Photos to illustrate these notes are on Facebook on the Global Youth SpeakOut page. Look for the albums.
Dalbir Singh, BA and Masters in Education and a year and a half tourism certificate, is personable, well-informed, with a wonderful sense of humor and fun. He led five of us from North America for over two weeks with everyone pleased with the trip. He personally researched every site we visited and every hotel, making sure we had an excellent view of the mountains, lakes, or rivers we visited. He customized the trip for our particular interests, including organic farming and education. He is familiar with various religions and could explain the rituals and sacred sites we saw. His contacts with local people were very useful so that we didn’t just see monuments and museums. He is fluent in English as well as Hindi and Punjabi. We also requested a homestay which was very interesting, with most of the adult children present, as well as visiting his own home with three generations. He was flexible when appropriate. He also helped us with shopping for gifts for our families. The car and driver he hired was also excellent, with the driver concerned about our well-being and skilled at driving in challenging traffic. We also were given the opportunity to do kundalini yoga every morning, a good foundation to start the day. I can with great sincerity recommend Dalbir as an outstanding guide to your trip to India.
India Travel Notes, October, 2012
Our impressions of India were free roaming dogs and cows, poverty– especially in Delhi–with people sleeping on street meridians, child beggars turning summersaults, tapping on window, and carrying a baby. Construction workers live in tents made of plastic for years and similar slums can be seen from the subway. Boys play cricket in any bare dirt.
Traffic with tuktuks, bikes, and horse drawn carts, honking with whole families on a scooter without helmets, or just the driver wearing a helmet. Small narrow streets crowded with traffic, narrow shops for bangles, saris, gas burners, etc. Trash everywhere, some pick through it, cows and dog graze, and what’s left over is burned.
Lots of temples, sadus in orange robes, Sikhs in turbans, Muslim men in caps and women in black. Devout Hindus put deities to bed at night and wake them in the morning in their home shrine and Sikhs do the same with their holy scriptures called the guru.
Respect for elders, touch elders’ feet but the elder intercepts and holds your hands.
Tolerant and eclectic about religion: in a Sikh home of doctors, they had a statue of Buddha, a photo of Sai Baba, as well as Sikh gurus. On birthday give gifts to others. On our guide Dalbir’s last birthday he feed his neighbors.
Positive about arranged marriage.
Diapers are rare. Men and women attentive to children. Families sleep together.
Construction is done by hand, both men and women, with baskets, few power tools. Bamboo scaffolding
Poverty is sad, I saw several men with no legs on a skateboard-type board, I only saw a few wheel chairs, most dwellings have steps, only stayed in one hotel with an elevator. In urban areas they live in tents near the road and pick through it, 2,000 tons of solid waste daily.
Headshake side to side means I hear you, hand gestures more open palm than here.
Patient and flexible with time.
Colorful fabric with sequins, embroidery, lots of bling.
Men hang out on the streets, playing chess, sleeping, but in the whole trip I only saw two women having tea together in an outdoor cafe.
Delhi–14 million people! Traffic like Cairo, no attention to lanes, lots of horns, people sleeping on the meridians, children coming up to the car to beg. Wandering skinny dogs, a few cows grazing in the garbage. Went to visit a government school for 1,000 boys, age 4 to 14. No tuition. Many are from the nearby slums with illiterate parents. A science teacher told me only about 10% of the students care about learning, most don’t work hard. A new government policy passes students no matter what they know through grade 8. My friend Ragni teaches English in Delhi and said by 10th grade she has students who are illiterate. They “can’t take pain,” said the science teacher. He said about 10% have computers at home, and there are about 40 computers in the school that was built in 1950. It’s in an archeological zone where they can’t make renovations, no fans, no lights, holes in the roof, didn’t see any equipment. This generation is more disrespectful towards parents and teachers, not as disciplined, said the teacher. In grade 10 they used to be evaluated by a yearly board exam, but now 60% of student evaluation is based on activities and attitudes and 40% on tests.
We saw Lodi Gardens, a large park with a pond and Mogul structures, but didn’t see flowers, visited the toilet museum showing historical toilets and models of latrines for the countryside with channels to a tank, and the Gutb Minaret built by Mogul conquers in red brick. My teacher friend Rajni took me to see the majestic white Bahia Lotus Temple, with a steady stream of tourists. Inside the acoustics reverb because of the lotus shape, was difficult to understand the passages read to us in various languages by young devotees. We also saw the large Hari Krishna temple complex, with people of course chanting, and worshiping statues of Krishna.
Visited a free government school for 1,000 boys, age 4 to 14. A science teacher told me many of the students are from nearby slums with illiterate parents. He said only about 10% of the students care about learning, most don’t work hard, they can’t take pain he said. A new government policy passes students no matter what they know through eighth grade. About 10% have computers at home and there are about 40 computers in the school that was built in 1950. It’s in an archeological zone where they can’t make renovations, no fans, no lights, holes in the roof, didn’t see equipment. This generation is more disrespectful towards parents and teachers, not as disciplined. Following the British education system with board exams like the A and O levels, were held in grade 10 and 12, but now in grade 10 students are evaluated on activities and attitudes and 60% on tests. My friend Rajni teaches English in a girls’ school and said by 10th grade she is expected to teach students who are illiterate along with others who have some English skills.
Our host took us to a Hari Krishna temple, greeted by a young devotee in white, a follower since age 8. Dressed in white, in love with Krishna, he explained each of the pictures of the life of Krishna. Our host started a recycling center for temple flowers to make compost and cut down on pollution of the rivers. (Since many homes have flat rooftops which aren’t used for gardening, I wrote to Rakesh, I hope you all will initiate a project to start roof top veggie and herb gardens as an example to others. Pots could be the large buckets used for washing, with holes poked in the bottom. Used tires can also be used. Saucers could be the large metal dinner plates. The large bucket could also be used for a compost maker, putting in food scraps, cow dung, weeds, etc. Reverse osmosis hoses could bring water up, just suck on the top of the hose put in a bucket of water below the stairs.) We took the subway to the Red Fort, a massive complex built by the Mogul rulers. We walked through crowded streets with shops, beggars, a challenge to cross the street and get on and off the crowded subway. We walked through a Jain bird hospital and temple, a rescue home for injured birds, as the Jains emphasize non-violence.
My host, Rakesh, took me to kirtan at a Krishna temple held in-between apartment buildings. Indians have put their creativity into fabulous fabrics for women’s saris and salwar kameez suits, wonderful colors, bling, and embroidery. People greet each other with hands in prayer position, then touch their heart, and to really show respect reach to touch feet but the other person takes your hands in theirs. This was a kind of kirtan where the audience didn’t respond back, just the men on the stage chanted in response to the lead singer. The chants were in Hindi. You enter the grounds, take off your shoes, wash your hands, give an offering to the statue of Krishna and Radha, the priest put yellow paste on your forehead, and then sit on the floor. A few of the songs sounded like reggae. Very warm loving feeling. A few men and one woman got up and moved their arms in a kind of dance, but not many.
Men’s public bathrooms are fairly open, nothing public for women. It’s common to see men urinating on the street, but the only time I saw women doing something similar was four young women walking to a corn field near the border where we saw the flag ceremony conducted by Pakistani and Indian soldiers with fancy marching and the crowd shouting Jai India or Pakistan.
We’re cautious about mosquitoes—one is flying around me now, because there’s dengue fever in the city. My teacher friend’s daughter has it so I haven’t been able to see her after the first afternoon. I visited her in the government hospital, six beds to a room, charting done by hand, not electronically, no decoration, in need of fresh paint.
The newspaper reported that in 2011 crimes against kids increased, with kidnapping up by 34%, rape by 20%, prostitution by 27%, and feticide 19%.
Monday we went to the Delhi train station at 5:30 am, where we were told we needed boarding passes not just an e ticket and that our train was cancelled and that we should take a taxi to the tourist office. The guy at the tourist office disagreed, said all was in order, so we went back to the station and the same man said it’s OK now with no explanation. A porter took all of our bags, some on his head. The train station at Haridwar was packed with people sitting or sleeping on the ground, strong urine smell. They came from all over the Punjab, some from Rajasthan, women’s head covered with their saris, wonderful colors. It turned out there were pilgrims, a special holiday to go to the Ganges and honor ancestors. Our pickup was delayed in the heavy traffic and the cell phones didn’t work, but eventually connected with Ajeet, a Canadian covert to Sikhism who is traveling with us along with Dalbir, our sweet Sikh guide.
I can see why the Beatles came to Rishikesh. It’s in a valley, built on hills overlooking the Ganges with two suspension bridges to get across, pedestrians, scooters beeping, an occasional monkey. We went to an Agni Hindu fire ceremony on the banks of the river, with Brahmin boys performing the ritual lighting fire. Yes, the caste system endures, was told upper castes still won’t eat with Dalits in school. (On the bus on my final day in India, a grandmother and physician sitting next to me let me know that she was a Brahmin of the highest of the six subcastes, as was her husband. Her father didn’t want her to meet him before marriage, but her mother allowed a meeting when he came to visit her ill father.) The boys passed around candles burning on metal plates or candelabra type holders moving around the audience. Lots of sadus in orange, small gentle cows wander the streets, and an occasional brown or black mongrel dog and monkey. An Aussie trekker got bitten by a mother money on that bridge, had to get rabies shots. We’re staying in a place overlooking the river.
Did kundalini yoga this morning, seated with mudras and breathing, root locks. Had a fruit crepe and veggie omelet with a warm lemon ginger drink for breakfast, then off to a river rafting on the Ganges. Three gentle rapids but a good way to see the area, people bathing in the river, hearing chanting from ashrams built up from the river. Dalbir doesn’t swim so it was special for him to go in the river. Then to visit a temple high on a mountain, an ancient Shakti temple where the priest gave us a blessing with orange powder on the third eye and a string bracelet tied on the wrist. I asked with Dalbir translating what problems people bring to him as a priest—they want a son or a job. He said young people are as devout as the older generation, continue rituals like cutting the oldest boy’s hair at the temple as an offering to deity, marriages, funerals, etc. However, urban educated youth I talked with are less devout than their parents, don’t go to temple as often. Hari remarked that his sister goes once a year. Then to visit on a maharaja’s palace, now a very post 5-star hotel rated as one of the best spa’s in the world. Very expensive so we just had high tea with a buffet of lovely sweets and small sandwiches, shown around to the largest suit with two large rooms and a veranda with a view of the gardens and the grand ballroom. Yoga, river rafting, temple, and high tea, can’t ask for a more enjoyable day.
We took a boat ride across a large human-made lake to stay with an extended family. The father, Bachittar Singh, was minister of agriculture. His teacher son and his wife and two children live in the ancestral home: He has to walk two hours up hills to teacher. He told us a former state minister of education was illiterate. One son and his wife and two young children live with the parents, each family having their own room with a large bed, much less stuff than in a Western house. One of the brothers, a Ph.D. student, was in love with a Hindu girl for 5 years, his parents agreed to the marriage. He said their children will be raised as Sikhs. He is researching domestic violence, said a law was passed in 2005 against domestic violence, but isn’t enforced, not considered criminal cases. It applies to practices like requiring a wife to eat after her husband.
The house has 14 rooms and 3 water buffalo—the father washed and feed them. They grew corn in their small vegetable garden. The lake view is wonderful from the rooftop. They help each other, share resources. The visiting uncle carried around his sick nephew, comforting him. Separate bathroom and washroom is outside.
The next door neighbors had a new baby; the hermaphrodites came to sing and dance for money or otherwise they would curse the baby. A small Sikh temple is near the homes, all the neighbors are related–all the houses for a long distance are in the same family.
We talked with a retired teacher who has a green house for chrysanthemums. He thinks discipline has decreased in schools since the government made corporal punishment illegal.
Sikhs moved towards equality by getting rid of last names that signal caste: All men are Singh and all women are Kaur. They have a tradition of some women warriors and one of the 10 gurus was especially focused on women’s equality.
Manali is in the Himalayas, views of snow-covered peaks, a valley with a river flowing through the middle. We went to see a waterfall, passing apple orchard on terraces, men and women herding sheep, houses with slate roofs, women knitting.
Manikaran: hot springs with men and women separated. Saw women chanting prayers in the Sikh temple in the afternoon for silent worshippers. We saw a Hindu temple Shiva lingam. The belief is that Parvati and Shiva meditated there for 1100 years where she lost the diamond in her forehead while they were making love in the warm waters. A snake swallowed it and gave it back to he when Shiva searched for it.
Kullu was the site of a festival where men carry their village god on a palanquin. A giant monster married Beam Pandiva and through her marriage to him became good as well. Her son had the power of 13 elephants. The village deities are taken in procession to festival where they are housed in tents. People sell clothes, tools, etc.
Rewalsar has a Tibetan Buddhist flavor with a large monastery built around a lovely natural lake, filled with coy. The myth about the lovely lake is a king burned his daughter and her lover, they arose from the fire on a lotus and the lake emerged. Very pleasant to walk around the lake, seeing the monkeys and a monk in meditation. A large Buddha looks down on the lake from a hill above. We talked with a Tibetan Buddhist nun from the US, who recommends Andrad Roy’s book Disappearing Democracy and the book Being Indian, and Frontline magazine. Her shamanic lama predicts a big earthquake in 2013. Buddhism predicts 1300 buddhas, but only four have come so far. Bon shamanism came from Persia to Tibet with white and black magic and animism. Guru Rimpoche 786 integrated Buddhism with Bon.
Himal state has the highest rate of female infanticide and sexual abuse. Rape is the fastest growing crimes, rate doubled the last 2 decades. Some politicians suggested the solution is to lower the marriage age, although many of the rapists are married. Mr. Talwar blames it on drug addicts.
Near a Buddhist temple with prayer wheels, we saw a Buddhist wedding celebration with food and drink, but the bride was crying about leaving her family, holding on to her father, comforted by her mother. Outside women danced in a circle while the men played instruments.
We walked through narrow streets with no room for cars, to a wedding celebration for the groom. Weddings last for at least three days, at the party for groom and for the bride the other isn’t present. After wedding night the family comes to celebrate. DJs played loud Punjabi music, and people danced in same-sex groups. Buffet dinner was served.
Hindus were celebrating a festival by nightly acting out of the Ramayana where Hanuman, monkey deity, rescues Sita from the demon king Ravana. See the photo of the children in costume. Rayna, our Hindu driver, said during this holiday he doesn’t consume alcohol or meat, as a symbol of good triumphing over evil. He ate eggs but joked that they’re potatoes.
I shared my PowerPoint about global youth with a government academy that gets help from the military and charges tuition. Student said differences are: youth today have more information, access to technology. Know about global issues, care about poverty, smaller families, have access to education for girls, agree girls are better students but a boy said it was because we helped them and other boys applauded. Generation gap, more freedom. Girls’ questions to me:
My cousins, who I live with, think they are always right.
Boys gang up on girls, only 3 in grade 10.
My mind is always thinking.
My father pushes me to do better.
Will our thinking change as we get older? [all girls]
A boy recommended his meditation technique.
Also visited a low-cost government school, including a classroom with no teacher when a guest enters, the students stand and recite a greeting. To respond to a question they stand and speak in very quiet voices that don’t carry around the room. The room was dark, only an old blackboard. Boys and girls sit separately, with many more boys than girls. In contrast in the tuition-charging classroom, they were well equipped with smart technology. The principal and director are former military officers and Sikhs. They check on everything, they said, unlike free government schools.
Amritsar is the second largest city we visited, a contrast to the peaceful small towns. Streets are filled with tukuks, rickshaws, bikes, cars, people, and dogs, a constant stream of colorful life. It’s like Mecca for Sikhs who come to the Golden Temple to circumnavigate the rectangular pool of water, and to bath in it. Women have a small walled area.
On the bus to the airport, I sat next to an MD, a grandmother with two sons. She let me know she’s a Brahmin. About the younger generation, she said they are more liberal than us, more honest than we are. Love marriages were not allowed, not supposed to talk to a boy when I was young. Now they talk to anyone they want. We were scared, concealed our feelings. We encouraged our children to say what they want. They do what they like, we don’t object. My second son gets so irritated if told what to do. The elder one is more likely to seek advise. Media is a bad influence, with a lot of exposing dresses which common people cant wear anywhere. The positive effect is that each person can get knowledge about things we were ignorant about. No TV. Reduced distance between people and countries. I don’t think they’re spoiled. I never told them to this or that and they picked their wives.
Corruption is everywhere. Anasare fights against it, but don’t expect it will go out or uprooted for 100 years. We need a strong leader to rule for 40 years or so. Doctors now are money seekers. Before they were moral and had ethics. Now they want extra money from patients, even those who are paid well by the government. Patients bribe doctors to get better attention and treatment. Maybe give 5,000 for surgery doubled what is charged, depending on your pocket. For birth control, women use IUDs or pills and men use condoms. She believes pills are harmful after about 10 years. In government clinics give free birth control. Men are paid a small amount for sterilization.
Here’s the India itinerary led by Salbir Singh.
Dalbir’s India Tour Itinerary
October 15 Monday – Rishikesh, Uttranchal
11AM Pick up from Haridwar Rail Station
Car to Rishikesh
12PM Check into hotel
1 PM Lunch
4:30-7:00 PM Local sight seeing: Aarti at the Ganges River
October 16 Tuesday – Rishikesh
9:30AM optional Kunja Puri Temple, Divine Life Society (Sivananda) RJ, across Ganges is Sivanada’s Swarag (small abode where he attained enlightenment), Kriya Yoga Rotunda
3:30PM Tea Break
4:00 Water Rafting
6-7PM Shopping or rest
October 17 Wednesday – Rishikesh
9AM Checkout & Depart for Anandpur Sahib, Punjab
1PM Ponta Sahib, Sikh Temple
4PM Tea Break
5PM Arrive Anandpur Sahib
7PM Dinner & optional visit to Keshgarh Sahib
October 18 Thursday – Anandpur Sahib
6-7AM Yoga at Taragarh Sahib
8AM Bhaighaneya Temple
10-12AM School Visit
3PM Visit and Tea Time at Organic Farm House run by Frenchman
6PM Optional Visit to Keshgarth Sahib or Saheedi Baag to see martial arts / orphaned and ‘gifted’ children’s home
October 19 Friday – Anandpur Sahib
9AM Drive to Naina Devi Hindu Temple & Cave
Going up by tram, return by walking (optional)
12PM Drive back via Bhakra Dam (second highest in India, bring passport
& bananas for all the monkeys)
1:30PM Lunch in Nangal
4PM Khalsa Cultural Complex (the Lincoln Center of Anandpur Sahib)
Note: We will try to make a time to experience Punjabi folk dance &
a simple wedding.
October 20 Saturday Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh
9AM Leave for Bilaspur
12PM Lunch at lake view restaurant (or optional, at family home)
1-3PM Local family visit, green house visit and tea
4PM Boating in Govind Sagar Lake
Local family stay
October 21 Sunday Manali
8AM Leave for Manali
9:30AM Stop for brunch and tea
3:30PM Arrive in Manali
Warm welcome with hot and cold beverages,
cakes, cookies and fresh fruit on arrival
October 22 Monday Manali
9AM Local sightseeing
Harimba Temple & Van Vihar Forrest Reserve & Vasist Risi Temple &
Many Risi & Clubhouse
5:30PM Tea at Cottage
October 23 Tuesday Manali
9AM Local sightseeing
Rohtang Snow Point, Solang Valley,
4-5PM Tea & snacks at cottage
October 24 Wednesday Manikaran
9AM Checkout & leave for Kullu
See the opening ceremony of Dusshera Festival
3PM Leave for Manikaran
4:30PM Arrive in Manikaran, Check into hotel & tea time
5PM Dip in hot tub & visit to healing cave & visit to local Hindu Temple
October 25 Thursday Rewalsar
9AM Leave for Rewalsar
1PM Check-in & Lunch
5PM Local Sightseeing
Lake & shopping
October 26 Friday Rewalsar
10AM Drive to Buddhist holy cave
5PM Visit to Buddhist Monastery (Padma Sambha)
& Sikh Temple & visit zoo
October 27 Saturday Amritsar
8AM Leave for Amritsar
3PM Tea in Jalhander
5PM Check into hotel in Amritsar
8PM Visit Golden Temple
October 28 Sunday Amritsar
6AM Tea in Bed
6:30-9AM Golden Temple Activities, Meditation and Morning Prayer
11AM Visit to Jallianwala Bagh
11:30AM Final Shopping
4:30PM Drive to Indian/Pakistani border for flag ceremony
October 29 Monday Amritsar
9AM Visit to Miri Piri Academy (optional to see Guru Ram Das community kitchen)
11Am Susan & Stephen proceed to Delhi Airport
5PM Fabric Market
October 30 Tuesday Amritsar
9AM Visit to Amritsar Medical College
12PM Lunch in Medical College
1PM Kimball proceed to Delhi Airport
Please let me know if there is anything else that you desire to see.
Happy Travels & thank-you for being a part of this journey.