Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Harmandir Sahib - The Golden Temple of Amritsar - Sunrise

"Today I watched about a million Christs in the form of Sikhs being killed, slaughtered and charred to death. I was shocked as well as comforted by the fact that there were no traces of fear and violence in their sacrifices. They were sacrificing their lives happily following the path showed by their Gurus." - Charles Freer Andrews

On October 13, 1920, C. F. Andrews, a Christian of the English Church and dubbed "Christ's Faithful Apostle" by Mohandas Ghandi, witnessed a horrific yet powerful moment in India's struggle for independence. Andrews was visiting the Sikhs, a religious sect from the Punjab region. The Sikhs warmly welcomed the presence of a Christian man. Andrews thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality, reminding him time and time again of his own beloved savior. At the time, the Sikhs and their Gujuwaras (their sacred temples of worship) were sadly trapped in the vice of the British Empire. This included Nankana Sahib, a Gujuwara where countless piles of firewood were stored for cooking massive meals at the most sacred Gujuwara of them all, Harmandir Sahib. When the Brittish refused access to this sacred resource, Sikhs began to gather in large numbers at Nankana Sahib, completely unarmed. After a few days of peaceful protesting, which involved nothing but a refusal to leave Nankana Sahib, the British attacked. It was not just a hail of bullets that came down upon the Sikhs, but also a brutal beating, stabbing, and mutilation with sticks, bayonets, and swords. At the end, when the unscathed Sikhs were sought, only one man in the heap of bodies was moving. The British nailed him to a piece of wood and burned him alive. When Andrews said Christs, he meant it in more ways than one.

The heartless killings did not end at Nankana Sahib. After taking hundreds of Sikhs prisoner, the British loaded them onto a train to be relocated. A community of Sikhs down the rail line recieved word of this, and simply begged the British to stop their train, on the Sikh's expense, so that the prisoners could be fed. The British refused. Upon recieving this refusal message, Sikhs lined up in the middle of the train tracks, peacefully waiting for the British to stop their train. The train did not stop. Two Sikhs were crushed before the Conductor demanded that the train be stopped.

The Nankana Sahib Massacre and the following atrocities on the railroad came a short one and a half years after the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre, yet another malevolent move by the British Empire. Jullianwalla Bagh is a garden just a few blocks from Harmandir Sahib. Here, on April 13, 1919, the British opened fire on thousands of peaceful protesting Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Over 1,650 rounds were shot, and the only exit from this park was on the other side of the firing line (or into the black abyss of what is now named "Martyr's Well"). Visiting this site today, one can still see the bullet holes (as well as the nail marks) that scar the perimeter where innocent lives were wasted by British arms.

Even after the Brits had granted Independence for India, they did so on the accord that the Sikhs would assist them in World War II. Over 90,000 Sikhs sacrificed their lives for the same country that had heartlessly murdered thousands of their people.

I apologize for starting this blog so gravely, but it shocked me as to how little I knew about the Sikhs and their involvement in the nonviolence movements of India's revolution. There is no doubt in my mind that Mohandas Ghandi was one of the greatest influences upon the nonviolent struggles. But if one looks back through history, the struggle of the Sikhs as a people is far beyond the pain and suffering of that single man. When Ghandi was still in South Africa, the Sikhs were already dying in their peaceful fight for freedom.

I won't digress any farther on this matter. I'll leave that to potential research papers that I may implement towards my Sociology courses here at Delhi University. What I will do, however, is show just how wonderfully pleasant and heartwarming these people were to me as I visited their most holy landmark, the Golden Temple of Amritsar.

A Sikh man bathes in the Pool of Immortal Nectar
When we walked through the massive gates of Darbar Sahib, I was dumbstruck at the incredibly pristine complex. The Golden Temple sits in the center of a beautiful Pool of Immortal Nectar, fed by the sacred water of the Ganges River. People of all sizes, ages, religion and ethnicity wander in a clockwise circle around this pool. Every once in a while, a Sikh will strip to his underwear to bathe in the nectar, which is said to rid one of disease, sins and all other maladies. Bhangra (the music listed above), a traditional form of singing, perfectly emanates out of hundreds of Bose speakers across the gold and white marble. Upon reaching the bridge to the temple itself, I gazed through the gate to see hundreds of dastar (Sikh turbans) patiently waiting. All of them hold karah parshad, a holy meal that is offered as a blessing. Yet, as soon as one exits Darbar Sahib, another equal portion of karah parshad is offered in return from those working at Darbar Sahib. It is yet another symbol of unity, equality, and respect that the Sikhs wish to show all.

Everyone must step into a small pool of warm water before entering the Darbar Sahib complex. The result? Extremely clean marble... with a punch of funky feet smell every once in a while.

Sikhs patiently wait to enter Darbar Sahib
karah parshad - equal parts of rice, ghee, sugar, and water (seen below the leaves as a brown substance)
And a free hotel room??
When we finished our own karah parshad, the sun began to set and we needed a place to say. The Sikhs could not have been more accommodating. There was a hotel right across the street from the Darbar Sahib complex that allowed any traveler to stay free of charge for up to three days. The Sikh's generosity didn't end there.

Guru Ka Langar - The Community Kitchen

Just across from our hotel in the Darbar Sahib complex was the Guru Ka Langar: The Community Kitchen. This two story building can hold hundreds of people in massive lines. Each person is given a plate, bowl, and spoon. Servers walk down the rows with massive pots of daal, rice, and roti. All are served until you are completely stuffed and need to refuse their endless offering. After stuffing yourself full of delicious vegetarian food, there is a massive chai dispenser outside to layer the meal in sweet, spicy goodness. It is believed by the Sikhs that no person should enter their complex without being well fed. They ensure this happens for each and every person by leaving the kitchen open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Azzar stands at the entrance of Guru Ka Langar
Two Sikhs prepare hundreds of vegetables for the massive kitchen.
Many others volunteer their time.
The Sikhs left one of the best impressions on me of any religion I have ever experienced. It really set a good tone for the rest of my time in and around Amritsar, which, I assure you, was more wild and crazy than I could have ever expected.

Attari - The Changing of the Guards

Just a short hours drive from Amritsar was the Pakistan/India border, where a small town named Attari hosts a ceremony that reminded me of a dance show I would see on television. Here, at 4:30PM, hundreds of Indians gather in mass to dance and cheer for their country. And all for the changing of the guards at the Attari border!

The ceremony started with a half hour of Bollywood music. Awesome. All the Indians around me were completely stoked on Adam, Azzar, Jilly and I for simply being there with them, dancing to famous Bollywood tunes.

The music ended abruptly at one point and a guard stepped forward. He took a deep breath, and screamed into the microphone. You know those announcers on soccer games from Latin America? Imagine them saying "goooool!" except an extra 20 seconds longer. This guy stood there, purple in the face, for what seemed like half a minute. Immediately afterward, the entire crowd around me erupts, cheering and celebrating their guard's valiant cry. Out of the guardhouse came and Indian man in an all white jumpsuit, with a massive India flag and "India" stamped on the back of his jacket. He was carrying a microphone, and started screaming "HINDUSTAN!" after which the entire crowd erupted in a cry of the most passionate nationalism I have ever seen.

The guards are greeted by a wave of energy. You can see the border and the Pakistan flag waving in the distance.

Out came the guards, marching perfectly in unison, all the way to the gate. Their feet looked as if they were floating over the ground, and their hands swung back and forth, perfectly straight as if someone had stuck a massive key in their backs and wound them up and sent them loose like toy soldiers towards the border. They reached the border, turned on a dime, swung their legs high into the air, and finished the march by slamming their boots hard into the ground. One guard marched to the border, and simultaneously a Pakistani guard met him. They turned on a time again, flung their feet in the air, and slammed them on the ground. The flags of both sides of the gates were lowered, and the gates were closed.

The entire procession blew my mind. I am very glad I went the distance to see something so profound.

Around Amritsar - Mata Temple

Amritsar itself has some incredible sites that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing. One temple in particular, Mata Temple, was a childhood paradise. Imagine the coolest McDonalds Playplace you've ever seen modified to be a sacred site for Hindus. This was Mata Temple.

The maze of stairs and passage ways of Mata Temple

Crawlspaces, tunnels, pools of water. How much cooler could a temple get?
It took me over an hour to get through the labyrinth of Mata Temple. Every wall was covered in either colored mirrors, paintings, or sculptures of the many Hindu gods. What a great way to spend the last day in Amritsar.

The Hindu God, Hanuman

Narasimha, the Man-Lion
Incredible colored mirror walls. The sign on the side is, yes, a swastika. This was originally used by the Hindus as a sign of peace.

Super cool mirror room.

Durga - The Mother Goddess
We specifically walked through Amritsar to get to these and other landmarks, and on the way I experienced a great deal of friendly interactions with the Punjabi people. It's sad to think that such a horrendous lifestyle once existed under the British Empire.

Buying Bollywood DVDs from a really young kid. What a boss!

Hundreds of kites dot the sky as the sun sets over the city.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


photographer - Matt Staley

Aadmi Azaad Hai - Welcome to Sajjanpur (Kailash Kher) by albertorojas

"If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India" - Max Mueller

It's already pretty obvious what choicest of gifts the Indians have fully developed: festivals, and a lot of them. What better way to stay happy if you have a festival every other week, or sometimes one day after the other, or even better, every day of the week?

Lohri - The Festival of Fire

A sikh family celebrates Lohri with a local drum group. Photographer - Matt Staley
According to my landlord, Pradeep, Lohri is a festival that "celebrates the beginning of the end of winter." The beginning of the end? I see total possibilities for a middle of the end of winter and the end of winter festivals. According to my Hindi teacher, Gita, Lohri is celebrated by farmers, who says that the winter season's end is good reason to celebrate for the coming of spring. According to the official, Lohri is celebrated for newly weds and new born children. So really, I have no specific idea of why Lohri even exists. What I observed? Bonfires, drums, feasting, and lots of ridiculous dancing. Oh, and the bonfires are in the middle of the street, made of anything that burns...

Our front gate, an entrance to the festivities. Photographer - Matt Staley

What Indians will do for Lohri when a baby is born. Photographer - Matt Staley
When we arrived back to the apartment that evening, the entire block was filled with a massive tent. It turns out that a child had been born recently and the family was celebrating by having a massive dinner with an extensive family attendance. When we walked by, the grandfather of the family (seen above in the very middle of the picture in a nice suit) immediately introduced himself and apologized for the ruckus going on right on our doorstep. He then insisted that we attend this occasion at our leisure. Awesome. And what better an excuse to dress super fly in my punjabi kurta? Azzar and I got the entire crew to get down on it as well, and soon enough we were a troop of 6 kurta-laden men and one fancily shawled woman.

The kurta crew...
Getting ridiculous!
Om nom nom. Photographer - Matt Staley
Earlier that day, I went on a frantic search for thick rope and kerosene... yes, if there was going to be a fire festival right in front of my apartment and all through the neighborhood with troops of drummers causing a ruckus, so was I with fire dancing. I made some makeshift fire rope by dipping thick pieces into a bucket of kerosene. The result was awesome, especially with the attendance of 5-6 drummers, the surrounding neighborhood, and ridiculously stoked/dancing children.

Me fire dancing =
stoked children...
and more stoked children (and stoked Nick). Photographer - Jilly Jefferson

Funny thing is, there was another festival the next day, Uttarayan and accompanied the Kite Festival. Mostly celebrated in the province of Gujarat, hundreds of kites fill the sky and celebrate the actual day when the sun begins its northward direction and officially signals the decline of winter.

More festivals will soon arrive. Some of these include
  • Republic Day - January 26
  • Mawlid (the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday) - February 19
  • Holi - March 20
I am certain that there are a plethora of festivals that I have not even discovered yet. So is the greatest gift of India to me, surprises of citywide, province-wide, and nationwide festivals. In the good words of my friend Jason: "PARTY PARTY PARTY (all the time)!"

Photographer - Jilly Jefferson

Photographer - Matt Staley

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Delhi - Daily Life

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” - Miriam Beard

Today was the first time I felt the natural path from home to school, school to home. For the last few weeks, I've hesitated on rickshaw prices (or been ripped off), reconsidered my exit route off the metro line (or ended up on the opposite side of the street), and carefully chosen the food I've eaten from the streets. Now I walk out to our main street, ask for a ride, get a good price immediately, exit the correct route, and eat all the most delicious food available for less than a dollar a meal.

Daily life has become more of a smooth routine.

907 Mukherjee Nagar

Living on the third floor has been amazing. I can't imagine living in a better location. Our balcony overlooks a small park. I'll walk out to find all the surrounding homes drying their clothes in the dry Delhi winter wind, and Dhobi's are stationed at each corner of the park waiting to wash, dry, and iron any amount of clothing (20 pieces of clothing costs a little over $2) if hand washing is an inconvenience. Sometimes, I'll wake up to the wallahs making their way about the surrounding streets selling every desirable imaginable at your door step. And all the while, dogs designate their street space by bickering (and sometimes all out brawling). One may think that all this commotion would stir me awake every morning. Compared to the wild and crazy city streets, this place is a quiet, peaceful safe-haven from the chaos of the inner city. How could get any better when we have an entire rooftop balcony to ourselves? Righteous...

Adam enjoying breakfast on the balcony. Our park can be seen below.

Our kitchen

Since there are groceries available at my doorstep, a walking distance away, or a metro ride, it is very easy for me to purchase and cook any type of food I please. The kitchen is equipped with a nice gas stove, and for seven peoples' worth of kitchenware (plates, utensils, cups, pots, pans, dishrags, and dish soap), it cost us less than $50. We have 20L of water delivered to our house whenever we please for $1.75 (Indian rupees (Rs) = 80), and door-to-door trash service for Rs 80 a month.

Bathing is a big change from the States, but I've found myself adapting very comfortably to the differences. We all take bucket showers, which is pictured below. I fill up our big bucket with hot water, and the smaller pitcher is used to pour water as if it were a spout. The squeegee on the left is used to push all the water down the drain once I'm done, that way someone doesn't walk into a slippery marble bathroom or track soiled trails of dirt all over the house. In my experience and opinion, it's simple, easy to maintain, and very efficient. I know exactly how much water I'm using, which is no more than 5 gallons a shower.

Then there's the toilet, the biggest change of them all. It's all about squatting in India! It might seem primitive, but believe it or not, its very easy to use. I won't go into too many details, but I'll say two things:

1.) I am still and will always use toilet paper.
2.) I never shake with my left hand in India.

Pop a squat!
You get my point, I hope...


Bicycle Rickshaw

Photographer - Pius Lee

I don't use this mode of transport too often unless there's no other form of transport around. These guys work the hardest for their money, and according to Nick, its a daily income of Rs 200 (a little over $5) on a good day. I know their trying to make their living, but its hard when I have to get across the city and know that the bike ride will take half the day.

Auto Rickshaw

Where tourist and local meets the cheapest, speedy transport imaginable. There are thousands of these guys all over the city, trying to make a living by driving a 3 speed three-wheel mini-mobile. How many people do you think can fit in one of these? If you saw the number I've seen (up to 7), you'd be laughing at the ridiculousness of it too. We've only fit 6 before (5 in the back and 1 up front) but there was a seat on the other side of the driver for Adam, who wasn't with us that evening.

The most bad ass auto rickshaw on our street. Check the single-sided spinner!

On my main street, I can hop into a moving auto rickshaw full of people that acts as a group transport line during the evening. It only costs me Rs 5 ($0.11). Awesome.


 Photographer - Planemad
These free rides I have not tried yet, but all I know from observation is that they never, ever completely stop. You have to time it right so that you can run out into the street, grab the railing (or a helping hand), and pull into the bus where there could easily be people packed to the brim. I've even seen guys hanging out of the doors just desperately trying to get a ride. I think I'll hold off on this experience for a while and use the auto rickshaw... 


This is one of the nicest metro lines I have ever used. Smooth, clean, and organized, it is an anomaly to the chaos of the city streets. I can rely on this form of transport to get anywhere in the city and to many suburbs. It even has a car for ladies only (even though there is no door, wall or designation from the car immediately adjacent to it, and creepy men trickle in every once in a while. So are Indian rulings...). At the same time, it is the most ridiculous metro line I have ever experienced. At some stops, massive swarms of Indians push and shove their way in and out of the train. The absurdity of this means that if you really want to get off of the train, or really want to get on it, you are consistently battling against many others to shove your way out or in. This, however, is only true at big junctions and some other significantly large metro stops. There is no "excuse me," or "I need to get off this train, move." But believe it or not, I love it. It's like being back in the good ol' days of Lacrosse. A massive swarm of people are in my way, they are going to be forced out of the way if I have already politely asked for them to move. This has led me to take out the shoulder charges again to blast my way through hundreds of Indians to wherever I need to go. Bodacious.

My Bedroom (also the Living Room)

It's a cozy place with all the things I'll need to stay clean, warm, and well rested. Not much to say about it, and no complaints.


I haven't accustomed myself to the dhobi yet, so I do my own laundry. I fill the big bucket with cold water and some detergent. I hand scrub some of the dirtiness off of everything. You can't expect to have super clean clothes here because there's enough particulates in the air to get them dirty again anyways so its better just to make them smell good. Rinse cycle involves pouring out the soap water and filling the bucket with cold water to get rid of the soap. The squeegee is used to push all the water to the drain (black hole in the picture) each time I pour it from the bucket. Again, simple, efficient, and easy to manage. The cooking pot here has no significance.

I feel very fortunate to have such a great place to live. And to top it all off, our landlord is timely, organized, and polite. I'm looking forward to living in Mukherjee Nagar for the rest of my time in Delhi.