A Travellerspoint blog

October 2007

A jaunt in the Himalayas

-17 °C

Hello all, and Happy Halloween! I am definetally thinking of home and all the pumpkins and decorations, and adorable little kidlets wandering the streets dressed up! Halloween in india was uneventful, as we are still recovering from last week's trip. We (as a class) went up to Dharamsala for about a week. We weren't actually staying in Dharamsala, but we were staying in McLeodGanj - a smaller part up on the mountain. The area is where the Dalai Lama's Tibetan Government in Exile is located. We visited alot of tibetan government stites and learned a whole lot about their education system. ( tomorrow our group will be writing an email to SFU International about all the visits and everything in Dharamshala, so I'll just paste it here when I get it. For now, I'll just write what I thought of the area). Over the week, we spent alot of time with tibetan refugees. I don't feel comfortable writing alot on here about their situation, but I've learned alot and would really like to share it. Email me, or we'll chat about it when I get home. What I was really touched by was how the Tibetan people live. They have been hurt very badly, don't have a country of their own, and yet are some of the nicest, warmest people I have ever met. I think the story that touched me the most was that of an older lady who lives at the tibetan refugee center and does art therapy with the children wo have just escaped. Her story is phenomenal. She wrote a book (that was sold out in McLeodGanj) That I am really excited to read, and share. i think what really touched me was the amount of suffering she's been through, and yet, instead of dweling on it and being angry, she is able to give so much love and care to others. This is the way most tibetan people I met live their lives. It is inspiring, to say the least.

Things I love about Dharamshala, besides the people: the monkeys everywhere, how cold it is, the places to eat that aren't Indian food (i love the food, but it was nice to have a change), and our massive hotel room (somehow Amber and I got a double room).

We had a free afternoon, followd by a free day in Dharamshala, so four of us decided to go for a hike up to Triund.
it's basically the first mountain of the Himalayas. We started at about 1800 feet, and the camp was at 3000 feet. We booked a room in one of the little cabins up there, but when we got up, we decided to sleep outside since it was so beautiful. First, we watched the sun set - studding because of all the dust and pollution in the air - and the moon rise over the mountains (while drinking fantastic chai). We the made dinner (Tibetan bread that we brought up and soup) and ate around the fire. We the set our sleeping bags up by a rock, and cuddled together to keep warm. In the morning, we woke up just was the sun was about to rise over the mountains. It was definetally one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen We stayed in our sleeping bags for a while, playing cards and listening to music. We then had breakfast (Tibetan bread and peanut butter), then each took some alone time. I found a great rock to sit on, and journaled. That journaling spot definetally rivals my spot at Cowichan that i love so dearly. We had some lunch (tibetan bread and apples and peanut butter), then headed down the mountain. That night, we had a lovely dinner (with no tibetan bread, thank goodness) with all the people who had helped us during the week. The next morning, we had an all day drive to Manali. It was super wondy road through the mountains. I'm surprised I wasn't sick. The next day, we visited a TRAS project nearby, the 5 of us went up to Rotung pass. The drive up was crazy - the skill of drivers here is mindblowing. The whole way up, it is a one lane road, with big cliffs. At no point, did I ever feel like we were going to fall off the mountain, which is more than I can say for driving up Vancouver mountains. When we got up there, it was damn cold, but really nice. I think the elevation was 4000 meteres, but I'll have to check on that. We had some chai up there (there are chai shops everywhere, even on tops of mountains!!) Then headed down, all huddled together in the car, belting out backstreet boys (even the driver was singing). The next day, we drove back to Chandigarh, and here I am now!

Well, that is all for now. there's only 3 weeks of the program left (where has the time gone??!!??!!) So I'll be working hard on school work for the next bit.

Hope all is well,

xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 08:37 Comments (0)

Dancing and thunderstorms.

I just realized I didn't finish the last blog post. Sorry to leave you hanging! I meant to say I am really excited for cold air and mountains! Every day when I open my closet, I promise my hoodie I'll wear it soon! Speaking of cold air...the temperature here in Chandigarh is getting to be much more bearable. During the day it is usually 30 degrees, but gets cooler at night. You still don't need a sweater after dark, but it's pleasant to be out at night.

I've had a wonderful past few days. Monday was our first day volunteering at Pustak school. It was quite interesting. Ireally enjoyed it. My group was doing an english language lesson which involved some singing of head and shoulders, flash cards, then a game I like to call "I say a body part, you touch it to the wall". All in all it was really fun. The kids had alot less english knowledge than we thought. I let the girls in my group do alot of the talking stuff (because they spoke hindi) but I played the game with the group. I am amazed at how much I was able to communicate to these young, rambunctious children without speaking the same language. It was all communicated through actions and enthusiasm. The one thing I found sad was seeing the really young children ( 9 month olds ) in school becaue there was no one else to look after them.

Monday night, we went to Navrati, which is a Gujerati festival where you do garba dance (there are pictures of it on my facebook). We went with Reema and Pooja (who do garba dance competitively in Vancouver) and the boys from our group. Garba dance is really fun, and you do it with sticks in a circle. I'm not quite sure how else to explain it, but beleive me, it was great fun!! The ground was really dry, and we were dancing on dry grass, so it was really dusty. When we got home, amber and I cleaned our faces with cotton pads, and it was disturbing how much dust was stuck to our faces. Our noses - well let's just say we're still getting the dust out.

Tuesday we had a SFU session at Mati's house. I love these sessions. We usually start with a check-in to see how everyone's doing. Something I really appreciate about this group is our honesty with each other (they're very much camp like). Later that afternoon, Amber and I hosted a "tea party" at our house. We made fresh vegetables, pb and j sandwitches, and frenchfries. Comfort food much? It started thundering and lighteninging soon after 5, and at around 7, there was hail the size of grapes falling. Soon it turned to hail, and I gathered up some people to go for a walk with me. I think there was about 5 of us who went out. The rain was absoloutely wild. The streets were rivers which went up to my ankles. We went to the park across the street and played in the puddles. There are badminton courts that are usually mard clay, but with the rain turned into slippery spots. It was kind of like walking on ice. We played in that for a while, then Natahan and Caitlin decided they wanted to slip and slide in it. I'm sure it was fun, but I wasn't quite up for it.

Today was also really pleasant. We went to Sikhya school - a school also geared towards kids from the slums, but with many, MANY more financial resources than Pustak. We're doing a photo project with the kids where they get a camera and go out and take pictures of their homes. We, as a group, weren't too keen on the project, but the group last year did it and the school asked for it again. It was really interesting talking to my two students. They were involved in a UNICEF (?) project aimed at eliminating poverty. There are some very interesting, and inspiring programs happeneing here in India. We then had lunch with some of the younger kids. The ones I sat with had just learned colours and shapes, so our whole conversation was me pointing at things, and they told me the colours and shapes. From there we went to Panjab University for our first session with the education students there. It was all quite formal, but I really enjoyed the discussion. The session was a discussion in small groups about issues youth face in Canada and India. It was so broad that I thought it would be frustrating, but I really got alot out of our discussion. The students there were really great, and I really liked interacting with people my own age from India, instead of just kids and older adults. I'm really excited for the next session we have with them!

Well, on Friday we are going to Dharamshala and Manali for 10 days. I don't know that I'll write here until I get back.

I hope all is well!! I'm glad to hear the Vancouver strike is somewhat over. Someone tell me about the deal? Was it an ok settlement?

I look forward to hearing from you all!!!

xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 08:32 Comments (1)

Chandigarh

-17 °C

Hello!!

So I don't have any crazy adventures to report on this week...It was a really calm week. I had school stuff to do during the week. We had 2 SFU session, which means we go over to the house where Mati is staying and have school discussions in comfy chairs or around the kitchen table. I always like these days because it's a bit of a refuge from the staring and always being aware of your surroundings. where ever we go, we are always being stared at. I guess whhen I say we, I mean Amber and I (we go everywhere together) Whether we're in a cycle rickshaw, or an auto rickshaw, or walking, everyone turns to look at us. I've found it a bit disconcerting at first, but I can deal with it now. We seem to get alot more attention than others, probably because we're blonde. There's also alot of people that come us to us to talk. They ask where we're from and what our names are. That's about the extent of their english. Being in a closed house with people that we like spending time with is a nice refuge from all that.

This week we also visited 2 schools, Pustak and YPS. YPS is a high end "government school" (what we know as a private school). We went just to go look around. It was quite nice. It was nicer that most public schools in Canada. We also visited Pustak school, which is the one we will be volunteering with a few times during the program. Pustak schools are from an organization, where the schools are located in slum areas. This one is in a slum fairly close to where we live. From the street, you would't know there was a slum because there is a large building hiding it. As soon as you get behind the building, the roads aren't paved, and the houses are just cloth walls proped up my sticks. We walked about 5 minutes through the area to get to the school. It consists of 2 small buildings. One is the creche where the small children go. They were absoloutely adorable. Then there is the regular classroom, where one teacher teachs about 25 5-12 year olds. The number of students is always changing because attendance is usually sparse. These kids' parents are usually servants, and might need the kid to help look after their sisters or brothers instead of going to school. There is also a lack of education around how important going to school evry day is. The parents of these kids don't understand that to get a proper education, the kids need to go to school everyday. We were asking about how long families live in the slums for, and the guy at the schoo was saying that the government will have housing for them in 6 months. Unfortunately, most people will end up in anouter slum, or the same one, because of addiction. The parent who has some sort of addiction (usually the father) insists on selling the house in order to feed that addiction. Basically, they'd rather have their drugs or alchool than a roof over their head. All this being said, I think there are alot of good things the city is doing in order to help these people.

On Friday, we went to an archaeological site in the middle of nowhere. I'll call it "punjabi middle of nowhere" It was really quite interesting. What they were digging up as a buddhist stupa from about 8000 years ago. It was circularin shape with spokes. The biggest circle had 32 spokes, reperesnting the number of teeth humans have. The next circle (inside the biggest one) had 24 spokes, reperenting 24 hours in a day. The next one had 12, for 12 hours a day. In the center as a circle with ashes in it. The general idea, was that these circles represented being human 24 hours a day, 12 months a year, until you are not human anymore, and your ashes sit in the middle. I wish I could tell you where this site was, or what is was called, but I have no idea.

Let's see...what else is new? our group has found a favourite desert place called mocha. It has the most amazing chocolate stuff I've ever had. It's going to be our usual spot when we want to hang out at night. Other than that, this week has been really relazed. We watched 2 bollywood movies this weekend. They're really long. I liked they because they're cheesy, sappy, and have singing and dancing and lots of tears in them. Just my kind of movie!

I'm also getting really excited for our trip to Dharamshala. I'm mostly really excited for

Posted by jchapelski 06:25 Comments (0)

crazy, crazy Amritsar

Hi everyone!!

So, I made it back from Amritsar in one peice!! I really enjoyed the time we spent there, even though it was overwhelming to say the least. it was a 4 hour drive to Amritsar, and once we got to our guest house (a really nice little place just outside of Amritsar) and settled in, we went to a massacre site right by the golden temple. It was very interesting, but there was a group of young men who were facinated with the whilte girls. They followed us around and touched alot. The followed us all the way to the golden temple. I must say, the boys in our gruop were fantastic and kept us really safe by putting us in the middle of the group. We're so lucky to have them on the tri with us. Once we got into the Golden Temple, it was a bit frustrating because we were being stared at,, and Mati insisted on stoping and making sure we were all together. I understand why she was woried, but everytime we stoped, we just drew a larger croud. After going around once, we were all going to go for dinner, but one of the boys wanted to stay. Mati said any one else who wanted to stay could. I decided to see if it was any better, not being in the whole group so I stayed. It was sooooo much better. Mind you, I was the only white girl, and I was with three other boys, so that helped. I really enjoyed the time just sitting there, being able to be silent and still. We had dinner at the temple (there is a free kitchen at all temples). They are so efficient. You sit in lines with your plate and bowl and they come around and dump food in your plate. I know there was alot of staring at me when we were sitting and eating, but I just kept my eyes down so as not to provoke it. I felt like a girl from another time: head covered in a scarf, and eyes on the ground.

The next morning we got up at 3 to go see the sunrise at the temple. It was early but well worth it. We stood in line to get into the temple with all the pushy old ladies. In india, it is polite to push someone out of the way of you need to get by. I must say, I was really good at holding those old ladies back. You all better watch out for me on the skytrain when I get back home. My elbows will be out and ready.

After that, we came back to the hotel to nap. Later, I went out to the market with a few people. We had a great rickshaw driver who took us to a beautiful hindu temple with glass mosais walls and beautiful statues. We then went to the India Pakistan border to see the border guard ceremony. We got there a bit late, and to tell you the truth, all I could see was backs of heads, and alot of men staring. alot of people (people being men) were taking pictures of us after we asked them not to. I was kind of grumpy by the end of it. That night, we went to fancy restauraunt with some western food so we could have comfort/thanksgiving dinner. I had chicken and mashed potatoes and vegetables. In an equivalent restauraunt in Vancouver, you would have paid somewhere around 25 or 30 dollars. Our meals cost, on average, 3.25 dollars.

The next morning, I decided to go back to the golden temple (after the frustrating experience at the border) at 6 30 in the am. Again, I was the only girl, so I was well looked after. It wasn't nearly as bad though, because in the morning, most people are there to pray, not grope and stare. The boys all went for a dip (females had to go into a special room to wash in the pond) and while I was siting there watching, a few younger girls (6-15) came up and started asking where I was from. We had a lovely conversation and took some pictures. I gave them my email, and we are going to email back and forth about our countries. It was nice to have people coming up to me not to stare and grope, but to have human interaction.

All in all, I really enjoyed Amritsar, even with all the uncomfortableness. That being said, it was nice to get back to quiet Chandigarh. I really, really like my homestay (hurrah!!) and still love the group I am traveling with. I am so lucky that it is with this group instead of last year's group.

So I put a few pictures in my photo gallery, but used up my free space. I'll maybe delete some and put new ones up later this week.

Hope all is well with you guys, and that you all had a fnatastic thanksgiving!

xoxo jess

p.s. i just tried to upload more photos, but I've "exceded my monthly upload limit". Maybe I'll put some photos on facebook, since most people have that.

Posted by jchapelski 05:02 Comments (1)

pictures

ok, I think i put a few pictures up in my photo gallery. I don't know if you guys can see them, but look for a photo galery and let me know if you can see them.

I am still well. Chandigarh is nice (and hot!! it's 35 degrees during the day). My only issues are that it is a city that is very modern and kind of western. I mean, it's still India, but not the crazy India one might think of.

I really like traveling around by cycle rickshaw. It took me a while to get used to, because I was uncomfortable with someone pedaling me around the city at first, but now that I'm used to it, it's great!

I'm still shocked, and baffled, by the socio-economic inequalities you see here. A few people live lavish life styles, while so many live in slums. The thing that gets me, is that there is often a nice house right next to a place that has no walls and many people sleeping in it. It is normal for people here to see, but hard for the rest of us. I also find the fact that there is household help here hard to grapple with. Amber and I always make it a point to say please and thank you to hte help even though he dosen't understand.

I feel like all I'm writing is negative, but I really like it here. All the people I've met are great, and I've really enjoyed time we've spent with kids. Today, we went to a vocational school for kids whose parents work as servants. It was really interesting interacting with them. We had no verbal language in common, yet still had an amazing time together (I started stella stella ola again, and they taught us hand games).

We're going to Amritsar this weekend to see the Golden Temple, so it will be nice to see some other parts of India.

I'm sure I'll write again when I get back.

Miss you all, and enjoy rainy Vancouver (I've heard the weather in ridiculous)

xoxo, Jess

Posted by jchapelski 05:42 Comments (1)

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