Friday, August 14, 2009

Delhi, Krishna's Birthday, and the Local Restaurant

I’ve been living in the Punjabi Basti (Colony) across the street from the Tibetan Refugee Camp, in North Delhi. I’ll be here until December picking up local habits and studying language, and also putting my graduate school applications in order – I hope to apply to anthropology programs by the December 15th deadline. My neighborhood is on the government utility grid, which means that the only water available is through a back-up pump that runs whenever my landlord feels like it, and there are scheduled power cuts from 3-4pm and 7-8pm, and unscheduled cuts throughout the night. This is my studio apartment.

The best part of my bathroom you can’t see in the photo. Someone knocked a two foot hole into the wall, so there’s lots of fresh air to compensate for the lack of a flushing toilet.

My neighbors have about 30 kids. This one likes to waltz into my room and play with my earplugs. He cries much more than he talks, and he always has this deer-in-the-headlights look.

Today was Krishna’s birthday, but the celebration started last night. A parade marched down my road, and these boys wanted their picture taken in front of the lead horses. Maybe the boy on the left is trying to avoid the Avian Flu. Two cases hit the south, and there's mass hysteria.

Tonight at midnight a group of neighbors amassed in the local temple to celebrate.

Some dancing girls.

Some acting men (including boys representing girls, like on the Elizabethan stage).

And here was the great moment of release: baby Krishna in his basket getting gingerly carried around the room while everybody jockeyed to touch the baby’s auspicious feet.

Twice a day I take my meals here. It’s called a “dhaba” – a roadside restaurant. They use clay ovens to make some delicious north Indian breads, and their specialty food is the potato. In this picture, “bhai” (elder brother) is dumping my eggplant into a takeaway baggie.

The bread maker. This guy rolls a wicked roti. I call him “bhai” also. He’s Hindu but he wears a necklace with a holographic image of Christ being crucified. We met up and went to the temple tonight at midnight. He's a really hard worker. Starts at 9am, finishes after midnight, seven days a week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Last Pics from Ladakh

Vairochana, of the four directions.

Sometimes the wall deterioration actually enhances the mystery.

Gonpa doors.

A wrathful deity riding on a Silk Road camel.

The Shargol Gonpa, built into the face of a mountain.

A drum.

In Jaipur, a depiction of Krishna, his consort Radha, and Kali in the form of a black stone.

Some monks replacing the fabric over the entrance to the Padmasambhava Gonpa.

The Leh Palace.

The Lamayuru Gonpa, famous all the world over for their tomato soup and soft mattresses.

Also in Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal, or Wind Palace, which was once a thriving harem. The small windows allowed the courtesans to view the road without being viewed themselves.

A Ladakhi rustic playing the part.

Inside, on the second floor is a huge statue of Padmasambhava. You can identify him by his semi-wrathful moustache, and his vajra staff, which will always have some impaled heads on it, topped off by a smiling skull.

Giant Shakyamuni Buddha at the Shay Gonpa.

Elaborate butter candles.

An unusual representation.

A mask.

A huge butter candle illuminating the thousand Buddhas on the wall behind.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mud, Lakes, Rustics and Other Ladakhi Curiosities

Vicki posing amid the adobe homes in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh.

Typical Ladakhi architecture. This is perhaps my most ambitious photograph from the trip.

Even though there is not rain, snow run-off from the mountains is channeled into agricultural zones. This flowering tree is common in Ladakh; this one is unique because of the white Tibetan scarves, called katta, that are laced into its branches.

Barley, wheat, potatoes and mustard leaf.


The view from the guesthouse at Thiksey Gonpa. There was a gaggle of pigeons living on the roof, and I would clap my hands and watch them take off, make a majestic loop in the valley, and return to the same spot to roost.

The architecture in Ladakh is such that a building could be a 11th century monastery or a donkey barn. In fact, Vicki once pointed to a stable and asked some villagers if that was their home.

The reason for this is because every structure is built from adobe bricks. I saw some men at work making bricks. They simply dug moist mud out of a modest quarry, dumped it into a mold, and let the sun dry it out. It’s amazing how tenacious mud becomes once dry.

Villagers tending to their crops.

In the first Batman movie (the first one directed by Chris Nolan with Christian Bale), Batman goes to Tibet in search of a Shaolin monastery. He must pluck a purple, thorny flower and bring it to the abbot. This is the purple flower (I think).

An earthwork. I saw a Ladakhi man engage it by following its curves to the center, and then stepping over the axis mundi and walking out the opposite direction. Quite fascinating; I’m sure it has a complex mytho-psychological meaning.


At ChangLa Pass, something like 17,000 feet, the third highest motorable road in world, en route to Pangong Lake with Vicki. On top of a small snow mound was a Bangalori man, who was playfully taunting his friends below with a snowball. Encouraged by a Canadian chap, I packed a tight snowball and pelted him on the shoulder with it, and he screamed out in Hindi: Please don’t hit me. I will fall. This is the first time I’ve ever touched snow!

These next pictures are variations on a theme, like Monet’s water lilies. The Pangong Lake is 30% in India and 70% in Tibet, so our movements were somewhat restricted around it, although there were many kilometers open to us. One night we strayed a bit too far near the Tibet border (although how close is still contested), and a friendly police officer came and shifted our camp nearer an Indian village.

Turquoise. It looks like the Caribbean, but it’s much colder. I went swimming, but just once.

The lake was once connected to the ocean, back when the Himalayas were swimming underwater (thus proving the account of the Universal Flood put forward in the ancient Babylonian epic, Gilgamesh). The water is salty, but much less so than an ocean because of millennia of snow run-off, which this picture depicts.




Vicki thought this was an amusing picture because I was eating some granola, and granules become lodged in my beard.

Four days at the lake, and Vicki broke the spine on her book, the ode to money Atlas Shrugged. Sure we’ve all read it during that awkward phase freshman year of college, but how many among us have read it twice? Vicki has.

After Ladakh we made a short trip to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Vicki wanted to see elephants, camels and monkeys. We saw them all, and pigs, desert steer and donkeys to boot.

The backside of the Jaipur City Fort. One last blog post remains of our trip, mostly depicting the Ladakhi art and iconography we saw inside the monasteries. Besides that, I will include one or two pictures of my current circumstances in Delhi.