A Travellerspoint blog

November 2007



Namaste everyone,

Well, we had an exciting departure from Delhi. Nate, Amber and I had booked our train tickets to Rishikesh a few days earlier, but Balraj wasn't sure wether or not he really wanted to come. The night before he decided yes, so we all trekked off the the train station for 5 in the morning to get him a ticket. We got him one, and we all got on the right train (this was the first time we'd braved old delhi train station by ourselves. The train from DElhi to Harridwar went backwards most of the way, but i didn't notice because i was sleeping. We got to Harridwar, and took the bus an hour to rishikesh. We decided to stay in the same hotel the others from our group stayed at before. Since there are 4 of us. it was cheapest to get the big room at the top of the hotel. We're living like princes and princesses right now. i'll take a picture of the room for you guys to see. The day we got there, we went for a quick lunch around 3. then slept till 9 at night. We had some tea and nan at the resatuaraunt, then went back to sleep until 10 in the morning. We were apparantly a bit tired. That day, we spent some time exploring rishikesh, and went to the most amazing samosa place bal and nate had found when they were here a few months ago. Not only are their potato samosas great, but they make chocolate and banana samosas as well. It was maybe the most amazing thing I have ever eaten. We each had three of them, as we watched the ganga float by. That afternoon was spent wandering. I got headbutted by a cow, and watched monkey scare other people. Later, we went to the evening arti. Rishikesh is a pilgrimage place for hindus, and every night, they have a ceremony for the ganga. There is alot of singing, then you light a candle in a leaf bowl full of flowers, and send it off down the river. it was quite becautiful. We grabed some dinner from a dhaba on the way home, then went back to the hotel. There really isn't much to do at night here. so we spend alotof time just chatting, or doing handstands in our hotel room.

Later today, we're going rafting on the Ganga, then back for some more chocolate and banana samosas. I really like it in rishikesh. It's really relaxed and confortable, and there are alot of "englightened" pretentious white people here to laugh at.

I really can't beleive it is almost christmas time. This morning, as we were having breakfast, there were donkeys walking by with bells on and the room we were in would have looked spectacular with christmas lights. It got us thinking of christmas, and I made a snowflake out of the paper under my cup and we stuck it to the window with spit. Ahh, I hope there is snow on the ground wheni get home!!

That's all for now. Hope you are all well,

xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 21:33 Comments (0)

An ending and a begining

Hello everyone!

Well, I am siting here in Delhi, at the same guest house as I started my field school adventure. Just this time it's the end of the program.

We've done quite alot in the past week. Last Sunday (the 18t?) we left our homestay families in Chandigarh. Anu, Naveen and Prateek have not only been my homestay "family" for the past two months, but they also became Amber and my's best friends. The goodbye was quite a whilr wind, since we were trying to get everything and everyone on the train before it left, so it didn't hit me until the train left the station that I might not see these people for a long time. It was kind of like going through leaving Vancouver all over again. From there, we were to get into Delhi by 11 30 am, but there was a train derailed infront of us so we didn't get in until 3 in the afternoon. From there, we drove to Jaipur in Rajasthan. We spent a few days there, exploring the city and Amber fort (she was thrilled there was a fort named after here...). Jaipur is a beautiful city, with lots of red sandstone buildings, and Mhogul inspired architecture. From there we drove to Bharatpur, where there is a bird and wildlife sanctuary. It was nice to have a day just to relax in the forest and work on school work. That night, since we were the only ones in the hotel, we had quite a dance party - one of our field school group's favourite things to do. After 2 nights in Bharatpur, we drove to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. We stayed at a wonderful little hotel that was just a 10 minute walk to the Taj. We went to the Taj right away, since it was closed the next day. The admission prices are crazy - not because they're expensive but because there is a huge difference between locals (rs 20) and foreigners (rs 750). The Indian students from our group tried to get in as locals, but they could tell they weren't from here. It was quite busy at the Taj that first night, but it didn't take away from it's awesomeness (that is the only word i can think of to describe it). I knew it was a beautiful building, but I have no idea, and couldn't have had an idea, of how amazing it would be. There is this aura around it that is like nothing I have ever experienced. I really did fall in love with the Taj Mahal that day. That night, some of us were feeling a little bit home sick, so we decided to go to the crazy fancy hotel next door (the hotel that all the Bollywood stars stay at) for a beer. It was quite a surreal experience, going from eating at dhabbas (road side fast food) from sitting in this posh hotel drinking corona. I didn't feel like I was in India anymore. the next day, we went to see Agra fort , then a few of us headed back to the hotel to sit on the roof top and finish our projects. We worked all day, and well into the night, and finally finished all of our projects at 2 in the morning. Amber and I had a small, quiet dance party to celebrate. A few hours later, we wento to the Taj again, to see the sunrise, then drove back to DElhi. That night, a few of us went to go see a movie (goal) at the theater. The next day was a free day, and most of us just spent time with eachother since it was our last day together. That night we went out for one last dinner (and dancing of course).
Since last night, people have been leaving to go off on their own adventures. It's been emotional to say the least. It's really hard to say goodbye to these people that you've been sharing this experience with for the past two months. Only they can know the frustrations, joys, and everything else that we've gone through. Tomorrow morning, I am leaving with Nate and Amber (and maybe Bal) for Harridwar. We'll be there for a few days, then back to Delhi to pick up Amber's friend. The next day we got to Varanasi, then I leave Amber and Nate and head back to Delhi to meet Kristen and Caitlin to fly down to Kerala. There, we'll do some housebating, then I'm going to head back to DElhi and fly home. This trip really has gone quickly. While I really love India, I am starting to look forward to coming home and seeing you all.
Hopefully I'll get a chance to write a few more times before I leave, and let you all know what adventures I'm having!
Take care,
xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 04:26 Comments (0)

Diwali in the village, and one last week in Chandigarh

Happy belated Diwali everyone! So sorry to not have written sooner, but things have been slightly busy. All of our assignments are due this week, and like always, I've left alot until the end. I'm really close to being done though, and with no all-nighters!!
Last Friday, November 9th, was Diwali. Diwali is the biggest celebration of the year in India, kind of like Chrsitmas in Canada (but less commercial!!). Anu and Naveen offered to take us (Amber, Nate, and myself)to their villages for Diwali. We spent most of the time at Naveen's mom and dad's in their village close to the city of Abohar, which is closer to Rajistan and Pakistan. In Indian culture, your village is really tied in with your identity. Usually there are about two or three families that live in a village and work on the farms that are there. Everyone in the village is considered family. Naveen’s family owns a huge cotton, wheat and mandarin orange farm. The house was huge and beautiful! The village itself was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to a ghost town in an old western movie. Although it is packed with people, it is deserted during the day because a: people are working in the fields and b: it is too hot to mill about. We got to the village on thursday night, and on Friday, we went on a shoping trip in Abohar. Nate and Naveen went off to buy fireworks, while Amber, Anu and myself went bangle and jutti (indian leather shoes) shopping. The prices were unbelievable – 8$ Canadian per pair of shoes - and they're both hand embroidered! One our way back to the village we hopped on the back of cart being pulled by a camel. Our days were spent doing homework, playing sports with Prateek and his adorable cousin Arushi and being toured around the village and the farm by the expert tour guides Prateek and his Papa Ji (grandfather). We got to go on a tractor ride into the farms, and got to try and ate some oranges straight from the tree. They weren't quite ripe, but they were so good! We celebrated Diwali Friday night by setting off a million fire crackers, doing a Pooja (a Hindu prayer service) and eating great food. For fun, Amber and I took turns trying on our home stay mom’s wedding sari. The skirt and head covering weighed a ton as it was hand beaded and embroidered orange and gold. I feel so fortunate to have had time in the village. I have to say that last weekend was one of the loveliest and unique times I’ve had in India so far. I had such a great time. We also had lunch at Anu's parents' house, which is in a village 30 killometers away from Naveen's.
Well, I can't beleive I'm typing this, but my time in Chandigarh is coming to an end. It really has gone by so fast. Like I said earlier, this week is our last week in Chandigarh, so I've got lots of projects to finish. We had our last SFU session today, and the next 2 days are free, so we can finish projects, spenad time with our families, and run little errands. Anu is really making sure we are eating alot, since we probaby won't have home cooked food until we get back to Vancouver, which is December 19th for me, and January 4th for Amber. Sunday, we leave Chandigarh, and go for our week "vacation" to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), Jaipur and Burapur. After that, I'm on my own (well, not really on my own, I'll still travel with others, but I won't be on the field school anymore) I'm quite excited for it. It's funny, it's starting to be "winder" here, and you can really tell that we've acclimatized to Indian weather. It's 25 degrees out, and we don't leave the house without a sweater or shawl, and if we're going somewhere where I'll need to take my shoes off, I bring socks with me.
Well, I think that's all I've got for now. I'm not sure how often I'll be on the internet for the next month, but I promise I will find a way to write here every so-often and let you guys know where I am/what I'm doing.
See you all in just over a month (ACK!!)
xoxo jess
p.s. can you guys try adn send me emails when I'm traveling. I have a feeling I'll be missing being around 14 people, and might be a bit lonely. Some "hello!!" emails just might do the trick!

Posted by jchapelski 12:02 Comments (0)

India Field School Diary Home #4

here's the diary we went home to SFU

FYI – a few people have asked how we’ve been writing these e-mail diary
installments. They are a collective group effort. We decide on topic areas
or events we’d like to include in the e-mail, and then we break into
smaller groups with each group focusing on one topic

India Field School e-mail Diary – 4th Installment:

November 7, 2007

It’s been three weeks since our last e-mail, but that’s not due to a lack
of things to say. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! We’ve been so busy that
this is the first time in weeks we’ve had time sit down together to write
about our experiences. So, this is a long one!

Since we last wrote we’ve spent 9 days in Dharamsala (8 hour drive from
Chandigarh), two days in Manali (8 hour drive from Dharamsala and 10 hour
drive from Chandigarh), and many hours on the road. Within that time we
also had some free days, and our group members took full advantage of it by
breaking into smaller groups for a variety of different activities.

Some of the events are described below but many wonderful experiences are
not because we didn’t want to clutter your e-mail folder with a novel
length report. We’re all still in a state of shock when we reflect on how
much we’ve done and all the wonderful people we’ve met in the past few

We want to say a HUGE “Thank You!” to Wangdu (Tibetan Volunteers for Social
Service), Chung Tsering (Tibetan Department of Education), and Ven. Tenzin
Phulchung (Nechung Monastery) for all their work coordinating our
activities in Dharamsala, and for the many ways in which they took care of
us. The trip certainly would not have been such a rich learning experience
without their help and their friendship.

In Manali we want to thank Sunita of SHARE for taking the time to show us
the project sites. She is an absolute dynamo with wonderful stubbornness
and tenacity. Her work and that of SHARE has clearly made a huge difference
to the health and welfare of the local villagers.

And last but definitely not least, we are grateful to the drivers who
maneuvered the jeeps through the shockingly narrow and twisty roads that
skirt the edge of the Himalayas. Their skill and professionalism is
amazing. We loved our road trip, but we were also happy and relieved to
have made it home safely to Chandigarh. For that we thank our drivers.



In Dharamsala we learned a lot and there are many learning experiences we
encountered. A special memory and relationship was with a 13 year old boy
named Sanjay. He came from a poor background and is helping to support his
family by working as a street-side shoe-shine boy and shoe repairman.
Bobby, Nathan, and Ashok spent the whole day with him and our class invited
Sanjay to have dinner with us on our last day. Although not everyone got
the chance to talk and learn with Sanjay, his presence and compassionate,
caring, happy nature was inspirational to us all. Hopefully Sanjay will
return to school as we encouraged him to, and we would love to see him
again soon.

TCV Anniversary

We also enjoyed The Tibetan Children’s Village and as a group were
delighted to see the preparation and hard work shown by the performers
during the Anniversary Celebration. The whole experience was cool and
educational. The Tibetan and Indian relationship appears to be strong, as
was evident through Tibet’s appreciation and thankfulness towards India in
the celebration. A formation of over 600 Tibetan students spelled out the
words “THANK YOU INDIA” on the exhibition ground.

Ama Adhe

On our 3rd day in Dharamsala we had the wonderful opportunity of meeting a
lovely old woman named Ama Adhe. She is a Tibetan refugee living in India
and a torture survivor. Through a translator we were able to hear her
amazing and heart wrenching story of survival in a Chinese prison. The
title “Ama” means mother and everyone in the community calls her this as
she now spends her days caring for newly arrived Tibetan refugee children.
She is an inspirational woman who made us appreciate our lives and opened
our eyes to a whole new perspective on life and world issues.

Gu Chu Sum English tuition

During our time in Dharamsala we had the opportunity to volunteer with Gu
Chu Sum (www.guchusum.org), an organization of ex-political prisoners from
Tibet, most of which are Buddhist monks and nuns. This experience was
probably one of the most meaningful for many of our group members, as an
hour of English conversation was also a deep cross cultural learning

They shared their memories of Tibet and their experiences under the Chinese
occupation of their home country. All of these individuals escaped by
walking one month or so through the harsh conditions of the Himalayas to
find a safe home in India. The strength and positivity of these amazing
individuals was an inspiration for us. This was a service learning
experience that was no doubt a reciprocal one as we could provide our
knowledge of English, and they could provide us with a unique
human-political connection we may not find in Canada.

Tibetan Education

On one of our days in Dharamsala we visited several Tibetan educational
institutions. Our first stop was a school for older students (aged 18 to
30) who are new arrivals from Tibet. These students live and study at the
school. The boys’ basketball team there is the Dharamsala champion. We were
lucky enough to get a display of their magnificent skills. The boys in our
group spent some time working on basketball skills with the team, while the
rest of us got a tour of the beautiful school, which included art,
tailoring, and English classes.

Next, we visited the new Tibetan Model School (just over 2 years old). This
school is unique in that it is trying out a new educational philosophy that
more specifically meets the needs of Tibetan students. Classes are taught
only in Tibetan up until class 4 when English language class is introduced.
This is done in an attempt to preserve the Tibetan language and culture in
the exile community. Another unique feature of this school is the class
size. Most classes consist of 15 students and one teacher. At the school
there was an innovative composting project where waste from the kitchen was
composted then used to fertilize the kitchen garden. We had a delicious
lunch with the students and teachers.

After this, we continued on to Sarah School (Tibetan University) and
learned much about Tibetan Buddhism from the Principal of the school,
Geshi-la. It was very interesting to have the chance to ask questions about
this religion. Following this discussion we went inside where we spoke with
Mr. Tsering Phuntsog about the Tibetan education system in exile. Our last
stop of the day was a quick visit to the room where BBC science documentary
videos were being translated into Tibetan language.

Karmapa Lama

While in Dharamsala, Balraj, Bobby, Pooja, Mati, Channdika, and Reema got a
rare opportunity to meet the Karmapa Lama, a very high lama in the Tibetan
Buddhist community. We were expecting a short talk on Buddhism to all 30
attendees but instead the six of us were given a private audience with the
Karmapa Lama. After we received his blessing he asked us if we had any
questions for him, but in our dumbfounded state we had nothing to say. Mati
went on to explain that we were students from Canada on a field school,
making up for our lack of words.

More Buddhist Blessings

On the way home from visiting a school in Bir (a small Tibetan refugee
settlement 2 hours drive from Dharamsala), Mati, Channdika, Pooja, Reema,
and Balraj were lucky enough to attend the end of a 10 day prayer at the
local monastery. We were blessed by another high lama and some other junior
lamas with chang (Tibetan barley beer), candy, cookies, and “Tsog”, an
offering cake made of the traditional Tibetan food “tsampa” (barley flour),
butter, and sugar. Tsog is known amongst some of us as being a cure for

Activist days

Balraj, Bobby, and Ashok were on their way to an English session at Gu Chu
Sum one evening when they bumped into their friends Tsewang and Tenzin,
students from Gu Chu Sum. Tsewang and Tenzin were carrying Tibetan flags
and making their way to a Peace Rally. They invited Bal, Bobby, and Ashok
to go with them. On that night, after leading the Peace Rally, three
activists were born.


Near the end of our time in Dharamsala four of us (Nathan, YooSun, Jess,
and Amber) chose to trek up into the Himalayas to a site named Triund,
nestled beneath towering rocky peaks. We were fortunate enough to witness a
beautiful sunset before snuggling into our sleeping bags to sleep out
beneath the brightest moon in 9 years. We managed to wake up minutes before
the amazing sunrise that peeked up over the Himalayan peaks before we
slowly made our way back down to Dharamsala and the rest of the Field
School Group. It was an amazing experience that the four of us were
gratefully appreciative to have experienced.


In Manali, we were able to meet up with an NGO named SHARE that has been
supported by the TRAS (www.tras.ca) organization based in Vancouver. We
were able to visit multiple project sites in which SHARE was involved, such
as developing worm composting sites in villages, toilet projects, as well
as immunization programs in schools. The rest of our time in Manali was
left for much needed relaxation and recuperation after our busy time in

Rohtang Pass

On our free day in Manali, Mati, Bobby, Nate, Amber and Jess took a trip up
to Rohtang pass, which is at 4,000 meters above sea level. We all piled
into one of the cars with our lovely driver Sengye. The road up was very
twisty and many parts were under construction. It was sad to see crews on
the side of the road working with tar without any protective gear. Further
up the road was washed out by a mudslide and we had to wait while a
bulldozer smoothed the road back over. A little while later we reached a
tiny town and stopped for lunch and to take pictures of the valley below.
When we continued up towards the pass after lunch we came upon a
paragliding outfit where we stopped to watch a person take off. A man from
the outfit asked us if we wanted to go paragliding. Without thinking,
Bobby, Nate and Amber responded “Yes!” The views from the air spectacular!
We could see pretty much back to Manali while the Himalayas were in the
background. Amazing!!

Our next stop was the top of the pass and it was freezing cold. Our driver
told us that when Tibetan people reach the top of a pass they yell, “Soooo,
sooo, sooooo, kyi kyi, so so, lha gya-lo!!” We did the same while throwing
sand up in the air (because we didn’t have the traditional tsampa flour).
After a warming cup of chai we made our way back to Manali to have some
dinner. It was a great afternoon!!


This past weekend ten of us went to Manikaran for Caitlin’s 22nd Birthday.
We left on Friday morning and drove through the winding hills. Many of us
were carsick. We arrived at night and realized that Manikaran was a lot
cooler than Chandigarh. We really enjoyed this small hill town because it
reminded us of home with the sweet smell of trees and the sound of the
river. The night was so cold we were able to see our breath in our room
because there was no heating. On Saturday we warmed up in the hot springs
near the towns’ temple. In the afternoon we roamed a nearby town and went
shopping. Funny enough you could buy any souvenir from Amritsar in this
small hill town!! The trip was short but it was nice to get away and relax

A Village Weekend

The first weekend in November while most of the students went to Manikaran,
Ashok and Bobby went to Bobby’s family’s village near Adampur. They met
Bobby’s two cousin sisters for the first time and even though raakhi day
had long past, they had raakhi’s tied. The village experience was very warm
and humbling as they saw family and friends that Bobby hasn’t seen in 16
years (since he was 3 years old). The lifestyle and relationships in the
village were extremely different to what they were used to, and they had an
amazing experience.

Working towards comprehending it all

We have less two weeks remaining in Chandigarh, and much of that time will
be spent focused on completing our course assignments and projects. This
includes reflecting upon all that we have experienced and learned here in
India, though we have no doubt that the reflection and learning will
continue for many years to come.

We also have a few more sessions to attend at Panjab University, completion
of a photography project with Sikhya School, and we need to spend more
quality time with our home-stay families. They have all welcomed us so
warmly and so completely that we truly do feel like family. This coming
weekend is the Diwali festival, and we are very excited about enjoying this
very important and FUN time with our homestay families.

After we leave Chandigarh we will go on a tour of Jaipur, Bharatpur bird
sanctuary, and Agra. We’ll be sad to leave our homestay families, but we
know that the tour will be fascinating (and we’re happy that there will be
no assignments!). On the last day of our program in Delhi we have planned
to have one more visit with the children at Maitreya home, and then a
closing feast for our group. Then most of us will head off backpacking to
explore more corners of India.

We plan to send one more e-mail before we head off in our separate
directions, so, stay tuned!!!!!!

Best wishes all, and HAPPY DIWALI!!!!!!

From the Participants of India Field School 2007:

Jessica, Reema, YooSun, Amber, Kristen, Caitlin, Pooja, Channdika, Katie,
Meghan, Nathan, Bobby, Ashok, Balraj, and Mati (Director)

Posted by jchapelski 22:04 Comments (0)

A nice weekend away

Well, I'm back from a very nice weekend away! 10 of us went to Manikaran Friday morning, and came back on Sunday afternoon. Manikaran is a small town known for it's natural hot springs. It is in a beautiful valley (it was very nice to be back in the mountains) in the Himalayas, close to Manali where we were last week. I'm starting to get used to mountaind driving - and driving in general in India. The drivers that we hired through the travel agencies are incredibly talented - I am still in awe of them. Never did I feel in danger, even though they were driving quite fast on small roads with many hairpin turns on the sides of cliffs. I really like the system of honking that india has. At first it was quite irritating, but now that I understand it more, I quite like it. Drivers here use honking more as a safety warning - when they are going around blind turns on small mountain roads, they honk as they are coming up to it so as to warn anyone on the other side. In the city, they use horns as a way of letting people know you are close, and not to step out into the streets.
Anyways, back to Manikaran, both Hinduism and Sikhism have stories associated with the hot springs, so it has become a religious pilgrimage site. The temple and gudwara there are beautiful. Besides the hotsprings and places of worship, there really isn't much there. The market sells cheap crap, so I didn't spend any money (hurrah!!). I did find a nice little dhaba with good masala chai (what we call chai tea at home) to do some homework in. I ended up getting quite alot done. On Saturday lunch, we went to one (of the three)hotels in Manikaran for lunch because we heard they have great pizza. It was quite possibly the weirdest place I've been in India. It was full of white men, high on pot, either eating pasta or staring blankly at the TV. No one was speaking. the only noise was the TV - which was on the discovery chanel, showing a show on how mole rats are born. We ended up staying for lunch. The lady gave us a big menu and most people ordered pizza. She then said they didn't have pizza. We then tried 4 or 5 other items on the menu - macaroni, sandwiches, dal and roti - until she finally said that we could have either penne or spaghetti with tomatos and cheese. By this time we are all so hungry that we ordered enough penne for all of us. thank goodness it was good pasta. We left Manikaran on Sunday morning, so we could make it back to Chandigarh for a play at vivek school - the school where any of our homestay moms - including mine - teach. They are celebrating founders week this week. It was really well done! It was held outside in the fresh air, and was directed by some fancy-big-name director from Delhi.
Monday, we didn't have any school so we could get alot of homework done. I really didn't do much - Amber and I got up late, then had chai and breakfast, then did a bit of school work that then turned into a dance party until lunch. After lunch we were going to do some more homework, but then Anu reminded us that we were going to try on saris. That turned into a few hour affair, since we had to take pictures and all. It really is fun wearing a sari. I feel very elegant in one. Later that night, we went pack to vivek for the junior play which our homestay kid was in. They did the Emperor's new clothes. this play was by far the best I have seen a school put on. I'm going to get a copy of the video to bring back - it was that great!
And that brings up to today. This morning was, well, interesting? We visted the Canadian consulate and listened to pompos political white men talk about immigration and trade. It was all very interesting, just the men were - well - different. It was interesting going into the building. It was very much a canadian office building. I was definetally in culture shock. Even though I should feel comfortable in the Canadian consulate, I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I felt like I was in home deptot. Everything was too clean and organized and setrile. It should be interesting coming home...
It's really interesting in Chandigarh right now. Diwali is this weekend. Aparantly, it is a holiday comparable to Christmas in Canada, based on what people here have been saying. We are going to be going to Naveen's village for Diwali. I'm sure I'll have lots to write about when I get back. Besides that, it's really crunch time for school projects, so that will be occupying my time for the next two weeks. I really don't know where the time has gone. It seems like just yesterday we arrived in Chandigarh, and now we're almost done. I'm starting to make plans for after we're done the program. Nate was talking about doing a 6 day elephant safari, which I think would be so much fun!! I'm also going to try and make it to Kerala in the south, as well as Goa, and mumbai if I have time. I might also want to go to Rajastan or Darjeling, but we'll have to see how much time I have.
Well, I'm all done registering for school, so I can go to bed now (I got all the classes I wanted!!)
I hope you are all doing well
xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 03:46 Comments (1)

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