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So, we are finally back home. I will not deny that there are certain pleasures and comforts of home that I have greatly missed. I am finally back in my own time zone, which is something I had trouble getting back to. However, Shannon was right, there is a huge culture shock comming back to America. Here, the roads are far less noisy than in the state of West Bengal. As much as I am surprised to admit it, I miss the music of the horns. I also am surprised that nothing ever ends here. In West Bengal, at nights, there was quite. People stopped really using the roads at around ten or so at night. Here, the roads are always inhabited. I have finally resumed journaling again, something I did all the time when I was in India. Any one on the trip with me will attest to the fact that I always had my journal on/near my person. While I am no longer using the same journal, at least the habit remains. So, although our group did not post as many Yak-Yaks as other, and though we had our moments where we were all missing home, I know that at least I am now missing parts of India. I miss the simplicity, the ability to walk around in comfortable silence, and I miss how much easier it was to just take things in. Here, everything is always loud, always moving, always complex. I wish I could find a way to slow it down. However, if wishes were fishes, I doubt we would have to worry about over fishing.

I know I ramble and that the above paragraph could easily be broken down into two sub headings at least, but rambling is my style. It is the way my mind works. I think it may also be something that I picked up in India, the ability to lower my mental blocks and just let the words flow. There I wrote. Here I stare at blank page, blank screen, or other blank surface, and nothing comes of it.

Such is the way of things I guess,

Until again,

Devindra (David P)

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Settling Back In

Devindra (David P),Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

So, we are finally back home. I will not deny that there are certain pleasures and comforts of home that I have greatly missed. I am finally back in my own time zone, which is something I had trouble getting back to. However, Shannon was right, there is a huge culture shock comming back to […]

Posted On

08/2/07

Author

Devindra (David P)

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As the end of the trip is near there are many mixed feelings. It's like living in a limbo between trying to soak up every moment but simultaneously one can not help craving all the things that await at home. For me it's mainly my family. This is due to the fact that after being in college for a year and being at home for only a short time, I value the attention and comfort of my parents and notice so much more how well taken care of I am at home. However, I then reflect on my trip over the last 4 weeks and as it comes to an end, and I can speak from experience to say that of all the places I've been to, parents should feel the most at ease sending their children off to experience the excapades that this part of the world has to offer. No matter where I have been in India, there has always seemed to be some form of a mother figure in my life, almost to the point where I feel childlike again. First there was my home stay Amma in Darjeeling, who spoke very limited english but whose energy was constantly radiating through the house; her attitude was always upbeat and humerous. I remember the time I was 10 minutes out after dark walking home and I ran into her searching the street for me. Now this might sound natural to a lot of you, but I am 20 years old and haven't had anyone require to know where I am after dark in years! The intresting part was I instantly experienced the feeling of my heart dropping into my stomach like it did when I was 16 and my mouther came looking for me. On the other hand, I now 4 years later don't hold the same angst that goes along with fighting to be indepedant, and I no longer get annoyed with my mother for not giving me more space. Instead I just felt a warmth that comes from knowing someone is genuinely concerned for my safety. SO ANYWAY the point is between my first home stay mother, my ISP mentor Sonam who cooked me a giant Birthday breakfast and taught me to cook every day, gave me a calm state of mind that slowed down my day, and my Amma who adopted me for the last 4 days in Kalinpong and insisted on helping me wash my face, I've learned that the culture here contains many compassionate, strong willed women that it's not so important to dwell on missing my family in America as it is to hold the memories of what it was like to have a group of mouthers who so readily welcomed me into their families.

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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My Ammas of India

Alexandra,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

As the end of the trip is near there are many mixed feelings. It’s like living in a limbo between trying to soak up every moment but simultaneously one can not help craving all the things that await at home. For me it’s mainly my family. This is due to the fact that after being […]

Posted On

07/24/07

Author

Alexandra

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During our stay in Gangtok, we had the great honor of an audience with a Buddhist Rinpoche. For those of you who do not know, Rinpoche, meaning 'the precious one', is a title given as a means of honoring particuarly enlightened spiritual teachers. For almost an hour he took our questions with the hope that he could empart some of his wisdom upon us. Our meeting was not without its difficulties however, as he did not know a word of English. Fortunately enough for us, Suren speaks what feels like a dozen languages and acted as an excellent translator. The chance to meet with someone like the Rinpoche left me feeling greatly honored (and hopefully a little enlightened).

Aaron

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Our Visit with the Rinpoche

Aaron,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

During our stay in Gangtok, we had the great honor of an audience with a Buddhist Rinpoche. For those of you who do not know, Rinpoche, meaning ‘the precious one’, is a title given as a means of honoring particuarly enlightened spiritual teachers. For almost an hour he took our questions with the hope that […]

Posted On

07/24/07

Author

Aaron

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You would think that a group of rural Indian villagers wouldn't be able to eat 40 momos (dumplings) apiece, but you would be terribly wrong. I found out that a large American boy eating 25 momos is not impressive, but it turns out that 25 and below is quite weak. So I told my loving homestay family that if it made them happy, I would eat 40 momos. They gladly accepted my challenge of momo greatness and I prepared for the meal awaiting me that night. I started my day off by waking up as usual and then putting on my clothes; the usual you could say.I then had a light breakfast of 5 servings of buttered sandwiches with potatoes and eggs in the middle. It was delicious....I then had a small lunch of 3 servings of potatoes, pasta, and mea sauce....fantastic. Then came the dinner. Awaiting for me was a plate of 40 vegetable momos yelling at me and telling me to come and get em'....and so I did. And I got them good. 40 momos were complete and digesting in my stomach when my family a proposed a challenge of even greater proportions. 2 Tea momos to go along with the nimble 40 already in my tummy. Tea momos are the size of my fist and have no filling; pure delicious bread rolled up into a treat called tea momo....I again accepted their challenge and the large fist sized tea momos were happily digesting. Needless to say, sleeping was quite easy seeing as how I was a giant walking ball of momos. Much like a bowling ball in fact. I slept quite well and rose the next morning to find out that a momo encore was set for the night.....Fantastic.....

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Momo’s

Ethan,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

You would think that a group of rural Indian villagers wouldn’t be able to eat 40 momos (dumplings) apiece, but you would be terribly wrong. I found out that a large American boy eating 25 momos is not impressive, but it turns out that 25 and below is quite weak. So I told my loving […]

Posted On

07/24/07

Author

Ethan

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although this happened a while ago, i am writing about it now because i previously refused to "yak yak"

during our first homestay in darjeeling, my amma stayed in the hospital due to extreme pregnancy sickness for 6 days. when she came back, my family decided to exercise the evil spirit that was causing her illness through a shaman ritual. at first i did not understand what was going on, because the shaman was a trendy 20-something year old man in jeans and a polo and i had pictured shamans as looking different than that. however, the shaman's two assistants worked to make an eye of evil out of bamboo rods and rainbow colored yarn while he made a little fat baby statue out of some sort of dough. they put the baby on a flat bed of banana leaves, elevated on a banana stem, and speared it with the eye of evil. they then made little banana leaf baskets full of food to serve as offerings to tempt the evil spirit out.

as the ritual began, my family gathered around my amma on the floor as the shaman sang and threw rice that he had touched her head with at the statue. this went on for a long time. the shaman's assistants then disappeared into the kitchen and i heard strange squacking noises. they returned with a live chicken, which they held upside down and blessed us with until it went unconcious (or entered a trance?). they then blessed my amma with various scarves, which they threw on top of the passed out chicken. eventually they took the chicken outside, and apparently made it fly (i didn't see this happen).

although my amma later told me that she did not believe in this ritual at all, she proceeded to recover slightly and was feeling much better when i left.

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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shaman ritual

Maya,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

although this happened a while ago, i am writing about it now because i previously refused to "yak yak" during our first homestay in darjeeling, my amma stayed in the hospital due to extreme pregnancy sickness for 6 days. when she came back, my family decided to exercise the evil spirit that was causing her […]

Posted On

07/24/07

Author

Maya

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Dear Friends,

It has been a very eventful couple of days since leaving Darjeeling. Some emotions definitely swirled as we said goodbye to homestay families, program house staff/friends and ISP mentors. We had a small ritual to mark our departure at Shanti Stupa, a beautiful Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda that was bulit in 1972. We actually woke early to a clear morning with views of Kanchenjunga- a very unusual site this season with all the mosoon rain. It was very special to sit in the presence of the stupa with clear views over the town that we called home for 10 days.

After a 4 hour drive along winding, jungle roads, we arrived in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. We spent the afternoon orienting ourselves in the main bazaar. The following morning we were fortunate to have a lecture by Pema Wangchup, a writer for a daily publication called "NOW." Pema has an incredible wealth of knowledge about Sikkim, both its political, religious and cultural history. For 2 hours he wove an amazing tapesty of information for us based on specific interests in the group. We all walked away buzzing with fresh insight and perhaps a bit from the chai! The students seemed to be most blown away by the fact that the last queen of Sikkim was a New Yorker named Hope Cook!

That afternoon the girls moved into a nearby nunnery and the boys into the Nyigma Institute of Buddhist studies with over 200 monks. Both groups spent the night observing and asking questions. I'll save the details for them to share.

This afternoon we just had an audience with a highly respected Nyigma Rinpoche, also known to be a tulku- a reincarnate of a high lama. He very generously answered our questions and smiled a lot! The students are off now trying to locate the old royal palace of Sikkim and the famous Enchey Monastery.

We are heading off tomorrow morning early for Rumtek Monastery which is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buiddhism. The monks will be beginning a very important ceremony tomorrow that we have been invited to observe for the morning. From there we will drive out to a town called Yuksom in western Sikkim where we hope to visit some more monastaries, do some day hiking and fun group activities.

Our plan is to be in the small town of Kalimpong, just near the border of Bhutan, on the 20th. We will be moving into rural homestays that afternoon and beginning our community service project helping to build a classroom at a local school. It is one exciting thing after another here. . .! Fortunately everyone is happy and in good spirits. ..

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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gangtok

Shannon,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

Dear Friends, It has been a very eventful couple of days since leaving Darjeeling. Some emotions definitely swirled as we said goodbye to homestay families, program house staff/friends and ISP mentors. We had a small ritual to mark our departure at Shanti Stupa, a beautiful Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda that was bulit in 1972. […]

Posted On

07/17/07

Author

Shannon

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Hello All,

Now that enough time has passed, I am able to reflect on what happened on my birthday. As I have a summer birthday, I am not used to having a large celebration. This was reversed during my time in Darj. Almost everyone gave me a hug before there was the "jelly roll". A "jelly roll" is a human chain that collapses inward on a single person giving them a large group hug. After the jelly roll (during which I was just slightly embarassed, I was told to sit on a mat. The Didi's (program house cooks) then sprinkled rice around me. Then everyone was asked to bless me with a mixture of rice, sugar, and some red coloring of some sort. After I was blessed (which involved the application of foresaid mixture) I gave everyone a sweet. Although I was just slightly embarassed, I was glad that I got to celebrate my birthday in such an unique manner. I will remember this as a good start to the last of my teen years,

Until again.

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Reflections on 19

David P,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

Hello All, Now that enough time has passed, I am able to reflect on what happened on my birthday. As I have a summer birthday, I am not used to having a large celebration. This was reversed during my time in Darj. Almost everyone gave me a hug before there was the "jelly roll". A […]

Posted On

07/12/07

Author

David P

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Mornings in Darjeeling are nearly always rainy this time of the year, locals would say. However, this 'rain' is really more of a mist, or rather a cloud, so close to land that water actually condenses in the air around you. The effect is mystical, and if interpreted positively, not without spiritual significance. If seen in the right light, the mornings are a reminder of why we've chosen India.

It was on one of these mornings that I woke up (that particular morning at about 6:00, though 5:00 seems to be the standard) to a seemingly distant melody, with tambura, tabla, and the unique female indian voice. The four bar melody repeated over and over for close to an hour, during whih curiosity coaxed me out of bed and into the kitchen where upon inquiry I found it to be the Gayitriya Mantra, a Hindu "hymn" that my 'amah' (homestay mother) plays ritually every morning from a cone-shaped outdoor speaker above the house. My amah was flattered by my interest, and being the Hindu of the household herself, gestured me upstairs into a nook in the corner of her parents bedroom which led to her own Hindu shrine- a myriad spectacle of incence, warped pictures, faces of holy men (Sai Baba, the holy man with the afro, being most predominant), statuettes, and colored dust.

This was the Puja- or prayer ceremony performed early in the morning before devout Hindus allow themselves to eat. I sat respectfully at first, but was asked to wave incence around while chanting mantras (including the Gayitri Mantra, which I practically knew by heart at that point), and bowing to the deities which "inspired" me most. The ceremony concluded with my amah placing two types of dust on my forehead, in more or less the typical dot shape, and a final silent (I'm assuming prayer) time as well. We exited the room, and nonchalantly, almost in a hurry, my amah said, "ok that is Puja. You are Hindu now (laugh)".

Coming from a Christian background, what was so captivating and appealing about the Hindu faith is the sensory richness involves in holy rituals, and indeed, holy life. There is almost a humor to the faith, a light-heartedness that certainly doesn't preach any such doctrine as 'original sin'. What's more, my day started off on a good foot- all my senses were completely awoken and revived. I felt no calling to covert nor did I feel in any way guilty about my ways in life- simply cleansed; appreciative about the generosity to be found in the Hundu religion.

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Morning Puja

Guy Liechty,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

Mornings in Darjeeling are nearly always rainy this time of the year, locals would say. However, this ‘rain’ is really more of a mist, or rather a cloud, so close to land that water actually condenses in the air around you. The effect is mystical, and if interpreted positively, not without spiritual significance. If seen […]

Posted On

07/12/07

Author

Guy Liechty

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momos. the word is no unfamiliar to team sikkim. each person has had his/her own experience with them, some more gripping than others. momos can take a man to his absolute limit, i know it took me to mine and others to their's. you may be asking yourself at this point "what exactly is a momo?" Well, although it may sound shocking, momos are basically the exact same think as dumplings, they're just called momos here. Now you may be asking yourself "how do dumplings take one to the limit?" the obvious answer would be "by eating them," but if you look deeper into the momo philosophy, you'll find that the real answer is "by eating A LOT** of them." it all started when Ethan or "koobear" claimed to have eated 42 veggie momos one night. I took this, for some reason, to be a personal challenge. so that night i decided to eat 50, but sadly failed and ate only 43 (yes, i know i'm a jerk by eating just one more than ethan). amy the following day decided that she would eat 50, but we dont think thats going to happen. It was the night of the momo eating that i started to realize that momo easting went beyond just our group. apparently everyone in Darjeeling knows the exact number of momos they can eat. i learned that my ama [mom] can eat about 54 veggie momos wihile my baba [dad], while in his momo eating prime at 18, could eat 60 meat momos. my didi [sister] said she had a friend that could eat 70 momos. the next day i took it upon myself to ask my tabla guru how many momos he could eat. since im rude, i decided to ask him in the middle of a sentence while he was explaining something to one of the other students. mid sentence and without hesitation he replies 54 and then conitnues to expolain whatever to the other student. after soem momo reflection and the facts that i have just revealed, i have come up with the theory that the more momos you can eat, the better of a person you are (at least in Darjeeling). this is just a theory for now, but with time, this may become fact.

peace from all of us. probably more to come sometime.

**The word "A LOT" is used loosely, as what we consider to be a lot is what Darjeelingers consider to be roughly - and i quote - "child sized portions."

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Momo Eating: the true measurement of man

Hari,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

momos. the word is no unfamiliar to team sikkim. each person has had his/her own experience with them, some more gripping than others. momos can take a man to his absolute limit, i know it took me to mine and others to their’s. you may be asking yourself at this point "what exactly is a […]

Posted On

07/12/07

Author

Hari

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Yesterday we had a very interesting lecture before lunch. We had Bir Bahadar Thami, a local porter, tell us about his life and work. Mr. Thami is a porter in the city of Darjeeling and his job is primarily to carry various loads to different parts of town. This is a neccisary job in Darjeeling, as many places are only accessable by foot. However despite its neccessity, this job is very strenuous to the porter, as the loads that they carry can vastly exceed their own body weight. Porters work all day and recieve virtually no holidays, save days the porters collectively go on strike. They work for around $6.00 a day and reieve no work benefits. Loads are typically carried by a strap apparatus that is placed on the head. Such heavy strain on the head has actually resulted in a deformity in the structure of Mr. Thami's skull.

In addition to telling us about the nature of his work, Mr. Thami also told us about his personal life. He was very reserved and humble when addressing these topics. Mr. Thami is 30 years old and has been working in Darjeeling for quite some time. He supports a family of 4 in Khatmandu. Mr. Thami has only been home three times since he moved to Darjeeling, the most recent of which was to attend his father's funeral. When asked why he came to work in Darjeeling, Mr. Thami only gave very broad, non-specific answers. He is content to do his work however, because it means that his children will recieve an education. Mr. Thami education was very limited, as he only completed school through the fith grade.

Mr. Thami speech was a very powerful experience, as it gave great insight into the extreamly difficult lives of many of the local people of Darjeeling. It is amazing to think that someone will perform extrodinarily strenuous labor literally all day and earn what is about only one hour of minimum wage work in the USA. On top of this he has a full family to support, with whom he is able to spend virtually no time. A story such as this makes me reconsider my own fortune as a person and appreciate the vast oppertunities which i have access to.

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Sikkim, Summer 2007

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Bir Bahadur Thami, local porter in Darjeeling

Linton Wright,Sikkim, Summer 2007

Description

Yesterday we had a very interesting lecture before lunch. We had Bir Bahadar Thami, a local porter, tell us about his life and work. Mr. Thami is a porter in the city of Darjeeling and his job is primarily to carry various loads to different parts of town. This is a neccisary job in Darjeeling, […]

Posted On

07/11/07

Author

Linton Wright

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