Street Food and Monk Volleyball
I started my latest adventure in Delhi visiting my old school friend Robyn and her husband Keir and their daughter Zoe. While I did take time to see the sights (the Red Fort, Jama Masjid (big mosque) and Humayan’s Tomb are all worthwhile), my real focus for the week was on food. Street food. I LOVE street food and India has some of the best in the world. It is called “chaat” and I spent a lot of time munching my way through old Delhi in some very dodgy looking places. And for you Canadians, I also managed to dine in a restaurant where poutine was served!
I was able to indulge another of my favorite things while in Delhi – interesting hotels. We spent a weekend at Rao Raj Vilas – a lovely converted mud fort with a gorgeous pool a couple of hours drive out of Delhi. But perhaps even more impressive than the hotel was watching Keir navigate Delhi traffic like a pro. Quite a skill! Another great thing about Delhi was the medical facilities…I undertook some medical tourism research myself and walked away with a clean bill of health and a prescription of five almonds, one walnut and a teaspoon of olive oil daily!
One of my favorite evenings was attending Thursday night prayers at the Nizzamudin mosque and watching the Sufi sing afterwards. Just to spice it up a little, it is also the place to go to exorcise demons. In case you’re in need of a little exorcism, I would suggest the following – for males, find a latticed window, stick your fingers through it like claws and then hiss and make multiple guttural grunts for a long period of time. For females, lie down and writhe about ecstatically on the floor.
Robyn, Keir and Zoe – it was awesome to get to spend time with you again. I always leave in awe of your passion for teaching and only hope that my nieces and nephew have teachers even half as dedicated as you.
Next stop was Bhutan with my friend Amee. With only 700,000 people in the entire country, it was quite a change of pace after the sea of humanity that is India. The country is stunningly beautiful – picture lush rice-terraced valleys surrounded by towering jungle-like mountains and jagged Himalayan peaks beyond that. It is also a country very focused on maintaining its unique culture. TV only arrived in 1999 and the government focuses on Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product. Locals routinely wear their national dress and distinctive architecture is everywhere. Buddhism is integral to the culture with prayer flags and monasteries all over the country.
In order to break up the cultural focus, we planned three days of trekking. Day one saw us spending five hours slogging our way vertically upwards on a muddy jungle path complete with leeches and monkeys. After setting up camp we ventured into the local village only to come across some monks who invited us to stay with them and watch their talent show the following evening. We immediately ditched all further thought of trekking and moved into the monastery the next day.
Being the day before they were leaving on vacation, the focus was on volleyball, khuru (long distance darts) and musical chairs. We scored brownie points when Amee became a star player on one of their volleyball teams and even more when we insisted on eating the same dinner food as them (feeding 250 monks at once involves serving slop-like food out of huge barrels). Perhaps our crowning glory was when we broke out into some disco dancing moves while the resident monk DJ spun some tunes prior to the talent show. Seriously!
Having changed our itinerary we were now stuck on how to get back down to the valley without retracing our way down that slippery muddy vertical slope. Blessed Rainy Day (a public holiday) meant our main option was unavailable (a crazy huge flying fox!). But, having started off walking down an impassable farm-road (probably an eight hour walk), the monks once again came to our rescue when they pulled up in a tractor with a wagon on the back – the only “vehicle” that could make it along the road. So we piled in the wagon with the monks and bumped our way to the bottom. Quite an experience!
Many of our highlights involved monks although the rest of our encounters were probably a little more typical – spending an hour in a hall fall of monks chanting and drumming as part of a religious festival, hiking to monasteries and nunneries perched precariously on towering cliffs (Tigers Nest Monastery is absolutely incredible), getting a meditation lesson that involved staring at a walnut for two hours! and witnessing some local festivals with masked dances and brilliantly colored costumes. We also learnt that Bhutan has an incredible array of celebratory days. Blessed Rainy Day and God of Machines Day were just two that we experienced. Although the newly instituted Pedestrian Days on Tuesdays (no cars allowed) was an interesting social experiment.
Of course we also had our lowlights which included:
- Being attached and stung multiple times by a swarm of wild bees who obviously hadn’t been educated on the country’s Buddhist “do no harm” philosophy.
- Lots and lots of rain and clouds – especially at the beginning of the trip.
- Being informed that most visitors are senior citizens – “You know Madame – the people that are over 40”! I guess when your life expectancy is 65, 40 may count as a senior citizen….
Bhutan is highly photogenic and, luckily, Amee is a wonderful photographer. I highly recommend you check out her photos on the Gallery page at www.ameechande.com in addition to the ones I’ve posted below. They are really stunning.
So that was India and Bhutan…both very special places… Next stop Sicily – but not before a well-timed mini reunion in London with Ahna. Great to see you!!
Click on any photo to launch a slideshow of the images…