Durga Puja

Trip Start Sep 28, 2008
Trip End Oct 12, 2008

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Flag of India  , West Bengal,
Monday, October 6, 2008

Wow, this has been the best day!!! It is the first day of a festival and I got to be a part of it!! In the plaza, there were literally hundreds of people and women, all dressed in special outfits were dancing. One caught my eye and motioned for me to join them....well, far be it from me to miss out on this opportunity!! So with much laughing and clapping, I joined in, imitating their movements ( no bump and grind but lots of wrist and arm movements), and how privileged I felt to be part of their celebration. Everyone was all smiles, many shaking my hand, several coming up to me to ask where I was from.

People of all ages were there from  the littlest children to the very old, most dressed in their best... men dancing, people singing, music blaring on a loudspeaker and so crowded, you could barely pass through. There was a procession which included women dressed in red and gold finery, little girls being carried on chairs with much makeup, tiaras, gold chains from nose to a head band, long earrings.... another group of women had on colorful clothing with hats that were very tall and looked like they had fur trimming.... all very colorful and festive... men with hats on as well and some men dressed as women wearing the same color clothing and all the 'trimmings.' Men would carry scarfs on poles and people would run under them.. my guess is that this was a blessing of good luck. Some people wore masks of lion faces & there was one scary looking dancer with a huge amount of black and blonde hair and mask, maybe to ward off evil spirits.It was spectacular and I'm told will continue for another 7 days.

As it would happen, my camera died right before all of this so I ended up buying a new camera as there's just too much not to photograph. Hopefully tomorrow will bring a similar spectacle as it did today and I can get some pictures. Lesson learned: no matter how light you're traveling, bring a battery charger!!

This festival is about the Hindu goddess, the fierce one. Not sure of her name but lets hear it for a goddess!! One thing, people of different faiths rejoice in their beliefs with music and joy in spite of different beliefs. All very fascinating to me. I was able to have a conversation with a shop owner who explained to me some of the different gods and goddesses, stones, mantras.... his name was Bedin... ( not sure of spelling) but very nice. I find people overall to be very friendly, here moreso than in Calcutta.

Gabe is not feeling well which has been the case about every 3 days. My guess is that he never got over his first bout of sickness and with a lowered immune system, the downpour we got caught in yesterday, put him over the top.He's exhausted and has spent the day in bed so we could not follow through with our early morning plans as we had hoped. But it did give me a chance to shop in the markets which was a lot of fun.

As for me, I am thoroughly enjoying myself, soaking up every minute that I can. One part of me still can not believe I am in India!! The mountains are beautiful and when the clouds aren't low, you can see hundreds of homes on the hillside. The children are adorable and I found a group following me as I was shopping until I shooed them away and they all started laughing!! I am delighted with how far a smile goes and how often the smiles are returned. I've seen more white people today but have yet  to meet anyone from the U.S.

It will be difficult to leave and return to Calcutta as I've gotten spoiled with the cool  air and few beggars. I finally caved in today and gave them some rupees... its just too tough not to. Up till now I have not carried any rupees but now that I'm out and about on my own, I could not stop myself from giving them 2 rupees. To get an idea of how little this really is,  about 43 rupees = $1... so 2 rupees is hardly anything. In perspective, my meal today cost 45 rupees. It included 1 liter of mineral water, a cup of soup, and some sort of bread with vegetables cooked in it along with a sauce for dipping... absolutely delicious. I have yet to have a meal that's not been very good.

Darjeeling is very hilly and I'm feeling it in my legs today... and maybe walking off some of the calories I'm taking in. It is all great fun to be here and a joy to be sharing it with Gabe...even the simplest of things like sitting in our hotel room and watching a movie. I'm hoping he'll be feeling better tomorrow and able to get out of bed. He's gotten vitamins and medicine so I think rest is what he needs most. Fortunately, the hotel has allowed us to stay although we intially paid for only 2 nights. Many visitors are coming in and I see their luggage being carried the same way: on a man's back strapped into place on his forehead and often a backpack on his chest.

I feel I've gotten a taste of both the beauty and the ugliness that is India. Both have made a huge impact on me in ways I could never have anticipated. Clearly, it is not your "normal" vacation but who wants life to always be "normal?" Not me so I guess that's why I'm 51 and in Darjeeling, India.... who would have thought??? It blows my mind...which reminds me, yes, we have been offered hash and no, we have not accepted.

To all, namaste...
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