Saturday, April 28, 2007

some more pictures...

And more to come...
making sugar cane juice in Prakash's village
prakash and danny designing instruments
himanzu laughing at the om shanti cafe
danny and himanzu

Laxman Jhula at night

some pictures...

danny reading tehilim when asked to buy monkey chapati

the ghat at svarg ashram

across laxman jhula

wedding in rishikesh

mazal tov!

the after party with satlan and danny

Friday, April 27, 2007


Generally, there are two official methods of driving, the British way (on the right side of the road) and the other way (on the left side of the road). India, in its innovative glory, has discovered a third method: the middle way.

Prakash, who celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday, took me to his village about 12 km away from Rishikesh after we ate lunch, so he could pick up a letter from the village head enabling him to get a passport. He is a very good driver, so even though nearly all other vehicles on the road tend to straddle the divider lane rather than choosing a side, I feel safe with him. We left the bustle of the city and its roadside vendors, and found ourselves in the trees, on dirt paths, and soon enough, in his village, where Prakash was treated somewhat like a celebrity, with people waving from each side of the road, some stopping to talk to us.

Earlier in the week, Dani went with Prakash to his village to check out the wood he uses to make didjeridoos, and had told me that his house was little more than a shack. When we arrived, I saw that he hadn't been exaggerating. The house is made of crumbling cement with a thatched roof, and comprises three small bucket rooms swarming with flies, so different from the clean, marble-floored flat in Rishikesh Prakash has been renting for the last half year. It is the house Prakash grew up in, before his mother died of cancer and his father moved to Mussorie to do construction work. The place now belongs to his older brother, his wife and their children, who shyly stared at me, though I wasn't the first traveler to have come visit. The village itself is beautiful, a vibrant green collection of trees and fields, so quiet and peaceful.

We stayed for about half an hour, during which I managed to lose my already beaten sandal in a swampy march, soaking my pants in mud. Well, I wouldn't be a proper foreigner if I hadn't manage to do something embarassing like that, so I consider it a job well done.

I was planning to leave Rishikesh yesterday, but Dani and I decided to continue separately on our ways, so I think I will stay until Sunday, and then head up to Gangrotri with a few friends I've met here. But somewhere up there, down here, and all around, God is laughing at these silly plans of mine, so I'll keep you posted as things change (which they are bound to do).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

the adventures of israeli sandals in rishikesh

Shai and Adam, a couple we met at the yom ha'atzmaut party, told us about a Hindu musical jam at the Center of Light yoga center, so we picked up Prakash, his dijeridoo and my drum and went to play. It turned out be not so much a jam as a concert, which started off seeming pretty dodgy with a western duo who studied in Pakistan playing tabla and sitar while the 4-year-old daughter of a couple of Hare Krishna devotees danced in strange poses next to them only half-covered in a red and white sheet. The jam ended about 3 hours later with an Australian dude in a jodhpur beatboxing and singing reggae in loops while the whole room danced.

Afterward, Dani and I piled on to Prakash's bike, who asked us to come back to his place to sleep. It was such a treat, because of his fan that actually works and his cool marble floors. I was exhausted, having nearly passed out at the concert, and went right to bed.

My sandals, which I had fixed in Jerusalem before I left, broke again, so the next morning after dropping some stuff back off at the guest house, Prakash and I went into town to find a sandler. It is an unbelievable feeling to ride on the back of a motorcycle in the mountain air, and Prakash is a very good driver. The sandlers in India I am a little less impressed with. The first one we went to was a little thin man sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the side of the road hammering rusty nails into my shoe.

Via Prakash, I tried to tell the sandler that while he had done a fine job crudely sewing black leather on my light brown shoes, I really didn't want to step on rusty nails. Prakash told me that these were the nails everyone used. I told him that all rusty nails were once silver and there must be some fresh ones somewhere in Rishikesh. Out when the rusty nails, and in went the black thread which if left alone could last maybe a week. Five rupees to the nice man, and off to another sandler. This one had a few silver nails in his lump, but did not understand what to do with the broken leather. Prakash reasoned with him, explaining to me that he was teaching him how to fix the sandal. To no avail, so we went to the next stall over. This sandler just shook his head and handed me back my sandal. They're pretty crudely fixed now, and may break soon, but there is no real shoe selection in Rishikesh (all plastic) so I'll wait until I get to Dehra Dun in a few days.

I am treated differently by people in Rishikesh when I ride around with Prakash. Many people have made comments to him, in Hindi, which I can't understand, but I know are about me since they are all said with a gesture in my direction. I assume they have something to do with me being white and a foreigner. I've also noticed that when Indian women ride behind a man on the back of a motorcycle, they sit perpindicular to the driver, with their legs swinging over the side, not right behind the way I do. I don't really know what people think about an Indian guy riding around with a white girl, but considering that Prakash has told me that his father will pick out his wife for him when the time is right, I imagine local people may think our friendship is strange.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

if monkeys could talk

After we moved into Mama G's, Rishikesh started to feel more like home. That night (Sunday) Dani and I went back to Om Shanti cafe to hang out with Prakas and Himanzu and friends, but ended up haing one of those revelatory conversations in Hebrew between the two us that can only be held over chai in a land far, far away. How lucky we were that the conditions were right. The conversation, which I don't really want to get in to, basically stemmed from Dani's question, "do you know what made you the kind of woman that you are," meaning I guess independent and firey, and whatever else characterizes women that are not so dainty and like to do things like travel to India by themselves. From that question, we both went spiralling into our past, on the roof of the Om Shanti cafe, me digging up truths I'd known about but forgotten, he digging up answers he had recently begun to tap into but hadn't yet fully developed.

Monday was kind of a slow day that started late and was spent mostly wandering around the city. I'd packed lightly, really lightly, and only had one pair of pants, which until yesterday had experienced India with me to the fullest. I decided it was time to buy a new pair, which should be easy considering how cheap everything is. But I'm small and those cute little yoga pants that every tourist here wears makes me look like I'm the star of a carnival, which would be fun if I were, but I'm not. I finally found a good pair of pants, and bought two, and then ran off to my tabla lesson.

My teacher's name is Bhuwan, and I need to take pictures of him so you can understand the extent of my tabla experience. He is about 35 and tall and lanky, and has one of those funky mustaches that only and Indian man in the prime of his life can still pull off. He wears his hair greasy and slicked back to a curl on the bottom, and likes to brush it back every once in a while in a nervous gesture.

But enough about that. On the tabla, he is not nervous, and depsite the language barrier (our lessons usually sounds something like this: "no, position, very bad. yes, good. not this. this. no this. yes this. finger, no pfufff, bling. yes this,") he is a very good teacher. In my two lessons so far, I've learned nine different sounds and about 5 different patterns, which, when I learn to play them fast and correctly, will sound like songs. It is so different from the congas and the jembe and all other instruments I pretend to play, and it's very tiring, but addictive to learn.

Wandering home for dinner, which mama cooks and feeds to all her sons and daughters on the patio, an Israeli stopped us and told us about a Yom Ha'atzmaut party that night on the other side of Lakshman Jula. It was one of those parties that reminded me not to spend to much time in Kasol, the Parvati village which has become overrun by Israelis. The party was nice but cost as much as a night in a guest house, with lots of food I was to full to eat and drinks which I was too tired to imbibe, and lots of Israeli energy, which I am never really able to handle. We met some nice people though, which is always a good thing, and left after a few hours.

We went to bed late, Dani on the roof and me inside our sweltering room. I tried to sleep on the roof also, but the mosquitos attacked me, and I still don't want malaria. Dominique, a French Canadian Montrealer staying at Mama's, woke me up at 6 A.M. and we did an hour and a half yoga session, which released some of the tension that sleeping under a fan all week had shoved into my neck.

After yoga, and the post-yoga chai (there was also a pre-yoga chai, of course), and the post-yoga-post-yoga-chai-breakfast, Dani and I did laundry and then went wandering through the forest, getting ourselves mentally prepared for the Gangotri glacier, where we're trekking later this week. Later on, a little boy name Seeba latched onto us at on the Jhula and then wandered around with us, silly tourists that we are, for a few hours. He didn't say much (well, aside from "what is your name" and "seeba" he only really said "yes," even when it wasn't the obvious answer), but I love Indian kids, and he loved laughing and eating the chips we shared with him.

It's been a really long day, and I'm exhausted, but every day am loving India more and loving Rishikesh more.

I love...

I love that in India, men hold hands when they walk down the street.

I love that in India, it's okay - no, it's encouraged - to believe that all is one.

I love how in India, the cows walk like the royalty they are treated as.

I love how in India, people paint "blow horn" on the back of trucks and cars, and use said horn instead of turn signals.

I love how Rishikesh bustles during the day, how its poor are saints and its children are so, so beautiful.

I love how at night, Rishikesh is suddenly so quiet and so clean it is astounding and makes you wonder if you were zapped into a different universe.

I don't love the dogs, which come out at night and nibble on people. I like the monkeys, because I've never really rubbed elbows with them before, but I don't like the way they jump without warning and sometimes make beautiful little Indian babies cry.

I love the tabla, but it is very, very hard.

I love that Rishikesh, in less than a week, has become so comfortable to me despite the fact that so much about it is so different than anything I've ever experienced.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

yes, no problem

It is very hard to find Indian food in Rishikesh, but there is a lot of falafel and sabich. Last night, after spending the day walking up and down Ram Jhula and looking for Svarg Ashram (the "best vibes in town" according to lonely planet) we realized we had been in svarg ashram the whole day (really very good vibes) and were hungry. We lost Eyal and Uri somewhere along the way, so it was just Dani and I that caught the rickshaw back up to Lakshman Jhula. At the Third Eye, which came highly recommended by my Israeli friends, they had a Hebrew menu, but no tali. So we left, passing all of the Israeli cuisines along the way in what seemed to be a futile search for Indian food.

Not so futile, it turns out. We ended up at Om Shanti musical cafe ("you have tali?" we asked. "Yes yes, no problem, madam," they said, though that could mean any number of things here.) But yes, no problem, Om Shanti musical cafe had a very good tali, and it turns out, an even better vibe than Svarg Ashram (take that, lonely planet).

When we walked in, we were the only customers. The owner made Dani chow mein, which he finished before my tali arrived. And when it did, it was unbelievable. Three different hot dishes, rice, chai, 3 chapatis, all for 35 rupees, which is about 3.5 shekels or 70 cents. I couldn't finish it, it was too big, so I told the owner and his friends to eat with me. At first they were reluctant, but then they did, and for the first time, we made Indian friends and caught the Indian vibe. They were all about my age, and such nice guys. We sat with them for hours, playing music and talking and drinking chai. When we first got there they had been playing a guitar with strings that buzzed painfully, so Dani fixed it for them as best he could, and then twirled out jazz chords throughout the night.

One of the guys, Prakas, told us, "I have friend from Israel who play didjeridoo, his name Iftach." Now, I know a few people named Yiftach who play didj, but it turns out that this friend was a Yiftach who has a band, "is called the giraffes," Prakas told us. "They are very famous," I told Prakas, who knows quite a few Hebrew words and makes didjeridoos himself. He invited us to come to his shop to make instruments, which is what Dani is doing right now. Dani made a funky protoype in Israel, a guitar/drum combination that sounds something like a string instrument being played underwater, and now he is trying to improve it, so he and Prakas drove off on his motorbike to a carpenter about 12 km away.

This is really the first time that I've had to be myself, and to walk around since I left Israel. I'd forgotten that I was even traveling alone. It's been great traveling with Dani, and with the other guys, but I don't want to get caught up in this group as my be-all-end-all traveling partners, and it's starting to feel like a good time to reduce our group size, because with four people things can get a little stressful. Until today we stayed at the Nigah guest house, run by a 28-year-old feeble looking stoner named Satpal whose entire vocabularly consists of "chillum, joint and boom boom. ("Satlan," we call him, to which he answers with a great big laugh, "yes, satlan, sababa.") It's been hard to convince him that not all Israelis come to India to rip their heads open with chillums, but toward the end of our stay there, he started to catch on.

We moved on this morning to Mama G's guest house, near the Bandhari Swiss Cottage. This cluster of about 5 guest houses is the most popular in the area, because it is built in the forest, and it's possible to rent a double room for 150 rupees a night (15 shekels or 4 dollars.)

There was only one room open in the whole neighborhood, which I jumped on quickly. Mama G was very nice, and said to me, "I save this room for you daughter, come back in few hour." So I paid, even though it meant we only had one new room between the four of us. At first we told ourselves (in that Hindi accent that has permeated our speech subconsciously (mostly because Indian won't understand me if I speak in my normal accent) and will certainly embarass me if it stays with me when I leave India) "no problem, we'll take it and we find another one, then fine, and if not, not." Then Dani said (after we'd already paid) "why move and share a room when we have such big separate rooms in town?" Good point Dani. So I went to Mama and said, "Mama, we are too many people, we change our mind." This did not make Mama happy. She came back with 100 rupees and said, "you get rest when room is full." Dani came back just then and said, "let's take this room and tell Eyal and Uri to do their own thing." So I told Mama, "Okay, we stay." The smile returned, and because I never signed anything or gave my passport, I needed some sort of confirmation from her. "You give me hug?" I asked. Mama forgve me, and I got my hug.

Friday, April 20, 2007

um, toto, where's Kansas?

Sitting at breakfast this morning in Rishikesh, it finally hit me that I'm in India, far away from work and Israeli politics and my family and my friends and responsibility and my apartment. It's true that there are cows in the streets and monkeys on the bridges and it's true that the smells of India range between the sweetest incense and the most foul, unidentifiable scents I have ever experienced. The view from Rishikesh, however, of green mountains overlooking the Ganges River, is as beautiful as I expected it to be, and I can only imagine what it will look like when I start trekking in the hills.

I haven't been alone since I got to the gate at Ben Gurion, and saw Dani, an old friend of my cousin's who I've known for years. Somehow, the two men that were sitting in my three-seater with me wanted to move, so Dani and I sat together, and over the course of the next day and a half met at least a dozen other Israelis. Eyal joined us on the flight from Bombay to Delhi, and Uri, who never told me his name, walked with us from the base of Rishikesh where the bus dropped us off up to Laksman Juhla, the highest neighborhood in town. We got to our guest house at around 7 AM and are renting two really nice rooms (except that there is only a hole, no toilet, in mine) and each paying something like three dollars a night.

I slept for really the first time since I left Israel this morning, after breakfast. I'd closed my eyes for a few hours on the plane to Delhi, but by the time we got to Delhi I was exhausted. I knew, before I even left Israel, that I didn't want to start my trip in Delhi. Delhi is like Tel Aviv on crack and so far from what I came to India to experience. The men treat women like crap, the vendors will fall you around literally for an hour until you finally agree to buy something, and yes, the cows and their excrement freely roam the streets. I spent most of my Delhi day on Pahar Ganj, the tourist street, a place I'll be sure to avoid next time I'm in the city.

The bus ride to Rishikesh, which should take about five hours, was an excruciating eight hours. Excruciating because I have never smelt such smells, have never felt such bumps, and have never had as hard of a time falling asleep on an overnight ride. The first four hours, which started at 9 PM and included a two hour "tour" of Delhi, was my real introduction to India. The streets of Old Delhi are home to hundreds of people, lying visibly on mattresses or sitting round fires and food pots. They are not lying there to get money from passing tourists. This is simply how they live. And that particular scene extends even beyond the city parameters, I'm sure to an extent I can't even imagine.

Despite the slight discomforts and the fact that I've barely seen anything, let me just say, India is amazing.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

before and after

planning for a planless plan

For the last few weeks, people have been asking me whether I'm scared or nervous or exicited about going to India alone. My half-hearted response, in that unfortunate monotone I haven't yet succeeded in altering, has for the most part been, "excited. No, really, I'm excited."

And I am, I'm really excited. I've been planning to take this trip for at least five years, but then I had to finish school, and then I started working at Haaretz, and then I met and became close to so many amazing people, and then got so comfortable and happy to be near my family after so long, that I had to delay my eventual date of departure. People are so skeptical of five-year plans, but just because they didn't work for Stalin doesn't mean they're not valid.

I'm a big fan of five-year plans. Some of my best plans are five-year plans. They're much more exciting than planning for this coming afternoon, and much less nerve-racking. Because now that my five-year plan lands in Delhi next Thursday, I have to admit, I'm getting a little nervous. Not about being in India, because that's still a week away, and still very exciting. No, I'm nervous about everything I have to do before I leave.

I still have to clean my room and store all my stuff, to pack my bag and to buy the right sandals, camera and vitamins, I still have to resign my lease and sublet it right over to Pucho, my new roommate's friend. I still have to have a party in Tel Aviv and a party in Jerusalem, and I have to spend time with my mom and my grandmother and my sister and brother-in-law, and my cousins and aunts and uncles and friends. I still have to see if the university has approved the creative writing program's recommendation to accept me, and to make sure the government of Israel hasn't forgotten its promise to give me free tuition.

Let the five-year plans continue. Shanti, shanti, know what I want to do and move forward, slowly, slowly. Embrace each plan, and when it goes well, go with it, and when it goes wrong, follow along with a new idea, a new plan.

I spent the weekend with about 20 amazing people at a house in the Judean Hills Shira and Ben have been taking care of this month, and got some really great advice from some friends who have traveled by themselves to India. Sitting at the table, surrounded by friends, Chani turned to Chana and said, "what advice can you give Ali about India?" Unsolicited, but so, so appreciated, I sat there and soaked up names of places and streets and bus ticket vendors, and lessons about money and people.

I'm not at all ready, but I'm getting there. Slowly, slowly. My seven-day plan starts in the morning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Note: If you have only one leg, don't try to steal an ATM machine

Pomono, California (AP) - A man who authorities say tried to steal a 1,500 pound bank ATM machine was captured on Tuesday after his prosthetic leg fell off during the getaway.


And then of course, there was Piglet and Piglette's unfortunately inbred offspring, with his two snouts and three eyes, forlornly posing between mirrors at a farm in Xi'an, China.