Trip Start Dec 14, 2004
Trip End May 25, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Thursday, April 28, 2005

Namaste from Rishikesh....or maybe we should say "Shalom"--- as we seem to have met more Israelis here than you can imagine.

We are tired- not going to lie. Since last we wrote, we have covered a LOT of ground. India is huge, and despite our best efforts to keep our plans realistic, we have worked our way pretty far north. We've seen lots, done lots, eaten lots, and met lots of interesting characters--- so perhaps in the interest of time, we'll stick to a few key snapshots of the past week.

We left Jaipur last Friday, and made our way to Delhi on yet another uncomfortable train. This time, in place of the rude family, we had about 10 different men staring at us at any given time. We realize the stares are mostly out of curiosity- but it feels like being in a circus, when you're just sitting on the train, trying to mind your own business. You just have to wonder what they're thinking---- "Look, that girl is reading a book! How strange! Oh no wait- she's about to take a sip of water, you gotta get over and see this!" In any case, we made it to Delhi with our sanity hanging on by a shoestring. We were met at the train station by our new friend Bal (whom we met on the flight from Bangkok to Mumbai), and were grateful for the ride to our hotel.

Our time in Delhi was marked by a great deal of time spent in our hotel room, as Rachel came down with "wild fever" and we were more than happy to stay in and nurse her back to health (not to mention avoid the insanity of yet another large city).

Allison and Jodie spent Shabbat and the first night of Pesach with members of Delhi's small, but vibrant Jewish community. On Friday night, we went to services at the Judah Hyam Hall Synagogue. There are about 10 Jewish families in Delhi, all descendants of the Bene Israel (indigenous Indian Jews!). Additionally, people from the embassies, and NGO's make up a more transient part of the Delhi Jewish community. Shabbat services were nice- we were made to feel welcome- and though the service was pretty different than what either of us were used to (the community uses a Sephardic prayerbook), it was just so nice to be around other Jewish people- and to celebrate Shabbat. Afterwards, we joined in with the handful of other travelers who were there, in trying to finagle ourselves a seat at a Seder for the following evening.

The Seder was held in an area of Delhi called Sundar Nagar--- a wealthy subdivision where all of the diplomats live. Yaron, our host, is the Political Consultant for the Israeli embassy. There were about 45 people at the Seder--- Jews from all over the world.... India, Israel, Italy, the US, UK, and one man from Bogota, Columbia! The Seder was conducted in both Hebrew, and (accented) English. The food was different, the tunes were different- but the feeling was the same... it was wonderful. Everyone was just so happy to be there- and there is certainly something special about joining in a Seder in the middle of India. There was just this sense that this is what the Diaspora is like- our concept of Jewish community has been so molded by our home communities, which are mostly Ashkenazic, and Eastern European in influence. It just felt a little different when we reached the end of Seder and exclaimed together "L'Shana Haba'ah b'Yerushalayim" (Next Year in Jerusalem). Perhaps!

So, now we are in Rishikesh, about 6 hours north of Delhi in the region called Uttaranchal. We are in the foothills of the Himalayas, and it is absolutely gorgeous... and a huge relief from the oppressive heat and chaos of the city. How did we get here you ask? Funny story. Our lovely friend Bal, and his pal Bitu decided they were going to help us out--- really make us their guests. It is possible that this is sheerly out of generosity, though we also think they just can't imagine how three girls are making their way through this country independently. Whatever the case may be, we have found ourselves gifted with a car and a driver. Our driver, Pintu, speaks no English. Communicating with him, as well as with our hosts, has to proved to be more hassle than it may have been worth. We have really appreciated their efforts in helping us- but lesson learned: We are good travelers! We do alright on our own! If you want something done, do it yourself!

Our time in Uttaranchal has been really great-- we started off in Haridwar, which is also the starting off point for Hindus making holy pilgrammage. Haridwar is the site of Har Ki Pauri- aka where the Ganges River leaves the Himalayas, and begins its descent down the plains. We spent one day there--- what a colorful city! The bazaar was a winding maze of multicolored, sparkling bangle bracelets, necklaces and prayer shawls- vendors selling every imagineable fried dessert (Yum!)-- and mounds of the colored powder which Hindus swab across their foreheads when they enter a temple. It was really beautiful! We also went up to Mansi Devi and Chandi Devi- two of the temples there.

And now we are here in Rishikesh- famous for attracting the Beatles here to study in an Ashram- but also, one of the holy cities on the Ganges, that is sacred to Hindus. As such, the entire city is strictly vegetarian (which is great news for Allison!). We are staying up on the mountain on the banks of the river, in a tiny colony of guest houses/bungalows. The owner of our guest house is such a character-- she told us to call her "Mamachi" (Mama)- and calls us each "Daughter".

"Daughter, when you are here, you are home."

She makes us delicious homecooked meals, does our laundry- pats our heads and rubs our backs reassuringly--- our new Indian mommy :) It has been so nice to stay here- and just relax. We took a wonderful yoga class yesterday- and today we explored the town of Rishikesh... at the suggestion of some of the Israeli girls we met, we decided to try out a gong meditation class at one of the spiritual centers here. Basically, we each had our own pallet and pillow on the floor, in a circle around a gong. This woman led a meditation both with her voice, and primarily through the gong. We know- sounds weird. Maybe it was, a little...but an experience!

Tomorrow we are heading back to Delhi once again to finalize our travel plans to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. Then we head back to Mumbai where we will catch a flight to London. After a quick overnight in London, Rachel will be off to Italy to spend some time with Mom while Jodie and Allison will return to Edinbugh, Scotland (where they studied abroad!). We are sad to be separating but are looking forward to reuniting in Spain for more fun and adventure. We miss you!

Love to all,
Rachel, Jodie and Allison
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