Since returning to LA, several friends have asked what about India made the biggest impression. Favorite places, experiences, or memories… My answer surprised both them and me.

The animals. I miss the way in which animals were just a part of everything. They weren’t anyone’s, but they were everyone’s, more like neighbors than pets. The ubiquitous holy cow really was everywhere, as were the monkeys (who admittedly totally freaked me out! They steal glasses off of heads and jump around unexpectedly), dogs, birds (many of prey), and occasional pigs.

I call this an unexpected answer because I am not known as a huge animal lover. Not that I don’t like them, there are some that I really, really love. But, there are many that I can take or leave, especially in the bizarre dog culture of an upper middle class, childless pet owners metropolis like Los Angeles, where the untrained emotional support dog reigns supreme. My aunt still makes fun of me for being the only child she ever met who preferred old dogs to puppies (too hyper).

So, the fact that I would miss the animals of India was not a given.

Feed the dogs, people in India say, it brings good karma. On numerous occasions, I watched as those with not much to eat themselves, fed packages of biscuits to dogs. I watched a woman brush this cow’s neck, as monkeys looked on.

Unlike pet culture in the US, these animals are a part of everyone’s life. Whether you choose to interact or not is up to you, like the weird neighbor you either ignore or befriend, but who is in your life regardless.

It is hard to describe how different a city feels when it is full of animals, of the non human variety.

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“You must have confidence, madam, to live in India.” Lokesh, our driver in Rajasthan.

Lokesh becomes our second driver one week into the trip, in Jaipur, after his brother Hari’s foot is run over by a scooter.

Saris on the backs of motorcycles, sidesaddle, their backs to us, the man driving in front. Colored silk blowing in the wind, sometimes two or three children pressed in between. I realize, as I watch them pass, that I, age 38, am the age of the grandmothers, not the mothers.

Cows, dogs, bikes, cars, trucks, pigs, monkeys, and motorcycles navigate the roads.

Blow Horn. Use Dipper at Night. These words are written on the backs of trucks. Why? we ask Lokesh. Blow your horn and flash your lights so the trucks can see or hear you. Some people need to get places quicker than others, he explains. In our country everyone thinks they are those people, we explain.

On the subject of marriage- Arranged is best, he says. Your parents love you, they know you, they’ve lived with you for eighteen years, they want you to be happy, and will find you a good match. Love marriages rarely work out.

He slows to let us take pictures of particularly well decorated trucks, or camels, or elephants, or elephants in the backs of trucks, or camels doing the work of trucks.

Bahubali is the best movie. Parts 1 and 2. Lokesh tells us to find it and watch it. The most expensive movie ever made in India and his favorite.

He tells us about recent uprisings in towns close by. Tension between Hindus and Muslims runs high. A movie has been made that depicts Hindus in an unflattering light. Threats of violence towards theaters that show it. He agrees it should not be shown. We don’t tell him we actually want to see it.

He tells us which days of the week correspond with which Gods and Goddesses.

I have a sore throat after leaving Jaipur and he pulls off at a chai stand and asks them to add extra ginger to my chai.

On the way from Udaipur to Jodhpur, we stop at the Om Banna motorbike Temple on the side of the highway. Om Banna was killed in a motorbike accident on the site in the 1980’s and, after his bike was cleared by police, it mysteriously made its way back to the site three times. Thus, a Temple.

He explains that village people are the happiest people. Wake with the sun, go to sleep with the sun, grow food, barter. All traditions still going strong. But, change is coming, he says. Fast.

We pass field after field of mustard, wheat, and dill. The villages surrounding Udaipur are amazingly beautiful; with lush fields divided by low, stone walls.

“Tika, tika, tika.”

“A, cha cha.”

Spelled phonetically, both mean something like “ok” in Hindi.

I finally figure out that what look like two lane highways are actually three to four or five, depending. The traffic flows with a chaos that would bring US drivers and freeways to their knees in under one second. Horns and beeps a language of their own.

As I write this, we are hurling back to Delhi and blogging seems a better use of time than worrying about the possibility of dying on an Indian highway. Sometimes it is easier not to look. As the Buddhist saying goes, if there’s something you can do about it, why worry? If there’s nothing you can do about it, why worry?

And, as Lokesh says, one must have confidence, madam, to live {in India}. Dear Gods and Goddesses, all 330,000,000+ of you, please help me to integrate this wisdom into my life.

Namaste, India. Namaste, Lokesh.

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I was just trying to write something here for the first time in several days, but a wedding passed by the hotel, so I had to go and watch. And so it goes.

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Words, or at least the ones I know, seem an inadequate form for India. I want to touch it, wear it, hear it, eat it, smell it, and live it.

The compassion. Curry. Textiles. People. And the, literally, totally rocking Temples. Everyone I’ve met, from people on the street, to shop keepers, to drivers, discuss vibration, energy, and the Gods as if discussing restaurants or the weather. Spirituality is so interwoven with life, it seems impossible to separate the two.

And, why would we want to?

This morning, while eating breakfast, I watched as a wild pig, two cows, several dogs with pups, monkeys, chipmunks, birds, and people went about their morning routine, together. None with any more right to be there, in the intersection, than the other.

The fields surrounding town are full of mustard plants, blooming with yellow flowers. Our driver told us it will be harvested at the beginning of March and then it will get hot, very hot, through October.

Right now it is beautiful outside. Warm in the day and cool at night.

If you’d like a silver pendant shaped like a mango and filled with perfume, look for Mangoman’s shop in Bundi.

 

All photos taken in Bundi, Rajasthan.

Only a few days into my three week trip to India and already I am in love and in awe.

“My insatiable love of mankind.” That love for not only mankind but also animals leads to a seeming order within the chaos; one which stems from kindness, compassion, and faith and which is noticeable in all facets of life.

A driver, Amit, sent by our hotel to retrieve us from the airport, quickly becomes our friend and guide, touring us around and explaining with pride how his country works.

Namaste. Traffic flows to a symphonic conversation of horns and beeps, one big merge that puts traffic in Los Angeles to shame. We see the movie “Tiger Zenda Ha” at the local theater and people stand with pride as the National Anthem is played on screen before it begins. Vegetarianism is the norm. God is One. Karma.

I haven’t been here for long enough to even begin to sum it all up but those are some of my takeaways so far.

A country liberated by a man who taught that love is always the answer and that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.

Watching my own country from half a world away, with its severe lack of compassion, I am struck by the kindness which has greeted us throughout our stay. As I sit on my hotel room bed listening to the morning call to prayer from a mosque not far away, the sun is just rising.

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I woke up in a great mood this morning and lay in bed looking out of the window for an hour before finally getting up.

The image of a small row boat in the middle of the ocean appeared in my mind. A boat so small it is able to surf the waves, big and small, in ways a larger one could not. The world, with all of its relationships, jobs, worries, politics, borders, diseases, religions, love, hate, Beauty, confusion, laughter, joy, and sorrow are the waves, while I am the boat.

2017 has taught me to ride the waves and to find my own equilibrium; a lesson I know will continue to be useful in the years to come. It has been a good, strange, funny and bizarre year, has kept me on my toes, and repeatedly shown me that once I let go and trust, I will always be guided to the next right thing.

I ended the day watching a most spectacular sunset on Santa Monica Beach with my friend, and the surfers and the sailboats.

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