canadian Rockies.

But first, this year's grand finale: An arduous, nearly month long trek to the Mount Everest base camp. Tomorrow I will wake up in the small hours, savor my last good shower for the next few days, and begin the winding, slow bus ride to Kathmandu, in the Nepali region of northern North India. I spent a hefty sum on the right guide book today, which will serve as my aid in finding places to stay and villages to see as I hike through the Himalayas on approach to Everest. Since the Maoists joined the government earlier this year, I no longer have to worry about paying the bribe to enter the Himalayan park, which leaves the hike relatively risk-free. More details on that trip as it unfolds.

...time to cut this entry short--I'm out of rupees and time at this cafe. More from me when I reach Kathmandu. And after May, America.

Yes, I am excited.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Recent Wanderings

Just some crumbs for the many who won't hear a squeak from me for the next 30 days or so:

Vipissana meditation was perhaps the 10 most meaningful days of my life, certainly the most introspective (but what do you expect when you're not allowed to talk) I will be promoting it to all my people in the US when I return, but please don't write me off as another wide-eyed American college student who went to India and came back enlightened. The meditation is exactly what the Buddha taught before a religion sprouted up in his name. Vipissana teaches you how to keep track of your personality and emotions through long hours of observing bodily sensations. Once you learn the technique you can replace pain with a uniform flow of tingly-feeling while meditating-- kind of hard to describe how cool that feeling is. Go to if you're more curious about all that, or just wait for my testimonial in June.

My feet are throbbing from 5 hours of snack-walking in Calcutta. Never been in a hotter place in my life for such a long time, much less been walking around in the sun. I'm quickly retreating to Darjeeling in Sikkim, near the border of Bhutan. I think I've spent at least 3/4 of the last three days on trains or buses. And if you think that makes my life sound exhilarating, don't overlook that fact that I haven't had a shower in as many the sun....with not too many clean clothes. Scumminess is not a crime, and for that I am thankful.

Soon after I get to Darjeeling I start the 28 Basic Mountaineering Course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Course. Plan to get trained in ice crevasse rescue, being cold, and hopefully a little bit of ice climbing. Getting permission and funding for the course required an impossibly lucky turn of events, props to parents and select Rotarians.

And then, it's my last month in India to wind up. Should I be expected to "take it easy" and spend my last month in Jalgaon, or does an addiction to movement demand that I stuff each moment and only get sleep when I reach the airport?

I'm a happy, grateful dude, and am hyped to get back to Brick City. Most of my mind wanderings during silent meditation involved my first few moments of getting home and the much anticipated pre-college summer of 2007. Send me an email while I'm out. It's gift gathering time....

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

This one goes out to my dad, and I guess Kay too.
Everybody's got family, no use in hiding it.

Most Buddhist monastaries in the north
have extensive English and Tibetan libraries that
sell books and the Dhamma at cost. That means lots
of cool books to read for almost nothing!

Wondering if I look the same? This is from 2 days ago
on Holi. As you can see that my teeth and eyes are stained
pink, don't be surprised that I'm still pink, all over. The day
was great, the chemicals toxic, and the public crazier
than usual. And now I'm so pink Dr. Suess would call
me gay.

I hated taking pictures at the Taj and
blending in with all the other tourists, but
there's just no ignoring the beauty of it. It
stands alone as the Indian government's only
well maintained historic building for tourists.
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Hot sulphur springs in Manali on my
birthday. Actually a Hindu temple that
requires a hot bath before worshipping.
Or in my case, a hot bath that requires
worshipping when you're finished.

Damn right there was tea at this frozen
lake in Sikkhim. About 2km left of this sign
was the "shoot on sight" portion of the Indian-Chinese
border. On the long drive up we mostly saw army
trucks and soldiers in ski masks with AK-47s.

Note the sign in English on the left. Sikkhim
takes care of its foreign tourists, which takes away
some of the fun of figuring out a foreign country.
Jammu Kashmir doesn't play so soft.

The backyard of the Taj Mahal, right
below where I took my nap. Taj Mahal was
cool, but not as cool as the Golden Temple
in Amritsar, which is still a functioning part of
India. The Taj Mahal exisits purely for tourists.
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Getting a free ride back to Jalgaon after
crashing my bike and having the chain
break in 4 pieces. This picture probably
only looks cool to me, because I remember the
purple sunset to the right, the kids fighting over
a chocolate bar on the left, and the feeling
of a fast breeze on a 90 degree day.

Adam and I snooped around the site
of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, where
more than 10,000 people died in a gas
explosion caused by American executives too
stingy to spend a pittance on safety equipment.
This building was 5 stories tall and rotting fast.
But it's India, so there was nothing stopping us from
walking around and finding gloves and employee passes
dropped days before the accident.

Manali looks like Washington State, or so
Adam tells me. No Himalayas near Seattle though.
Or Tibetan food. Or Buddhist monastaries.

Stone observatory in Jaipur. I slid
down the white part as much as I could,
but the 40 foot drop to the right deterred
me. A little bit.
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Monday, March 05, 2007

40 kilometers from the Chinese border in east Sikkim,
our diesel 4-wheeler stopped for a few minutes to grab our last cups of tea
and vegetable momos before there was nothing on the side of the rode but
snow and cliffs.

Tibetan prayer flags are dotted all over north India. I'm still
looking for a direct translation, but basically they contain prayers
blessing the countriside. Most people borrow wood blocks from their local
temple, cut their own fabric and make flags at home. I plan to do the same.

Son and Pa ropin' a chicken. The son later
walked around with a chicken on a leash and a smile.

Serious fog at the Ardh Kumbha Mela in Allahabad.
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

That stick became the staff of the flag Zane and I planted
at the top of the hill. A quick, strenuous climb made more
difficult without the aid of sunlight.

Piloting a kite like it was my job. When I get back
ask me to show you how to stictch an Indian
diamond tissue paper kite. It's an art.

That tank was open, so of course I jumped in and
played around. The cannon was fully movable; had a good time
pointing it at people flying kites on the field. No ammo...

Batting some cricket balls with a full sports
scowel. Almost as much fun as flying kites. Posted by Picasa

Tho em up

Headed off to Uttar Pradesh for the Ardh Kumba Mela in a few
hours but I thought I should put some recent photos up as a teaser before a
long entry when I get back. Everyone in India seems to agree that North India
is far cooler than the other parts so I'm excited to finally take a look. And it supposed to be
actually cold in the north now. I've got my sweater and bright red skull cap, ready to end this 8
months of summer weather.

Near the municipal building in the Panchwati
area of old Nashik.

A bus near Pandu Lena. The state buses
remind me of Barnum's Animal Cracker
boxes. Both are made of cardboard.

New Years Eve at a catholic church. We totally fucked
up violence that night by burning him on a stake and watching
rockets and firecrackers burst out of his chest.

TV on the Radio? Posted by Picasa