Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to Remember

Hey there, so we are back in America now, and I am trying to process this whole experience I just had.  Which is hard, overwhelming actually, because there are just so many memories buzzing through my head at once.  It's like scanning through channels, and your favorite movies are on every one of them, but you can't be still and just watch one.  I guess that's normal though, it feels good to have so many good memories, and it's all shared with such great company.  But I still feel the urge to find one thing to put my finger on, one thought that sums the whole trip, and just rest with that for a minute.

So I try to think about what was the most important part, what matters the most out of everything we saw and felt.  One way to wonder about this is to look into the future and see how we will be different for going on the trip.  What will be different 3 weeks, or 3 months from now, when we are back in school, taking classes like normal?  Well a lot of the places we saw were very interesting, but I doubt I will still be visiting Hindu temples or touring Mughal forts quite as much.  What will be on my mind though, is the poverty and charity, which we saw everyday, and is present in America too.  Sure you would like to only remember the good parts, but I think I'd be lying to myself if I acted like that did not exist or that it was not part of the trip.

How will seeing the poverty still affect us in the fall?  Well, hopefully my dispostion towards charity will be changed.  In the past I have felt like I would like to help people more, but never took the steps to actually do more.  So I have a couple ways I hope I will help more actively.  For example, whenever I am approached by a charity to help, just by volunteering some time, in the past I've said, "Oh that would be nice if I did that," then walk away and don't.  Now I remember faces that need our help, and turning away will not be an easy option.  Also I think we all go beyond that, and will seek out charities that we can support, specifically Tong-Len, which we have a personal connection to now.  I know there will be opportunities to fundraise for Tong-Len USA, and when that time comes, how could I say no?  Nothing that I used to do instead will be more important anymore.

When I remember the kids faces, nothing in my privilleged life could matter more than spending a little time trying to help them.  I hope the opportunity to help does come, or we will find a way to make it come, because this is the best way we can remember this trip.  The journals, and pictures, and souvenirs will all be nice to have, but the feelings and emotional connection to India, that is what will matter most.  All the memories flash through my mind, the sights and sounds come and go, but the feelings rest deeper, and that is the part of India that will last the longest.


torn between two worlds

I can't believe I'm actually back. This trip already feels like it was a dream and our plane only landed one hour ago. It was definitely different not getting stared at as if we were a walking freak show. Also, the weather in DC has been nothing short of heavenly. I honestly don't know how to react right now. I already miss India so much. The connections I've made with people in the group and natives in the cites will always have a special place in my heart. I will most certainly be going back to Mcleod Ganj. To be surrounded by so many calm buddhist monks and tibetans was absolutely wonderful. The teaching from the llama was especially important to me since it was on the buddhist concept of emptiness. I couldn't keep my eyes off him. I was transfixed by his demeanor while he was giving the teachings. Even though I had no idea what he was saying, I could feel the sense of deep connection and understanding on the perfection of wisdom.

I will most certainly never forget this trip. I want to see the world and then some. And who knows where else I might end up. On the flight to Abu Dhabi, I was invited to stay with a pharmacist who lives in Nigeria. So maybe adventures in Africa will be on the agenda?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The End

I can't remember the beginning of the trip. I feel like I have been in India forever but the trip flew by. We left India early this morning and are currently on the way back. The trip was definitely amazing and awe inspiring. I have to commend Dr. Maher as he put together and executed this trip perfectly. It was an amazing mix of religions and culture.

I don't have a specific favorite part of the trip as I enjoyed it all. The towns were all vibrant and different in their own right. I have to admit that my personal favorite was McLeod Ganj, many of the other students would agree.

On the last day we stayed at the same hotel we started with in Delhi. This time was completely different than the first time around. We easily walked through the streets and getting around via Rickshaw is much easier. Also on the last day a small group of us went to the Delhi Zoo. At the zoo we saw the typical animals like elephants and tigers. One thing that I did notice is that Indian people love their deer as there were about 18 different types to see.

Overall this trip has been a great experience. I don't think it has fully sunk in what has occurred over these weeks. I honestly don't think that it will until I am sitting in class next week. What I take away from this trip are a book full of stories, most of which only the people on this trip will fully understand. I cannot thank Dr. Maher and ECU enough for this opportunity.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wait...This is Our Last Day in India?

I thought that I would be sad to leave India.  And, if I'm honest, I will miss several experiences from this trip:

  1. I will miss traveling through the Himalayas.  As someone who has always lived in and urban area, I never realized how attached to nature modern people can be.  Perhaps it's because of the sparse population of these towns or the permeation of Buddhism and Hinduism into day to day life (signs encouraging sanitary practices don't hurt either), but the streets of the Himalayas were much cleaner than those of the big cities we visited.  
  2. I'll miss visiting amazing palaces and forts that couldn't even be dreamed of being built today.  At the Agra Fort, within the massive complex full of ornate rooms and secret passage ways, there is a bathroom that sparkles with gold in the dark and has a built in band.  We visited places where the builders were so rich, they built their servants gigantic tombs.  How were people, 500 or 600 years ago able to dream of such creations, let alone build them?  These old sites were a reminder to how powerful and lasting human dreams and creations can be.
  3. Most of all, I will miss talking with people (in Hindi!) about their lives.  In the US, I almost never have a reason to speak Hindi, so I have a pretty limited vocabulary.  I always thought that my basic, conversational Hindi wasn't good enough to communicate effectively, but to my surprise, I was able to understand what others were saying to me and I could respond appropriately most of the time.  There's something about communicating to people in their native language that allows one to have a greater understanding for their culture.  When we visited the Tong-Len Youth Hostel, I felt I was able to better understand and make friends with the kids there because they weren't struggling to find the words they wanted to say.  There was one student around my age who knew English pretty well, but we were able to joke around in Hindi that wouldn't quite make sense in English.  For example, my name is Leela, but some of the kids thought my name was Neela which means "blue" in Hindi.  Since a lot of other colors and names in Hindi rhyme with each other, we were able to joke around with what my name was and tease each other about their names.
This trip has helped me realize the importance of understanding how one fits into the world.  I was born and raised in the US, but my ancestors are from India.  I was raised with American ideals, but I couple that with Indian culture.  I am not sad to leave India because I know that even though I am an American and I embrace the US as my country, India will always live inside me through my family, language, and Indian community at home.

See you soon!


Well I do declare, India was most interesting.

This entire trip I've had many experiences, some interesting, some boring, some hilarious, some that make me look like an idiot, and others that simply must be told in person. However, this trip has really opened my eyes, not only to my culture and heritage, but also to how we should view others. 

As Americans, it is easy for us to forget about the many people who are suffering. We sometimes get annoyed when we realize that the WiFi in our house isn't working or the coffee that we just ordered at Starbucks wasn't sweet enough. As many of you know, these are our "First World Problems". For me at the very least this trip has been a most humbling experience. My parents would always tell me stories of how hard life was back in India when they were kids, sometimes not having electricity all the time, never having a personal laptop to do homework on, actually having to walk to/from school (in the rain, without an umbrella, while carrying 15 books, and uphill both ways). As for me I had a bus all throughout high school and even a car since my senior year, but neither of my parents ever had a car, much less a scooter while they were in India. There are millions upon millions of people in India who struggle each an every day, yet the entire time I was walking through the streets not once did I ever see anyone crying, giving up, or even complaining. It may sometimes be a fight for survival here, but even the poorest of people are sure as hell going to fight to live the best possible life they can.

I have to admire the tenacity of even the very annoying street vendors who would constantly hound us trying to sell us stupid post cards or stamps. If I was a street vendor I would have given up a long time ago; however, many of these kids would follow us for entire days just on the off chance that we would get annoyed and buy something. You truly don't understand the beauty of the word free until you come to a place like India and experience not just the culture, but also the people because the only thing you can get free in India is the air you breathe and the bonds that you make with the people here.

Sure the streets may be a little dirty and sometimes the people come on as a little rude, but that is how it is to we who are sheltered in our First World Countries. If one ever wants to truly understand the world, you'll never find your answers in a book or from someone who has been places, you must first venture out into the world and see for yourself. For me this trip was my first few steps, not just in gainging a better understanding of my culture, but to truly understand what the world is like. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything and I implore anyone reading this blog, or any of our blogs, to go out and explore the rest of the world because there is so much to see and learn.

Mcleod Ganj and Goodbye to India!

When we arrived in Mcleod Ganj we were all amazed and relieved to feel some cool air! Our hotel over looked the Himalayas and we could even see a huge snow covered mountain in the distance! It was so beautiful. Mcleod Ganj had such a different feel from everywhere else we have visited. It's so much calmer, and there are so many more tourists! But my favorite part of Mcleod Ganj was when we were able to visit the Tong Len Hostel. This is a place that was started by monks who take children out of the slums and provide them with a place to stay, meals, and an education. The children were so excited to have people come to play with them for a day and to bring them some small gifts! It seemed that when we walked in each child picked each of us out and stayed with us the whole time. One little girl who was seven years old immediately held my hand and basically didn't let go until I left. She kept wanting to sing songs and wanted me to dance with her. I was so amazed at how well behaved all of the children were. When it was time to leave I couldn't stop hugging her. She kept giving me hugs and kisses and telling me how she missed me already. I miss her so much and wish she could have just come back with me! I hope one day I will be able to return to this organization or benefit it in some way.
 Today is our last day in India! I can't believe how fast the trip has come to an end. We are leaving tonight! I am so sad to leave all of the people and places we have experienced behind. I am so thankful for all of the things I have been able to experience in such a small amount of time. I can honestly say that there is not one thing about this trip that I have truly disliked. Even though some of the bathrooms were a little hard to get over and I got sick, those are not the things I will look back on. I will look back on how much I have learned and how much I have grown to love everything about India! I am extremely sad to have to say goodbye to India, but I am excited to see my friends and family! 

A Little Monkey Blog

Before this trip I heard all about the monkeys here running wild and being everywhere in the streets.  So after 3 days in Delhi and not seeing a single monkey, I was pretty disappointed.  The first time I saw one was in Pushkar!  The first time seeing them was at our cooking class in Pushkar .  There were a larger momma and two small babies on a roof top in the distance and closer up a big ole daddy.  The big  one got pretty close, trying to get the food we were cooking, and the father of our cooking teacher had to scare him away with a stick and crazy yelling.

Later in the mountains we were walking to the Beatles ashram with monkeys all around us in the trees.  Selby and I saw a big one jump from the tree to the wall next to us with an evil look in his eye.  We didn't know what kind of mischief he was getting into next so we stepped over to the other side of the road.  Sure enough the monkey starts running jumps off the wall near a lady holding two grocery bags.  Snatches on bag, turns around, laughs, and runs back in the trees with his new bag of goodies.

That made me a little skeptical of the monkeys.  People even walk around with sticks in some places to protect themselves. It was awesome to see monkeys everywhere just hanging out.  All in the trees, on the roofs, on the side of roads, and even in temples and museums.  Some are a lot bigger than they appear from a distance, like 3 feet tall people.  And the little babies were adorable to watch play and ride piggy back or on the belly side of their mommas.  We tried to get close and take pictures.  Some people got good ones.  I got a nice on of one chilling on the wires of a bridge.  

The Final Day

Hello everyone!

I am sitting here in an internet cafe in Delhi writing this post on our very last day. I can't believe that I will be home so soon. This trip has flown by and I am sad that it is coming to an end. I have met so many wonderful people and seen so many amazing things. Talk about a once in a life time opportunity. From the Taj Mahal to the burning Ghats in Varanasi I feel like I have seen so much. Not only have my eyes been opened to the wonders of the world, but I have also learned more than I ever expected. I have developed a deeper appreciation for many things but two in particular. First is the importance of religion in every day life. Being able to witness so many different religions and their impact on the people who practice them has really driven this lesson home. People crave religion, something bigger than themselves, something that gives them hope. I have never seen a group of more kind or grateful people than here in India and I truly believe that it has a lot to do with the value they place on their religion. Secondly, I have learned how important it is to be grateful for what you have and to not take even the littlest things for granted. Before I came on this trip I never realized how much I had to be grateful for in the U.S. I thought clean drinking water was a given and having a car was a necessary thing in life. It never occurred to me that while I was laying in my big bed at home someone across the world was sleeping on the trash covered ground. I know now though that everything I have is a gift and that I shouldn't expect so much. I hope that when I leave India I will be able to carry this mindset back to the U.S. Even more importantly, I hope that there is something I can do to help India from the U.S, even if it may not seem like a lot.  I will never forget my time here and the things that I have seen.

Goodbye India!

True Love

Today is my last day in India. There are so many people, places, memories, sounds, smells, and feelings that have been burned into my memory. There are so many thoughts that I have that I still have yet to process. There are so many experiences that I wish I could relive. I can't believe that I'm already going back to the states. We are back in Delhi now, so we have officially come full circle. I'd like to share an experience with you that happened a few days ago, though.

While in McLeod Ganj, Dr. Maher taught us how to meditate on a quiet spot amongst the Himalayas. At first, we meditated on out breath. Back straight, legs folded, and hands on my knees, I proceeded to follow my breath, which was my object of observation. This was a complete disaster. I have what Dr. Maher likes to call monkey mind. My mind jumps from one thought to another: "Wow I breathe slow... In, out... That cow needs to shut up... I like cows... I don't like the way they smell... There is a bug on my nose... I wonder what kind of bug it is... Josie needs to stop coughing... In, out... I wonder what everyone else is thinking about... Dr. Maher must be really good at meditating..." Unfortunately, that is really what was going on in my head. I kept trying to bring myself back to my object of observation, but there was so much going around me to focus on just one thing. After practicing basic meditation, we learned to meditate on an idea or emotio. As a group, we decided to meditate on love. We were told to feel love for our mother, then our family, then our closest friends, then acquaintances, then people we know, then people we dislike, then our mortal enemies. We were told to feel a passionate love, a love that indicates that we would die for the people we were thinking about. I really just wasn't feeling the love. Some of the students began crying when they felt this deep love for people in their lives, but I kind of just sat there. I know that I love my mother, among many others, but I couldn't find it in myself to recreate that feeling. I thought of everything that my family and friends have done for me, but the love still wasn't there. For the next two days, I kept telling myself that maybe I was incapable of feeling love. Maybe, just maybe, there was something screwed up inside of me that made my emotions weaker than others. I was wrong about that. At the Tong Len Hostel, I felt more love that I can say I've felt in my entire life. These random children were hugging me, kissing me, holding my hands, playing with me, dancing with me, asking me about my dreams, trying to get to know my family, and some even asking me to marry them (by the way, I got married for like the third time there). They were so happy regardless of their background. They embraced me like one of their own. The two days I spent at Tong Len were all it took for me to feel the love that Dr. Maher talked about during meditation. I could feel myself loving them, their stories, their personalities, and their innocent souls. I am determined to go back to the hostel someday and feel that love again. It was different that the love one has for their family or friends; it is a compassionate love for complete strangers.


The Group

The only thing that has better than the places we've been on this trip is the people that I've been able to experience those places with. When we first began our journey I honestly never saw our group becoming as tight as we are today. So many different personalities and so many different opinions have all come together and contributed to our group chemistry. It is because we are different that our situation works. When we disagree its makes for interesting conversation and we all always end up coming together in the end. I honestly never thought I would be able to say that the thing that has made this trip so special is the other ECU students who came along, but that's the truth. There's a special bond created when you have experiences with people that you share with no one else. The way this trip was planned is really what made our group cohesion possible. Being thrown into a foreign environment and having to rely on one another has helped to develop a bond that I know will carry over into the school year and years to come. The laughs, the debates, and the annoyed feelings all allow me to look back and smile. I've learned so much about each person in such a short amount of time its amazing. The students on this trip have real character, charisma, and pure intelligence. Knowing how amazing these people are gives me faith in the future. If there are more young people like the students of Religion 2500 going out into the world, then the future is promising indeed. 

Through it all I know that not everyone will stay in touch but that is not the point. I believe that everyone on this trip has made at least one friend that ten years from now they will still be able to call up and talk to. For me that's one of the greatest gifts India has given me. Good friends are hard to come by and I cant imagine a situation that I would have had the pleasure of meeting the good friends I have made here in India. Life is great, God is great, and my classmates are great!

Weh'yee "West" Barkon

Full Circle

We're back in New Delhi. The temperature is nothing like the mountains, its humid and hotter than ever. The hustle and bustle of city life is no joke and its back to the fast paced atmosphere we were thrown into almost a month ago.The group has officially went full circle and ended up back where our journey all began. We've seen so many different places, peoples, and cultures its crazy to think that we're entering our last twenty-four hours in India. As we walked the streets of New Delhi back to the hotel I had a huge smile on my face because I knew something was different from the last time we were here. Nothing could have prepared us for the initial culture shock of New Delhi about a month ago, but now in our last hours nothing could have prepared us better for this return than Dr. Maher and our tour around North India. When we first got here in May we looked like fish out of water but now are barely noticed as we walk the streets. I can't believe i'm saying this, but we actually almost blended in for a minutes. What surprised us before, we handle like experts. For example, Walker and I walked towards the hotel and were approached by a guy trying to sell us something. What would have taken us ten minutes to get rid of the guy a month ago only took thirty seconds. We know how to handle situations and even though the short walk to the hotel only lasted two minutes, I know something is different this time. Our experiences have changed the way we look at New Delhi and I personally have a new found respect for this city and its people. India is diverse and each area we have seen has its own sub-culture. There is no place I would rather end my journey then where it started, right here in New Delhi. This might sound cheesy, but it almost feels like a homecoming to be back here where it all started. To see the same stores, people, and buildings is mind blowing and the last three weeks seem almost like a dream. I had to stop and ask myself, "did all of that really just happen?" when I got off the train tonight. 

To complete the circle is to arrive back in Rocky Mt., North Carolina. At that point I know more revelations are to come. Time moves so fast and I've learned to stop and be mindful of each moment. There's no need to worry about the past because it cannot be changed or worry about the future because it is yet to come. I love India but I am excited to get back to my family, friends, and life in NC. This journey has been the trip of a lifetime and i'll never forget one second of it as I move forward in life. Almost at the finish line i'm more than excited to return home a better, more well-rounded person than when I left. I'll take the lessons learned here with me every where I go and most importantly I will make the most of my last hours here in New Delhi. 

Weh'yee "West" Barkon

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tong-Len Charity

Hey Everybody,

So during this trip in India we have witnessed a lot of poverty, much worse than anything I have ever see at home.  Yes, there are homeless people in America and they deserve our help too, but the number of beggars and their condition is much worse here.  It has also been strange just traveling around witnessing the poverty, without really being able to help; we have felt sort of useless in the face of a tragedy.  However, the past couple days we have visited the Tong-Len charity and have been able to actually help out some.  First we visited a hostel where kids from the slums have come to live, and they receive proper healthcare and a good education.  These kids are from the lowest castes, which was culturally thought to be less intelligent than higher castes, but they have proved that wrong.  In fact, students educated at Tong-Len hostels have ranked very high in nationally standardized tests, even 12th in India, and blown away that prejudicial thinking.  The hostel kids were just amazing to play with, they really wore us out.  They were so light and easy to pickup, but after about the thousandth time I started to feel it, not that I minded whatsoever, it felt even better to see their smiles.

The next day we went to the nearby slum that the hostel kids were pulled out of, and that was a difficult scene to take in.  It was way more intense than just seeing the poor people on the streets, there was a whole community of almost a thousand people, packed in way too tight with barely anything.  Their homes were like tent/shacks and there was just not any real space to live.  We walked down to the school tent, which was erected by East Carolina students on this trip a couple years ago, and watched one of their classes.  I was really surprised at how studious the kids were, as each would walk in, say "Hello mam," and sit down and get right to work.  They were not even distracted by the visitors, they just seemed happy to be in class.  Their condition was worse than those living in the hostel, but hopefully the Tong-Len charity can grow and serve more people.  Besides the hostels Tong-Len provides healthcare to the slums, and will even travel to other slums to set up daily clinics.  Also, to run a one of those clinics for a day it only costs them $150, and they can improve the lives of a lot of really poor with just that small sum.  There are organizations in Greenville that currently do fundraisers for Tong-Len health programs, and I have a feeling that college organizations could contribute to that too.  We all left definitely wanting to help more, so maybe we will have that opportunity.  If you are interested in more information about the charity visit, thanks for reading.


Sweet Children and Sad Goodbyes

McLeod Ganj is a very small town located on the ridge of a Himalayan mountain. It definitely has that quaint town feel even though there are still honking vehicles everywhere and many people through the streets. The people here are so wonderful and nice! Walking through the streets people don't try and sell you stuff and bug you until you actually buy something, like many of the other places we have visited.  Which is such a nice change! The town is mainly Tibetan so it was also nice to meet and get acquainted to another beautiful culture. 

On our second day here we went to the a hostel ran by an organization caled Tong-Len. One goal of this organization is to get the children who live in the slums a great education and stop the cycle of poverty. And I would have to say it is working! This was absolutely amazing! You walk in the gates and children greet you so politely. They All say "hello mam" and almost fight over who gets to shake your hand first. Everyone was "picked out" by a few children that wanted you to play. The two girls who stuck by me were so sweet and funny! They had so much fun playing with my hair, doing my makeup (I ended up looking like a clown), and dancing.  When we left that day, on the way to the cars one of my little girls looks up at me and says "Roses are red, Violets are blue, I love you so, and miss you too." This almost brought tears to my eyes! She hugged me so tightly and started to tear up as I left. We went back the next day to say our final goodbyes.  As soon as we got there the little girl ran to me and gave me a huge hug and said "This morning I woke up and missed you already." It was so incredibly sweet! I will definitely miss all the children at the hostel and I hope to see them again one day!

Also that same day we visited the slum where the children at the hostel come from.  This really put how great I have it into perspective.  We were sitting under the over hang where the children have class and one of the girls saw how I was starting to sweat so she reached into her backpack and pulled out a book for me to fan myself with. It was so nice! Then when we were leaving one of the older boys from the slum was talking to me he asked me if I was coming back and I said of course hopefully sooner rather than later, so he replied I hope so too but if not I will see you in our next life. It was such a sweet answer! The people here are just so incredibly wonderful, and we have formed such great bonds with so many of them.  It makes it even more sad to leave! 

Is this real life?

I still cant believe I am in India, even though I feel like India is my new home. I am super sad that after tonight there is only two more nights left. This trip has seriously flown by. I can barely even wrap my mind around the things my little eyes have seen. Just to think that I have seen so many beautiful, sacred temples and the TAJ MAHAL, wow. The people I have met here in India have been life changing. This is weird to think but I feel like Indians, in general, have more love and soul than most of the American people I have encountered. I also feel that the reason for that is the way they live their lives: more religion, meditation, and yoga. All of these have a huge impact on your output towards others. I can just feel the love and positive energy when I met someone here for the first time; hopefully I can bring those same vibes with me back to the states and I will be an influence for others to do the same.

Leaving India scares me. I don't want to leave this place, it has almost become my home. I have walked, lived, breathed, meditated, bargained, and ate in the streets of India for the past 22 days. All I can think about is me not experiencing India anymore, only reflecting on the time I spent here. I will never forget the sights my eyes have locked in my imagination forever. Some things I have seen have ABSOLUTELY changed my entire approach to life, such as the starving families in the slum,  all of the human beings with mutations, and the burning of several hundreds of bodies a day in Varanasi. These are some of the more disturbing memories, but these images have influenced me in a way that I would never experienced if I didn't see them. They have taught me that life is a precious gift and to not take what you have for granted. We are Americans, that is already a huge blessing just to be born in the United States. Material items are no longer anything I care about, I wasn't big on material things before this trip but I just didn't realize how much I actually had. A lot of people in India don't even have a bed, ya know? The most beautiful temple I saw on this entire trip was Akshardam, this should be one of the seven wonders of the world. As soon as I saw the inside of the temple, I began to cry. I have never experienced seeing something so beautiful that I cried. I advise everyone to go see this temple in their lifetime. It sucked because we weren't allowed to take our cameras inside, but honestly this is a place that can NEVER be forgotten, a mental picture is burned in my brain. I will definitely be going back here with my future husband and kids.

I just want to thank everyone who followed our blog post and I hope you have enjoyed them as much as we have. Hopefully you got a small dose of India while sitting in America, millions of miles away! I am very fortunate to be able to study abroad and studying abroad was one of the BEST things I have ever done for myself in my lifetime. I have opened a set of eyes that I never knew could be opened. My heart is forever changed for the better.

Love is essential.
Love is pure.
Love is free.
Loving is life.



So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!

I cannot believe my last day in Mcleod Ganj is over. I have had such an amazing time here. The people are so friendly and I love seeing all these monks and nuns. They have such wonderful attitudes and kind smiles. Walking around this town is so easy as there are only five main roads. I could walk around here so easily and never get lost. Since we are on a hillside, there is plenty of walking up steep streets but I am okay with that as it will keep me in shape. It has rained pretty much every day we have been here and yet it still doesn't ruin my time.

I have really enjoyed all of the places our group has gone to while in Mcleod Ganj. We have been to the Buddhist temple beside the Dalai Lama's house. I am disappointed about not being able to see him. He is such a bright light in this world. I did learn so many new things at this temple such as what a prayer wheel is and how Buddhists view the Dalai Lama. A prayer wheel looks like a large decorated tin can which has prayers inscribed on it. So when someone turns the wheel, it is like the wheel just said a prayer for them. The temple had walls and walls full of them! We also got to visit a meditation center up the mountain where Dr. Maher taught us how to meditate. I need A LOT of practice. I have what he calls "monkey mind" which is when your mind just jumps from one thing to the next.

We also visited some Tibetan buildings ran by the government in exile such as the Tibetan Art Center, The Museum of Tibetan Medicine and we even got to hear a Lama speak about attaining liberation. He is so knowledgeable and when he spoke I felt like the stupidest person alive compared to him. I really loved the Museum of Tibetan Medicine. As a nursing student, I really hope that when I become a nurse I can incorporate homeopathy into my work because I find it fascinating and I really do believe that some methods are effective.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was when we were able to visit the children's hostel called Tong-Len Center. Tong Len is a Buddhist organization which takes children from this one slum in Dharmsala and gives them better living quarters, food and a great education with the hopes that this will improve their situation in life. The children loved us. The soccer ball I gave to them was literally destroyed within two hours. I have never had my hair played with that much in my life! Their favorite things to do were to hold your hand constantly and to take pictures using your camera. Once you hand that device over to them, you are relinquishing your rights for it for at least an hour. After I got mine back, I found multiple pictures of their school decorations, close-ups of my face, my braided hair, and pictures of random kids that I hadn't even talked to. I really did enjoy myself though and was glad that I had that experience.

There is so much more that I could talk about but sadly I must pack. My trip to India is almost over and I sincerely wish it was just beginning. I have met so many amazing people and had incredible experiences. As I am driving away from here I just know the songs from "The Sound of Music" will be playing over and over in my head. So Long Mcleod Ganj! Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye! 

Squad Pod

Almost a month ago we all met in Washington D.C. to embark on our wonderful adventure halfway around the world. All coming together sharing one common interest, an interest in India. Once arriving all of us were anxious and scared of how each other were going to respond and how we were going to get along. Personally I was worried, my brain kept saying "What if they don't like you?" "What if you're the one in the group no one likes?". Well as soon as we all were together these worries vanished. Only in a few days our friendships started forming. We all realized we would be stuck together so why not make the most of it. Starting out it was simply friendships, not a real deep feeling of family yet. As our trip has progressed our bonds have continued forming. Once in Varanasi after being in India for a couple weeks Dr. Maher called us for a group meeting and told us to sit on the Ghat because he had something important to say. He then informed us of how proud he was that we all got along so well and truly cared for each other. Not only do we all care deeply for each other but we all enjoy including everyone in what we do. Personally I have become close with a couple girls, Selby, Haley, and Kaitlyn. We laugh and joke together but not only by ourselves with everyone. We even invented the name the "Squad Pod" for our group nickname. I have become so close with everyone. I truly appreciate how everyone came to check on me when I was sick in Varanasi and even Frank went out of his way to find me Gatorade in India, which by the way is not an easy thing to do. I feel as if these people are my family. We all can talk about the weirdest things together, ones that normal people would probably not talk a lot about like pooping, throwing up, sweating, and even the nasty extent of our body hair. This trip has not only given me so many new friends but has given me a family of people who I love and would anything for. I cannot fully express my gratitude for getting to know these people and for this adventure. I will miss spending my days with  them but hopefully we can continue our adventures together back at ECU. 
much love


Missing India Already

     Mcleod Ganj is easily one of my favorite places in the world. We've only spent a few days here but I am completely in love with every bit of this place. We've done so much in so little time and I'm so bummed that we leave tomorrow. On our first full day we went on a hike up a mountain to meditate. I've known that I'm more of a mountain person than a city person but that day proved it even more to me. We sat on rocks in a clearing and had the most beautiful view. Dr. Maher instructed us in some meditation and it went a lot better than I originally expected. When we meditated on love, we had to first think of the person we love the most. I chose my sister and felt a tear fall down my face when thinking about the love we have for each other. I miss her more than I realized! Although it was difficult to stay focused for so long, the meditation definitely relaxed me and I know it would be useful to practice it more at home.
     Another huge part of this visit was with the Tong-Len hostel. The children have so much energy and love being played with. They were all so sweet and polite, calling all the girls "ma'am" and the boys "sir". The little girls liked putting make up on us and doing our hair. I think their favorite activity though was taking pictures. I had over 400 pictures taken by them and there was usually about 15 of the same thing The next day we went to the slums where Tong-Len has set up a classroom and a sanitation center to try and help these terribly poor people. When we started walking into the slum, a few children ran up to us. One girl asked me my name and then immediately grabbed my hand without saying another word. These children don't know the love and attention that they should be getting. There were black tarps held up by sticks and rocks and that is what people live in. The "classroom" was a little sturdier and there were four benches that about 20 kids put their work on while they sat on the floor. As soon as they arrived in the classroom, they said "Good afternoon, ma'am" to their teacher and got right to their work. I'm not a person who is usually very fond of children but my emotions took over and it became very hard to see these children who were born into poverty work so hard and be so well behaved. I've always wanted to teach abroad but after being there, I am positive that teaching kids is something I need to do. These kids are so inncent and beautiful, they deserve so much more than they have. A few kids were not in class and were hanging around outside the classroom. Two of them liked the string bracelets on my wrist so I gave them to them. Leaving the kids was much harder then I expected but my first goal when I get home is to figure out how to help from the U.S.
   I don't want to believe that we're leaving Mcleod Ganj tomorrow, let alone India in a few days. Everything we've done doesn't seem real. I've taken over 500 pictures and I still feel like I'm already forgetting details that I don't want to forget! This trip has been an amazing experience and it has definitely changed me in a good way. I do miss my friends and family but I would gladly stay in India for a while longer. I haven't even left yet and I already miss India. I will be back someday!

All you need is love - Be the change you wish to see in the world

So one day Dr. Maher tells us to meet up so we can do a group activity. Sound relaxing right? Well we start walking up the hill and by hill I mean mountain. MY LORD I was tired. It felt like forever walking up this big mountain then some stairs surrounded by rain and scary jumping monkeys. Haley and I kept saying "Leave us!!!" We finally made it to the top and it was totally worth it. The view from the top of this area was amazing and not only that but we walked to go meditate. We walked until we found an interesting spot and this scenery was incredibly beautiful I felt like I was in a post card. We walked up this hill covered in big rocks and bushes and we found a place to sit. I perched myself on a big rock with no poop on it. Dr. Maher proceeded to lead us in Buddhist meditation. I'm not sure if it was because I have ADD or what but I was having a very hard time calming my mind and focusing on my breath. Eventually we moved on to a different type of meditation which was a guided meditation. This time he told us to picture our mother or someone who loved us and would do anything for us. In my mind I pictured my mother standing in front of me waiting for me to hug her, then I remembered all of the times she would take care of me when I was sick. She would let me sleep in her room with the tv and rub my back all day. She would wait on my and bring me anything I needed and just be there for me. Since I would lay in her bed normally she would get sick too. My mother always is there for me and has so much love for me that sometimes I don't even realize it. This emotion became so overwhelming that I started crying on the mountain for how joyed I am for the love of not only her but for my whole family. Then we felt that love swell up inside us and we were to project it onto her and make her feel loved. Then we would do it to our next closest group which was my family which to me is the same closeness as my mother. My family would do anything for me and I want them to feel the love from me that I feel from them. This meditation eventually moved to all of our friends then people we just knew then to our enemies. While picturing them we were to project the same initial love on to them as we felt from our own mothers. This experience made me realize that if everyone in the world loved each other like they love their own mother what a beautiful world we would live in. I realized by doing this myself  I can spread some more beauty to the world. A Tibetan man tonight at dinner said that the lotus was very important to Buddhism because it grows in mud but when it flowers it suddenly brings beauty to the whole area. I hope to be the lotus in the world. 

Final days in India

It is hard to fathom that we only have two full nights left in India. I feel as though we just arrived. I remember walking into the airport in Delhi and seeing the large mudra sculptures on the walls. I remember the crazy ride to the hotel the first night and my first few hours here. India is so vastly different than the U.S.! Now that I am some what acclamated to the constant travel and difficult conditions in India it is almost time for me to depart.

I will miss all of the sweet children I met at Tong Len. Deepak, a nine year old cutie, was one of the boys I spent the most time with while visiting the Tong Len hostel. I also became friends with a 14 year old girl named Binky. All of the children at Tong Len and the children we met in the slums were so sweet and nice. It was difficult to see the conditions the children in the slums lived in. Despite the intense poverty and rough conditions the children still seemed to be very happy. Material things are not what constitute happiness and this made it very apparent. It is extremely difficult for me to understand because I have been so highly influenced by consumerism. It makes me rethink what my needs and my wants are. It's so easy to let my mind be distracted by the beautiful, handcrafted items that are readily available here. I don't think I should abstain from buying anything but just be more conscious about it.

I'm going to miss McLeod Ganj and India sooooo much! Hopefully I will be back one day! 


The Himalayas are so beautiful! First we saw the foothills in Rishikesh and I thought those were huge! They made the Appalachian Mountains look like rolling hills! It was so nice to have a change in scenery and to be in a little bit of a cooler environment. Rishikesh was also very different than any other place we had been so far. It felt a little cleaner and more touristy. The Ganges river runs right though the middle of the city, so to get across you take one of two walking bridges! These were a little bit scary, I'm not afraid of heights but when a bridge starts to sway a little and you are continually dodging monkeys, cows, and motorbikes it gets a little nerve racking. This always made trips to our favorite restaurant more exciting!

Every night we ate at one of the many restaurants right on the river, it was so pretty. Most nights we ate at this place called Freedom Cafe, where you sat on the floor and had the best view of the part of the city we were staying in! While we were there we also went to the Beatles Ashram. It was so cool to see all the places the Beatles had stayed. There was also a lot really awesome artwork covering the insides of most of the buildings. The next day we went river rafting. It was so much fun! I had never been, so I think it's pretty awesome I can say my first time was in the Ganges River through the foothills of the Himalayas! 

And once again we were sad to leave yet another amazing city in India!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Final Countdown

As we being the last week of our adventures here in India, I couldn't be more pleased with how things have gone. I have a new sense of appreciate and gratitude that I didn't know was possible. Each part of the journey has taught me something new that I know I will carry back with me to the United States. These experiences will live forever in my heart and contribute to the man I am becoming. In the streets of New Delhi I experienced culture shock and was humbled to a level I never knew existed. In Pushkar, I learned about the power of relationships as well as gratitude. In Jaipur, I was exposed to the language of love. In Agra I made a lifelong friend who's respect I will always cherish. In Rishikesh I learned that the only way to get ahead in life was to take risk. Here in McLeod Ganj, I found that human connection is more meaningful than any amount of money or gift. Through the experiences of our group I have learned never to judge a book by its cover, or even the first few pages! These things and more will live in my heat forever.

The beauty of this trip is that although I am sad to leave India I am actually more excited to return home. These lessons learned have changed the course of my life already, but I know that the true effects of this journey wont be felt until that moment when I lay down in my bed for the first time. I wont truly be humble until I see someone boast about all that they have or all that they have done. In that moment i'll remember India and what the people here don't have or are unable to do. I wont truly be grateful until I hear someone back home complain about having too much of something, which happens daily. In that moment i'll remember how India has too little. I wont really value relationships until I hear about how much someone hates their family. In that moment i'll think about how many Indians never even got the chance to love their family. I could go on for days but you get the point. Leaving India isn't a conclusion for me but instead a new beginning. My eyes have been opened to many truths of the world and as we begin this last week, I am cherishing every second. As I walk these streets this last week, i'm no longer searching for gifts to buy but I am searching for wisdom to bring back. So just to be consistent with my other post i'll end with a quote, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." - Seneca

So yes my time in India is coming to a close, but my life of awakening has just begun.

Weh'yee "West" Barkon

I am a 4 year old

For the majority of you that know me realize that this title is indeed true. I may be Senior in college, but I'm still a kid a heart, and sometimes at mind. Before I further discuss how childish I am, I should begin by saying that I am currently in Dharmasala, or to be even more specific Mcleod Ganj. This is primarily a large Tibetan community that has fled from Chinese occupied Tibet and made their homes in the picturesque foothills of the Himalayas.

Over the past two days Dr. Maher has taken the group to a children's hostel that is run by an organization called Tong Len. The main purpose of this organization is to help poor and impoverished children get a great education and help them break out of the cycle of poverty that they and their family have been living. I've been seeing poor, sick, and impoverished people throughout our entire trip and of course they come up to each member of the group begging for money, but if you really think about it, what good will giving a kid 10 rupees one day do for them? All that may occur is that they will then continue begging hoping that some other random tourist will take pity on them and give them more money, it doesn't help save the children from poverty in any way shape or form. In fact, the more I thought about the idea of giving money to begging children the more I realized that the people that give them money are only further strengthening the cycle of poverty in India. This is why I believe that Tong Len is such an important organization, it is giving these poor children, that maybe just days ago that were begging on the street, the chance to learn, get a quality  education, and actually raise themselves and their families from this cycle of poverty. Just today as we walked through the slums nearby Dharmasala, we were introduced to a kid very close to our age that grew up in poverty, but thanks to this organization is now working toward getting an engineering degree.

Sometimes what people, especially children, in poverty need is not money, food, or clothing (though those things are important) what they really need is a chance, a chance to apply the knowledge and skill they possess. Simply because a person is poor or in a situation where their family can't provide for them should not be seen as a deterrent for growth. If there is anything that I have learned on this trip is that everyone, regardless of who you are or where you come from, has the opportunity to achieve some type of growth whether that be mental, social, or even religious. I know for a fact that there are thousands of kids all over India living in poverty; however, if we can give those children a chance, who is not to say that one of them may discover the cure for cancer or be the next Einstein?

Now back to why I am a 4 year old. As I mentioned before Dr. Maher took the group to Tong Len Children's hostel where many of these kids that have been given a chance are living. These kids range anywhere from the age of 4 to 16 or 17 years old, now I have been itching to play some sports all trip long and boy did I get my chance and soon afterwards I regretted it. Karina and Leela bought some soccer balls to give to the children to play with and as soon as the balls were seen there was an immediate rush to play soccer. Now playing soccer in India is kinda like playing soccer anywhere else unorganized, no one plays in goal, no one wants to play defender, no one wants to really pass, and everyone wants to score. So we split up teams with Me, my new friend Vijay from the hostel, and a couple of the younger kids (who I didn't even think were 10 years old), and boy did we have a game going. I'm pretty sure I played for at least 2 hours and by the end I was pretty much ready to die; however, none of the kids I was playing with were ready to quit. I was panting, drenched in sweat, searching for water, crawling to find a nice cool spot and these kids were just ready to go to next game, I swear if I had as much energy as these kids did I would be so much more productive. Eventually I managed to get out of playing soccer only for a ton of little kids to start jumping on my back and start asking for piggy back rides, which I couldn't help but give.

Though I've seen many beautiful places and sites all over North India, I think quite possibly the greatest sight was just seeing a smile on all these kids faces. Sure I was tired as hell, sure I thought I was going to die, and sure I had a hard fall or two playing with the kids, but I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. Playing with these kids reminded me so much of how I was as a kid; sure I was a little on the chubby side, but I sure as hell loved playing sports and I hated stopping for anything. Seeing the joy that our group brought these children was definitely the highlight of this trip and I know for a fact that I will miss these kids when I leave India.

Sorry that end kinda seemed a little sappy and it was a little long now that I look at it, but I really do hope that you guys are enjoying not just my blog posts but the entire groups and I just want to say thank you to everyone who has read my posts so far.



meditating on love

Well we made it to Mcleod Ganj and all I want to do is find a cave in the mountains and never leave. This place has a special quality to it in its own right. Not only is it a beautifully small mountain town next to the Himalayas, but it's also where many Tibetans reside. There are Buddhist monks around every corner and their attitude is beyond loving and kind. When I smile at them, they don't just smirk back, they give me as big of a smile as I am giving them. Their open hearts are nothing short of infectious. The other day at lunch I sat with a monk and his friend who was teaching him English. He tried to teach me Tibetan (which was a total failure on my part). I then pestered him with questions about his monastic life, but he didn't seem to pay much mind. Afterwards I asked him how he made his way out of Tibet. The monk and his teacher told me about how he spent 28 days walking his way through the rigorous paths of Himalayas. As if that wasn't hard enough, he went on to say that he could only travel at night so that he would be undetected. It's heartbreaking to think such a sweet, kind soul had to go through so much in order to obtain freedom. From what I understand, all of the Tibetan refugees here have a story similar to that. I have grown so fond of this monk. And I think he enjoyed my company as well since he walked back into the restaurant just to say a final farewell to me. I hope I can see him one more time before he leaves and continue our wonderfully heartfelt conversations. If not, then I have even more reasons to make my way back here.

Today and yesterday were especially wonderful in the sense that we finally got to play with some children that live in the Tong Len Hostel. This place is a beautiful gem among wonders. The children here are so full of energy that I can't even keep up with them. They just ooze love and joy from every pore of their bodies. I've never braided so many girls hairs, or drew so many flowers with henna. They asked me to stick my tongue out more so than they asked my name. I wonder what they would do if they met my friends who were pierced and/or tattooed from head to toe. I grew especially fond of one little girl named Arti. This sweet child was glued to my side the moment I walked into her classroom. If she didn't already have a family I would've immediately adopted her as my own. These children are so special, especially since they come from one of the poorest slums in India. We visited there today and it was most certainly an experience that has shown me just how truly blessed I am. I've always known the blessing I've been granted in this life. But to see these children, who just want you to hold them and play clapping hand games, one realizes you don't need much to put a smile on ones face. I'm warning all my friends and family back home, that if they complain about completely insignificant problems to me, I will be extremely intolerant. These people live in tarp tents within a river bed, most of them are beggars, and  not once did I hear any form of complaint from any of them. They were just so excited for us to be there. We couldn't walk two feet without some child yelling, "HI HI HI!".

I can't believe this trip is almost coming to a close. Not one fiber of my being wants to leave but I know that I need to. But I also know that I WILL be making my way back to India. I love this country as if it were my second home. This wonderfully spiritual and enlightening experience has brought a new craving in my life that I won't suppress. I have to travel this earth and be in situations and cultures that I'm not accustomed to in order to discover new things about myself and the humans I share this planet with. As one merchant sang to me the famous words of our great friend Bob, "One love, one heart, let's get together and feel alright."

Lindsay Pugh

Wild Life in the Streets of India

Holy guacamole!  The cows here along with pigs, goats, and dogs run wild living in the streets.  In Pushkar I actually had one cow head butt me!  I was talking to a group of little girls who wanted a picture with me.  I noticed there was a grown white cow standing about 3ft away from me.  Since I have already had a fear of cows I did my best to pay it no mind.  Next thing I know I see a white flash and feel a soccer punch to my thigh.  The whole thing surprised me and I yelped!  Haha everyone rushed to push me away.  From then on I have been quite afraid to touch the cows or pass them in narrow alley ways.  Haley on the other hand loves the cows.  She calls them her little friends.  She pets and loves on them all the time.  The natives question here actions.  "That's a cow." they says.

One afternoon I had a banana left over from breakfast that I didn't want was determined to use it to make friends with a small cow was in the hotel.  The owners of the hotel wanted it out so I ran up to get the banana.  I lead the little cow out with the banana.  The cute little cow loved it.  I gave Selby the second half and when Selby had ran out of food it decided to give her a little head nudge. Haha we are both okay.

In lots of the cities there are some cows super skinny!  They roam the streets and trash piles looking for food, but I find most trying to eat plastic.  It breaks my heart.  I wonder, why don't they run away to a green field?  The dogs too are so skinny and visually suffering from skin conditions.  And the poor things are kicked and constantly having things thrown at them.  One afternoon I saw a skinny black dog sadly staring up at people probably looking for some loving or food to be dropped.  Out of now where a lady chucks a clay pot at the dog from behind!  The dog was not harming anyone!  This instantly upset me and I grabbed the first Indian I saw and asked him " Why do you all not like dogs?"  He tried to explain to me that their culture of dogs was different from mine.  That dogs here will try to bite and steal food.  Which I understand dogs at home try to do the same and then we act.  But a lot of the dogs around here are not rabid.  They act like house trained dogs or are extremely skittish.   Later the lady that had thrown the pot at the dog came up and tried to sell me stuff.  I told her no, she had harmed that innocent dog.  She tried to tell me the same thing the other guy did, but I just can't wrap my mind around it still.

Time at Tong Len

Hello everyone!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend time at Tong Len hostel. Initially, I was just excited to see all of the children and talk to them. I had no idea what the day would hold. The time that I was lucky enough to spend there will be something I never forget. As soon as you walk in the feeling of love and gratefulness is palpable. Walking in with my little ball and paddle set felt like I was doing nothing but seeing the smile on the children's faces when they saw what I was holding was heart warming. I have never met a group of children who were so open, loving, kind, and generous. They welcomed us all with open arms and were thrilled to show us the place that they call home. While there, children just kind of latched on to me and proceeded to tell me what to do. I didn't mind though; I was there for them after all. It was amazing getting to know all of them. Asking them about school, and family, and what they do for fun. I could tell that they were just as eager for me to know them as I was. At some point during our visit I got a makeover. Typically I am not one for letting people touch my face or put crazy makeup on me but today I was able to forget about all of that and just be there with the kids. I guess you could say my makeup was abstract. Bright turquoise and hot pink covered my eyelids. My cheeks were flushed with the pinkest blush you've ever seen, and my lips were given color with a dark pink eye shadow. To me I looked crazy but to the girls I was a work of art. Looking past the bright colors and awkward placement I was able to see the hard work and care they put into it. Of course we had a photo shoot afterward and I could tell that the girls were having fun. It made feel good to know that I was able to brighten their day even if it was in such a small way. Not only did I get a makeover but I also had my first experience with henna. One of the older girls painted an intricate design on my hand. I'm looking at it as I type this and it is so beautiful. I wish I was as talented and creative as she is. Before we left for the day I was able to take part in a dance party. All of the kids from the hostel and our whole group gathered in a large room where the music was loud and the energy was contagious. I'm not the best dancer but seeing all of those kids dance really put me to shame. I have no idea where they learned to move like that! Even though I didn't do much dancing, just seeing the joy on everyone's faces was enough for me. I have never seen a group of kids more happy or content with their lives. It was truly inspiring. I will never forget the time I got to spend at Tong Len. We were there to play but it was ended up being so much more. I truly learned the importance of happiness and having an open heart.

Until next time,

Being Sick in India

So as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I got sick for a good while.  If any of y'all were wondering how that was, it was awful when it comes to needing a restroom.  For one, public bathrooms are most of the time not free which sucks if you need to go a lot .  Second there are not many when you are walking around the streets.  Thirdly half are quite unsanitary squatting hole toilets with no toilet paper.  Another unpleaseant thing is the heat.  It is at least 105 every where we were while I was sick.

On a brighter note though my AC in my room worked.  I was able to rest in the room for a couple of days to get well.  Dr. Maher and the whole group were really understanding and comforting about me getting well.  People even offered to help with my bags when we traveled.  The doctor's office was hidden back in an alley and would have been impossible for me to find if it weren't for Dr Maher and the hotel man. The place was kinda of like a house and his patient room was like a business man's office.  There was his desk, two chairs in front of his desk, and a couple more in the room.  The patient's table was longer and more narrow than the ones in the USA.  But the doctor was very nice and quick!  There was no nurse to check vital signs or previous medical history which was odd to me, but he seemed to know exactually what it was.  Makes you wonder if we could come up with a faster system in the USA. 

The pharmacies are also very different here.  They are usually on the sides of main roads marked with a red cross so they are not too difficult to find.  Inside is just a huge room of straight medications.  No name brand medication or any other goods just drugs.

And welll now I'm sick again.  I had been getting well for a couple of days but now I am back to the same thing. Yay, not.  Dr. Maher, Aaron, and their local friend (sweet boy around 14) all took me to the hospital to be examined.  Once I first got there and tried to explain the whole story to the nurse, she claimed I wasn't an emergency.  Luckily Dr. Maher's friend said something to her which I didn't understand and she went to get a doctor.  :) I don't know how long we had to wait but for me it felt like forever.  The nurse finally took me back to a big room with multiple different kinds of beds and had me sit on one while she checked my vital signs.  The doctors visit in the hospital was a lot like the USA's regular doctor visits which I liked.  She asked me about the whole story and my past medical history, etc.  I am going to have to have a stool test to figure out what it is but she gave me a medicine to get rid of the vomiting !  The first pill she gave me ended up being thrown up :( so they gave it through an IV.  My nausea is gone, but I am still in very much pain.  Pray that this stool test tells all!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Beautiful Souls

Greetings from McLeod Ganj, a small mountain town. The majority of this town is occupied by Tibetans who escaped Chinese rule by crossing through the Himalayas. Their story is truly inspiring. The scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. The view from our hotel encompasses small towns carved into the mountains, lush greenery, and even a snowy mountain in the distance. Who knew snow even existed in India? The market here is unlike any other place in India. The jewelery is all handmade with such precision and attention to detail. Silver and turquoise rings, necklaces, earrings, and statues fill the marketplace. More than just the physical aspects of McLeod Ganj, I am deeply drawn to it due to its people. Shop owners don't haggle you to enter their jobs. They don't even try to overcharge you because you are a foreigner. People on the streets smile, wave, and exchange kind words. Other tourists kindly greet you, ask about why you are in India, and share their stories with you. Even the dogs here are nice, and look fairly clean. In fact, one dog followed some of the girls into the restaurant we were eating at, and just sat and watched us as we ate; he was adorable. It almost doesn't feel like India anymore. The occasional cow dung on the streets, honking of horns, and smell of stale urine reminds me that I still am here, just in a colder, more relaxed town.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend Tong Len's hostel, a place where 83 students live, study, play, and learn. These children once lived in a nearby slum, and were taken to Tong Len to live a better life. A lot of their parents continue to beg on the streets, work labor jobs, or are no longer in the children's lives. The kids at Tong Len won't let any unfortunate circumstances stop them from achieve their dreams. Some girls, like my friend Renu, want to be singers when they grow up. The boys want to be futbol players. A lot of them even want to be lawyers, doctors, and engineers. I admire their determination and ability to look past the difficulties and obstacles they have faced, and continue to face. I've learned a lot from these kids today... probably more than I can even express in words. I can't even imagine growing up in a slum, and now growing up without my parents. These children are anywhere from 4-18 years old, but they all are so happy. They have so little, but seem happier than I can ever remember myself being. I think that says a lot. We, as Americans, tend to forget the bigger picture. We forget to put things in perspective. What does it take to make you happy? A new car? A good grade? A new boyfriend or girlfriend? For these kids, simply playing with them made them so happy. Giving them a hug, a kiss on the cheek, carrying the young children, and joking around with the older ones went such a long way. I'm absolutely exhausted from running around, playing soccer, playing tag, playing American Idol, getting henna done, playing dress-up, and playing hand games. My new friends, Renu (the next big popstar), Mumta (Cupid), Sahil (who's real name is Vishal, but he calls himself Sahil since I told him that is my favorite boy name), Rahul (the boy who wouldn't let go of my hand and cried when it was time for me to leave), and Mukesh (my husband... he gave me a ring, sang me a song, told me he loved me, and got my phone number) have changed my life. I really hope that I can go back to Tong Len some day and visit my friends again. They have the purest, most beautiful souls I have encountered. I can only hope that I can learn the key to true happiness that it seems that they have all found.

Until next time, Radhi
McLeod Ganj is so amazing! The higher elevation causes cooler, refreshing air. Our hotel is encircled by mountains. While walking the streets here you see a lot of Tibetans. They are phenotypically disparate and look more Chinese than Indian. Some of them are adorned in burgundy and yellow robes. These are the Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. The Tibetans escaped to India due to the Chinese taking over their country and killing lots of their people. It's sad and I hope that one day Tibet will become free.

We visited the monastery where the Dalai Lama resides and walked along the path encircling it. Many Buddhists circumabulate the monastery and to them it becomes a form of meditation. Prayer wheels, scriptures inscribed in stone, prayer flags, and the beautiful vegetation made this walk amazing! After this we hiked a bit more and found a nice spot to meditate. Meditation is an arduous task. Clearing one's mind and focusing on one's breath alone is quite difficult. My brain became scattered and kept jumping from one thought to another. I then would have to bring my thoughts back to my breath. I want to practice more to obtain a focused mind. If I can maintain this awareness and apply it to my everyday life I will become a happier person. I want to acquire the patience to stop and think before reacting.

This place is incredible! I can't believe the trip is coming to an end! It's crazy! I want to stay here longer!

Welcome to McLeod Ganj

Hello everyone!

Yesterday was our first full day in McLeod Ganj and I already love it here. The weather is absolutely amazing compared to everywhere else we've been, granted it rains a lot here. The hotel we are staying at has the most beautiful view. Mountains surround us; it is a sight to be seen. We started our day bright and early as usual. We went to the monastary where the Dalai Lama lives. Unfortunately he wasn't there but even getting to see where he lived was awesome in itself. I was captivated by the people there practicing their religion. Buddhist's pray with their whole body. Seeing them move like that seemed like something you would see at a gym, and they did it for hours! I can't imagine how in shape they must be! It is also customary for the people here to circumambulate the monastary. The walk was not a casual stroll but compared to what came later it was a piece of cake. Later in the afternoon we took the walk from hell. It is very hilly here and that is probably an understatement. We walked through the woods to villages higher up in the mountains. The walk was gorgeous but very strenuous. I thought the group may have to leave me on the side of a mountain in India but like everything on this trip I put it in perspective and powered through it. I am so glad I did because the views were incredible and the opportunity to meditate in a place like that is once in a lifetime. I'm not the best meditator but the experience was wonderful. I recommend everyone back home try it out! I can't believe the trip is almost over; I almost don't want to come back!

Until next time!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Around the Dalai Lama

Hey Everybody,

We are up in McLeod Ganj now, so today we walked over to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's compound.  There is his residence, a monastery, some temples and educational institutes very close  together there.  We started out with visiting the temples, which are very intricately decorated with Tibetan art.  They use very bright colors for their pictures of different Bodhisattvas and deities, and all of the walls are painted, plus there are larger paintings in the shrines.  You could spend all day just looking at the paintings because they are so detailed and all around the place.  We went through a couple of temples and walked around them, and spun the prayer wheels along the outside.  The Tibetans have this really cool idea about prayer wheels, where they place a ton of tiny mantras, or prayers, inside of a cylindrical wheel, then spin it so all of the prayers are given spiritually at once.  Then there is a row of wheels around the outside of the temple and people walk around spinning each one, and that adds up to millions of mantras in a short period of time.  Also it is kind of fun when everyone is doing it together, and I think we should always enjoy fun spirituality.

After that we circumambulated the H.H. the Dalai Lama's home, walking along a path outside of the grounds around his house.  The view of the mountains and valleys was beautiful, there was some fog but we could see a bunch of villages and monasteries on the landscape.  There were long rows of prayer wheels along this path too, so if you spun all of those you really were putting some mantras out there.  They even had some giant prayer wheels, with really a lot of mantras inside, and I had to put some effort into getting them to go around good.

Then we reached the entrance to the grounds, which was closed off, and it had a couple of stupas, which are memorials, and incense and offering burning structures.  There was also a structure on the outside with a very interesting wall that everyone should know about.  It was a memorial with the pictures of all of the Tibetans that have conducted self-immolations in protest of China's occupation of Tibet.  Self-immolation is when a person douses themselves in gasoline and lights it on fire, then sits in meditation as they burn.  This is the last resort for protesters that have no other avenue for non-violent expression, but unfortunately not enough westerners are aware that it is going on.  The Chinese government is doing a lot of evil things to Tibetans, and the Chinese people for that matter, but because they are important economically these atrocities do not receive enough media attention.  That is what happens when they same people that run our economics control the major media outlets.  Thank God for the internet though, we can spread awareness here, and maybe help the movement towards change in China, and peace around the world.  Free Tibet!


Massages in Rishikesh

After a long couple days walking in the mountains Haley and I decided we needed a break from all of the pain and soreness. Dr. Maher had mentioned that there were good massages offered in India so we decided to check it out. Haley made us an appointment for six at night. We walked over fifteen minutes before not really knowing what to expect. Once we of there  we left our shoes outside and walked in. The atmosphere was very calming and relaxing. We met with two Indian women and were ushered into a room. There we were ordered to undress completely. I looked at her shocked and she told me all of my clothing an then to lay on the may on the floor. Once I payed down I relaxed a little. She rubbed oil over my entire body, leaving nothin to the imagination. After a while I relaxed and really enjoyed the experience and wasn't weirded out that I was completely naked in front of a stranger. After the experience I felt like a new person. All of my muscles felt relaxed and amazing. I would recommend it to anyone traveling in India and it was only 500 rupees!! Probably going to get anothe one before I leave! Lovin these places :)

Up in the Mountains

We have finally arrived in McLeod Ganj. In order to get here we have to drive 12 hours on Indian highways, which was a harrowing experience. The city we are in is much higher than rishkish. Up in the clouds the temperature is much cooler. The 90 degree weather actually feels cold. The hotel is on the side of a mountain. While looking around the clouds cleared to show a massive rock faced, snow capped mountain. It looks like the Paramount movie mountain, a super impressive sight.

The town has a completely different atmosphere than any other town. It is a Buddhist town, the home of the Dalai Lama. Today we learned about the occupation of Tibet of China. I had of course heard of the free Tinet movement but didn't know what it really meant. I had no idea that 7 million people were forced to abandon  their traditions. Pherhaps the most emotional part of the day for me was the method of protesting that young Tibetians are using. As the ultimate protest they are setting themselves on fire. I could not imagine the dedication that these people feel. They feel as of there is no other way to state their feelings. Outside of the Dalai Lamas house is a wall dedicated to these 117  people and counting. At the same time I understand there are various political reasons that a country could not intervene in this situation.

It is hard to describe how this experience will have changed me. I think time will allow me to sort trough the various emotions and lessions that I have experienced. The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of cities, traveling, and great comrade. I look forward to the last week here in India.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Finally in Mcleod Ganj!

Hey everyone!

So much has happened since I last blogged. I was able to scratch yet another thing off my bucket list; white water river rafting! It was so much fun and my guide was hilarious. It was an experience I would not trade for anything else in the world. The water felt amazing and the sight of the rapids got my adrenaline pumping. Rishikesh was a beautiful town along the Ganges. The hotel that we stayed at had an amazing staff of Nepalese men who were friendly and constantly helpful. Made me feel right at home. It was a great time.

We left this morning for Dharamsala in a bunch of Jeeps. The ride took about 12 hours total. We drove through the beautiful Punjab region of India and though the Himalayas. I never knew I could learn so much about India in just one car ride. I initially realized that we were in the Punjabi region when I began to see Sikh temple after Sikh temple. These temples are easy to spot because they are normally white buildings with short turrets and domes that are lined with gold. They really are magnificent buildings. I also began to notice all the Sikh men. You can easily pick out a Sikh because he will be wearing a turban which wraps his uncut hair and will have a full beard. I also noticed a difference in stature among these men from many previous Indians I have encountered. I know this is an odd thing to notice, but I had a lot of time on my hands! Initially, I was unsure if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe there was no difference. Dr. Maher eventually explained that he would agree that there is a size difference. He believes this is because the Punjab region is very lush and has rich, fertile ground. They produce a lot of food in this area of the country, which can explain the larger stature.

We finally arrived in Mcleod Ganj late in the afternoon, but I still had time to explore a little bit. I cannot justly describe the beauty of this town. It is situated on a very narrow ridge and part of the mountain side. It only has five main roads. Ninety-five percent of the citizens of this area are Tibetans. This is most likely due to the presence of the Dalai Lama. He currently resides in this town. This area has the cleanest roads of any place I have been in India. For once, I can walk the streets without having to watch where I step in order to avoid the minefield of cow dung and smeared garbage. I have not been hassled by a store owner once, and from what I can tell, I have been offered decent prices for the items I am interested in. I love it here already!

Till next time,


So Far, So Great in the Mountains of India!

With forests, rivers, and beautiful views, I had no idea how beautiful the Himalaya's of India were!  After spending so much time in well built cities isolated from nature (aside from the street animals), it was refreshing to be surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains in Rishikesh and Mcleod Ganj.

The cold, rushing Ganga River in Rishikesh was the perfect setting to go on some exciting adventures.  After hiking down to a secluded spot on the Ganga, trekking to the Beatle's Ashram, rafting down a long stretch of the Ganga, and dining a stones-throw away from the river, I learned how much being surrounded by natural beauty can bring out the best in people.  I was really worried about going hiking and rafting down the Ganges (I was warned how incredibly dangerous these activities were), but after doing these activities and learning what I'm capable of, I realized that half the battle of doing anything is mental.  If I convince myself that I'm not strong enough, coordinated enough, brave enough, etc to do anything, then it's a lot more difficult to climb down the mountain than if I take a deep breath, tell myself everything will be alright, and trust that the people around me will help me if I stumble.  It's important to use caution, common sense, and to recognize one's own limits, but you also have to recognize if caution is being used as a scapegoat for illogical fear.

We arrived in Mcleod Ganj after a 12 hour car ride through the windy one-lane highways of the Indian mountains.  Just like in Varanasi and Rishikesh, I was struck by the religious overtones to everything in this town.  While the Ganges River provided the religious currents in Varanasi and Rishikesh, the presence of the Dalai Lama in Mcleod Ganj makes a special religious atmosphere here.  I can't wait to explore this town and learn about Tibetan culture and religion!

All the best!



   Even though I was so upset to leave Varanasi, I am so happy we were able to go to Rishikesh! It was so beautiful! The mountains were such a nice change from the hectic, chaotic streets we have gotten used to staying in. Our hotel was probably one of the best just because of the staff. They were such kind people and so helpful! And they were the BEST cooks! On one of our days in Rishikesh we were able to visit the Beatles Ashram! This is the place The Beatles visited in India for meditation training. This is where they wrote many songs which were recorded for "White Album" and some for "Abbey Road." The ashram is actually closed to the public but we were still able to go inside and see it all! (This is one of the many advantages of having Dr. Maher with us!) I can't wait to tell some of my family about this place because I know how much they love The Beatles. 
   The next day we were able to go white water rafting! This was probably one of the funnest things I have ever done! It was so exciting! I was pretty scared at first, but once I got on the raft I didn't want to get off! The water was freezing but felt so good because of how hot it was. We also stopped to see a small waterfall and we even jumped off a giant rock into the river! This has definitely been one of the most exciting days in India! So far I have loved everything we have done! I feel like after each city I have been so sad to leave. Everything we do I say "This is my favorite part of the trip!"...Until my next favorite thing comes along. I can't wait to see what happens in our few final stops! I can't believe we only have less than a week left in India. I don't want to leave!!! :( 

The Traffic in India!

     Okay, if anyone has already blogged about this my apologizes, just every time we get into a car the driving patterns around here amazes me.  First of all there vehichles are very different. There are ricsaws which some cities in the states have but these can be motor or bicycle driven.  And there is absoultley no limit to how many people and you can bargan the price.  On ride we got seven people all on the tiny "golf cart".  There are also very big dump trucks rather than eighteen wheelers.  They are all decorated very colorfuliy and individualistically.  In some states the big trucks are only allowed to drive at night. There are also old buses and bigger AC tourist buses every where.  Also here they have cars vans, and SUVs that look similar to ours in an alienistic way.  The less usually seen in the USA would be all the people on bicycles, horse drawn carrages and camels.  Most populare mode of transportation though is defintaly motorcycles and mopeds.  People try to fit everything and themseveles on one.  I often seen family of four riding togethere on ones. The police jeeps and ambulances here are avaible but few.  The ones I have seen with there lights on never go any faster than the rest of the traffic and the traffic usually is so crazy already that the can't get through.  I hope I never need one. 
     Now on to the actually traffic seen.  Frist the vehicle drives pretty much where ever these please.  There are lines on some roads, but no one really tries to stay in them except the huge trucks.  Second dangerous to me habit you can pass when ever and where ever you feel like it.  You just honk once to warn the person and pass on by.  They do a lot of honking here.  Never really for road rage reasons just to warn other drivers.  The honks here to sometimes seem to sing not a pretty song but they will beat it several times or the trucks horns with have ashore tune.  Unlike the US where we seem to lay on if we use the horn.   As you walk up and down the small streets and alleyways cars and motorcycles come honking by.  I had one car's side mirrow wacked me from behind.  There have been many scary street crossing sessions too. hahha but we are all alright!

Until Later My Firends, Goodnight&Goodmoring :)

     Kaitlyn R

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Do and Die

Do and die. This was the message of our Ganges River guide from Nepal and it has been stuck in my head since we left the rapids. Had his English been better do or die would have been stuck in my head all day instead of do and die, but I know what he meant. What does do or die really mean? Is it a situation where the consequences of inaction are so unbearable that they are comparable to death? Or is it just an old saying that dare devils use as motivation to do their stunts? For me, do or die means taking risk. Not taking risk just for the sake of taking risk, but taking chances in life in order to get ahead. When our guide told us do or die today, yes it inspired me to let go of what was holding me back from jumping into the river, but now its allowing me to see that I have to let go of whats holding me back in life and take more risk. Everything good in my life has come from this do or die mantra. When I was hesistant about visiting ECU I took a chance. When I almost deleted the India study abroad email, I took a chance and responded. And when I almost punked out and didn't go on the river rapid trip today, I told myself do or die and it turned out to be the funnest day yet here in India. Rishikesh is great for so many different reasons (especially the food!), but for me personally its great because it has allowed me to realize that its impossible to get ahead in life without taking risk. Yes it might sound crazy that it took a little man from Nepal speaking broken English for me to realize this, but I'm finding that thats just how life works sometimes. To quote William Shedd, "a ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." So for me as a young man going out into the world, its do or die time always.

Weh'yee "West" Barkon