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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I Went to India

It was way back in South Korea when I first heard the call of India. The trump of Ganesha's trunk, Krishna's enticement with his flute, the Brahma bulls bellowing out into the lands and customs older than the mountains and back again. And other such poetic tomfoolery. But at that time then, the news of the rains and the monsoon season made travels in India a bit impractical. So I put if off. India is a place older than most of the cities in Europe, it certainly won't go anywhere.
And the fascination grew as all small seeds hid subtly away from the conscious mind often does, it sort of sprouts and buds, and then one day blossoms. And of course, withers...But about the blossoming first.

Actually, to be fair, I was enchanted by India way back in 6th grade when I memorized the main dice-players of the Hindu cosmology. I don't know why, other than I wanted to be an archaeologist or anthropologist at that age, and that such mysticism called to me. The Greek pantheon was actually taught in my school. But the Hindu one was all hush hush. Even though, it is still a vibrant system in this current age still followed.
Nope, I do not suggest an imperial dogmatic stance against these far off themes of Asia. I believe that the Eastern world was so far removed from the imaginations and criteria of our education that there was simply not enough time to educate us on the East, for our Western Canon nobody really remembers anyways this day and age. But there was this whole other realm in a whole another land cut off from our Western perceptions. I am not merely talking about India only, but about all of Asia. Most especially China. Which has me living here now.
Little did I know in 6th grade that the West had taken a great interest in the East not even half a century before I was looking at these deities as though no one had any clue what they were. This was in the pop form of the New Age culture. Which probably leaves all types of misinformation and stereotypes on the matter. Though, perhaps George Harrison's sitar was its best representative, maybe.

By the time, that I made up my mind to go to India on my month long break out of the Chinese University, I had already been to Nepal. But this was some time ago, and I was so exhausted back then after hiking through the Himalayas, that I didn't give it a proper romp of exploration. And then there was Bali, which just kicked me in the face with fascination with the strong Indian influence there. But soon enough, I would go to the mother of it all. India.

I had prepared for this by reading a 2nd time Herman Hesse's “Siddhartha” and I was trying to make it through Rudyard Kipling's “Kim” (of which I'm still not finished), trying to whet my appetite for India. I had also been engrossed in a Chinese classic novel about a group of supernatural pilgrims, mainly the Monkey King, who travel from ancient China to what is sacred to them, ancient India, in search of the Buddhist sutras. The name of this work is “Journey to the West” and it has filled my imagination up with the rich lore of China and hence, a pinch of the lore of India. In many ways, I wanted to retrace my own Journey to the West. Even though, it was really in a philosophic trajectory, a journey to the heart of the East...for my Western mind.

When I was in Korea, it seemed that you could scratch the surface and find bits and pieces of ancient China lingering, and I knew that I wanted to move to China. For it greatly captivated me. But yet during my short time spent in Buddhist Monasteries and Temples in both Korea and China, the more I began to realize that I was scratching the surface of concepts and themes that were a great deal Indian in origin. And this fascinated me also.

But of course, I procrastinated when in China. And the time came when I should get an Indian Visa and I realized that it seemed a far more complicated thing than I could imagine. I dread paper work and this was the sort of thing that made your muscles knot with anxiety when looking at the online regulations and all that Visa stuff. So I was on the verge of postponing the visit again. India will always be there. The place is older than the red clay back home in Alabama. Plus, I don't want to be rushed but be able to enjoy it. So I was torn in indecision between an easy hop to other destinations in Southeast Asia AND the hassle of getting to India.

But one day, during one of my classes here, a student asked me what I planned on doing during my break in front of the class, and I announced that I would really like to go to India. Several “oohhs and aahhs” issued forth for India exists in the Chinese imagination in quite a different way. But then I told the class, that I really wasn't sure if I could manage to go.
After class, I get this note passed up to me by one of those various anonymous faces that makes up the bulk of these Chinese classes and its this girl who admitted that she was going to India this school break too and that I had to go...because this big festival was going to take place...the biggest festival in the world and it would be a shame to miss out on it.

I stared at that note and thought, that “I must go to India now.”
I went home and researched what festival was going on at this time. Its called the Kumbh Mela and this specific one only happens every 12 years. Being a person who always feels like I ought to be a part of something huge, impossible to describe and fathom, I could not postpone this trip.
Not only was this thing only happening every 12 years at the specific location of Allahabad, but it involves this mysterious legend that speaks of a big battle between the demigods and demons in the sky over the nectar of immortality, the amrita, in which during the fight, drops of the elixir fell out of the sky and fell into 4 separate locations in the river causing the rivers to become holy. Allahabad or Prayag was one of these locations. And it was where the mixture of 3 important rivers in India intersect, the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati. So millions upon millions of Hindus flock to this location to bathe in the holy waters which ensures a type of salvation. In fact, this specific Kumbh Mela isn't just ever 12 years, but every 144 years. Something that only lucky generations would know. And I knew that I couldn't miss the opportunity.

Of course, I had several things to do in order to go. I had to get that Indian Visa and from the looks of the Indian Embassy in Guangzhou, China (the closest one to me.) it seemed nothing short of a migraine to do. And as most bureaucratic nonsense goes, I put it off. Until it was going to be too late.

So what did I do? I researched other cities in the general direction of India to see how effortless their Indian Embassies catered to people who are kind and willing enough to pump their crippled Indian economy with tourist money, and in return, should be reciprocated with a fast, easy Visa system. But of course, this was impossible with anything concerning India, as I found out later. So it looked like my chances of getting an efficient run through the Indian Embassy was better in Bangkok than in Guangzhou. Or so, I thought.

I straightway bought a round trip ticket to Bangkok, thinking that I will stage my month long sojourn this way in a sort of fallback. This way, if my efforts at securing passage to India fell through, I wouldn't be at a huge disappointment for I'd already be in an interesting place.

So my whole time in Thailand was merely a stopover, in order to get that Indian Visa. India was my main goal and target for the Spring Festival. My serendipitous adventures in Thailand, of which I have been laboriously writing about was actually my “waiting” appetizer before I got to the main meal of India. I was just killing time in Thailand and I happened on a pretty nifty adventure altogether and would have sufficed even if I hadn't gone to India.

But now, I will tell of my travels in India. Of what I found there. Of what I didn't find there. Of the Kumbh Mela, the crazy train rides, the Hindus ambling through the streets, the chaotic energy.

Stay tuned...  


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