Hey all! I am trying to catch you up on what I have been doing, so I am speed publishing some of the more important stuff. Sorry I have been so lax with getting these out, but I have been really busy with other stuff. Make sure to follow the photo albums too because I often include little stories with my photos.
Right before I left India, I went to a city called Amritsar. It is a large city in the northwestern state of Punjab, which shares a border with Pakistan to the west. I went to see the Harmandir Sahib (anglicized to the Golden Temple), which is the main temple of the Sikh religion. I also went because the Indian holiday of Diwali was being celebrated that week, and its celebration there is particularly big.
I got to Amritsar after a series of buses and full day of traveling. In the late afternoon, the kids of Amritsar climb up to the roofs of the city and fill the dust orange sky with hundreds of kites. Pictures never did it justice, but I could sit up there for an hour each day just watching the kites. One of the guys who works at the hostel is an Amritsar native about my age, and when I told him how much I liked the kites, he offered to show me how to fly one. So we went down to the shop and spent the afternoon on the roof with the other kids.
But I spent most of my days there at the Golden Temple. Eastern religions are interesting to me, but I don't let them into my head past a level of superficial intellectual curiosity. However, Sikhism made a powerful impression. Among many other important things, the distinguishing element of Sikhism is their commitment to feeding people, and every major Sikh temple has a 24/7 free dining hall. I ate at the Golden Temple and was stunned not only by how many people they served but by who was there and how good the food was. Unlike in the U.S., is wasn't taboo at all for rich people to accept free food, although I am sure many left donations, and I felt like people were very proud to be eating in such a communal setting. And the food was so good! Three or four courses of just delicious food, and you could take as much as you wanted. You just sit on the floor and volunteers with huge quantities of food roam around the room dolling out food to everyone. I really have a lot of respect for the Sikhs, and I hope to visit the temple in San Jose when I get home.
Other than to visit the temple, I went to Amritsar to celebrate Diwali. There weren't many people at the hostel, so our host, Sanjay, invited us home to celebrate with his family, which was just a blast. We watched the fireworks in Amritsar that evening, and then after those were mostly done, we went out to the village of Badula, where he lived. The bus to the village was packed because everyone had the same idea as ours, so we rode on the roof luggage rack where we had a great seat to watch the rest of the fireworks as we drove into the countryside.
When we got there, we drank tea and ate with the family. I had learned a few phrases in Punjabi, (like how to say "these crazy people" and a few lines from songs) and I deployed them to much laughter over dinner. Sanjay's dad, the guy in charge of the evening, sought me out to give me the honor of lighting the biggest firework, and I think I received some sort of honor in the religious ceremony later, but I couldn't really tell. Anyway, it was a great time.
It was my goal at the onset of this trip to wiggle my way into people's personal lives, and doing stuff like this helps you feel what it's like to be from a place like this. For me the biggest lesson was from the kites. I remember when I was really young I got an N64 for my birthday. People like my friend in Amritsar had trouble paying for kites that cost less than 10 cents per kite. He asked what I did when I was a kid, and I didn't include the fancy toys. Guilt isn't what kept me from responding with full honesty - what did that was the recognition of the economic gulf between me and him. I wanted to be better friends with this guy, and we moved on from the discussion, but not knowing how to handle that situation gave me the most poignant sense of being lost that I have had so far. I still have a lot to think about from Amritsar, but it was a great time.