Jewels, Jewels, Everywhere!

NB: Now I know this post is extremely late as I’ve been back in the states for a little while but I will have you know that I took diligent notes the days of the events described here so I can still convey to you how I felt while I was there. So with an apology to those who have been kept waiting (and to those who were lovingly bugging me) here goes:

Trains are perhaps the most well used transportation worldwide. From America to England to India, railroad tracks crisscross the country. As they are one of the main sources of transportation in India, what would a visit be without a train ride? Down the street from the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church  on Abu Road (where I’ve been staying) is a railway station with a few sets of tracks. With an 8:30pm train and tickets confirmed only a short two hours before, Fr. Sajo and I climbed into our sleeper car among hundreds of other passengers headed north towards New Delhi.

I admit, it was a little awkward to be dodging people who were attempting to take a picture of me with their phones but I managed. With intelligent crowd-weaving techniques learned at my mother’s knee, I was able to avoid most of the picture seekers. With that said, if you see poor quality, random pictures of me pop up somewhere on the internet, that’s where they are from!
The train ride to New Delhi was about ten hours long. It was our good fortune that most of the trip occurred while we slept. I wasn’t informed until after the fact but apparently my wonderful hosts booked our train tickets on the most luxurious train available. It was actually pretty nice. There were three levels of beds and sheets and a wool blanket were provided. Comparing this ride to one I took to New Orleans from Memphis, there were only minor differences in breathing room. However, one major difference: the facilities. On an American train, the restrooms are similar to airplane restrooms. You get a seat, some toilet paper and a sink. On an Indian train, you have a hole and a sink. Albeit, there are two ‘platforms’ for your feet with the hole appropriately placed behind them for you to squat. However, at two in the morning when you really have to go, facing that with a mini-pouch of Kleenex in hand was not exactly what I expected. My recommendation? Go before you leave, every time, and you’ll be fine.
We arrived in New Delhi to a much bigger train station than the one we had left behind. With fifteen sets of tracks that we had to cross in an attempt to find our driver. After dodging more clicking camera phones, we were safely in the car and I was free to gape out the windows at the biggest city I had seen in India (excluding flying into Mumbai late at night which doesn’t really count). We got settled into our ‘hotel’ and by some luck managed to have two rooms with king beds (twins stuck together) and televisions. While the beds were little more than wood with a thin two inch thick mattress, it was rather spiffy. The first thing I discovered as Father Sajo and I shared bread and jam for breakfast was NDTV. Now I know of NDTV as Notre Dame Television. This NDTV was either New Delhi TV, National Delegating TV, or a hidden subset of Notre Dame that they keep quiet for unknown purposes. I have my suspicions.
Despite potential nefarious television schemes, we set off a few hours later for the site to beat all sites: the Taj Mahal. From the train station it was about 250 kilometers to the Crown Palace and I saw the craziest thing on the drive: quadrilingual signs! I wasn’t able to get a picture of an actual street sign because we were either driving too quickly or there was another car in the way but I did get a snap of this one. The languages go Hindi, English, ???, and Malayalam. Most signs were bilingual with Hindi and English but there were quite a few that were quadrilingual.

Once we reached the Taj Mahal it was all I could do to contain my excitement. We had to park about one and a half kilometers away and as soon as we stepped out of the car, we were accosted by vendors selling pamphlets, booklets, necklaces and more. We were pushed onto a bike cart faster that you could say ‘the Taj Mahal’ and were scootering our way towards the West Gate. The Taj Mahal is amazing. The Taj Mahal is gorgeous. The Taj Mahal is beautiful. The Taj Mahal is any adjective that describes beauty, amazement, or perfection. I let the tour guide in me speak before I leave you with the pictures that can speak for themselves. The Taj Mahal is over 150 feet tall and is mostly made of marble. The top thirty feet is actually bronze. It is actually a tomb for the Maharaja and his third wife and was made as a symbol of his love for her. The way it was built brings to mind my seventh grade field trip to the Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee as the Taj Mahal was built the same way: to look perfectly straight to the naked eye while in reality slanting. To climb the stairs to actually look inside the building required booties to cover your feet. They were remarkably similar to the foot covers used in operating rooms in the States. Once you got inside amid the press of the crowd you climbed a few more stairs to view the replicas of the two tombs. The actual tombs were ten meters below but because of vandalism or safety concerns (I couldn’t quite understand our guide) replicas were constructed.

Perhaps the most amazing facet of the Taj Mahal is that though it looks like it has designs painted on it, absolutely no paint was used in its or its gates’ construction. It is all white marble and gems inlaid into the surface of the marble. The jewels included onyx, lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, jasper and mother of pearl! Even though this is a blog and is supposed to be filled with my wonderfully melodramatic words, I can honestly say that I lack the writing ability to accurately depict the beauty of the Taj Mahal without the use of pictures.

The Royal/North Gate
Megan at the Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal from a Distance
Eastern Facade of the Taj Mahal

We also visited several other places along the way to the Taj Mahal including a Jai Guru Dev temple which was built to honor a man that followers believe to have become a god and a gorgeous set of archaeological monuments. The Jai Guru Dev temple was modeled on the Taj Mahal and the lighting around the center of the building was quite… flamboyant. The archaeological site was beautiful and extremely detailed. I took lots of pictures specifically for my architecture major friend but the most stunning monument was the tallest stone tower in India at about 130 feet tall with its alternating rounded and angled columns.

Last but definitely not least, we visited the Lotus Temple. The symmetry of the petals in addition to the shallow pools set below the structure to make it look like a flower sitting in water absolutely stunned me with its beauty. We had to remove our shoes before we climbed up onto the main platform but we were allowed inside the temple itself. I can only imagine the acoustics inside as it is only one giant room. The picture below is actually taken from rather far away if that is any help in deciphering the enormity of this temple.
The trip to New Delhi was absolutely amazing and I had the most fantastic time. I hope you have enjoyed my seemingly far-fetched but very fact-based tales. I will never forget my experiences in India nor the great people I had the luck to meet. Thank you all for keeping up with me and my fiercely delayed posts. Also, cheers for proper formatting! At last Blogger decided to cooperate with me! With a final flourish, tour guide Megan is gone and frantic packing-for-college Megan has returned. Until next time!

Mount Abu – Like the Monkey! (And More)

After thinking about Mount Abu I have a desperate need to watch all three Aladdin movies. Who could ever forget that rascal of a monkey who just had to grab the ruby and bring the entire cave down on his human friend? Little did I know, that Mount Abu was filled with monkeys of its own! Nota Bene: At the request of a few readers, I have added many more photos to this post. To prevent this page loading slowly, they are sized to be tiny however you can click on them to enlarge the picture!) 

Before we reached the marvelous monkeys, we visited what is called Meditation Hall — the largest pillar-free hall in Asia. It seats about twenty-five thousand people and is mostly used for religious ceremonies. 

We took a lot of fun pictures with several different poses outside of the hall. One spectacular one involves Fr. Simon however I’m pretty sure he would not appreciate it on the internet. So alas, I shall leave you wanting. The two gorgeous ladies with me are Sonia on the left and Anju on the right. 

From Meditation Hall we actually started up the mountain proper swerving around corners with only a horn blast to forewarn anyone coming from the opposite side. I will admit that I caved to my seatbelt while my fellow passengers laughed at my insecurity. At that point, I had not quite become comfortable with the Indian inclination to not wear a seatbelt — except in the cities. And then there were monkeys!

We kept driving around seeing the different sites on Mount Abu. The most spectacular was the Jainist temple Dilwara. We were not allowed to take any pictures but we got a small booklet of postcards that have the gorgeous images on them. The temple was constructed entirely out of marble — a specialty of this area of Rajasthan — and the details were exquisite! I wish I could share that beauty here but there are no words to describe how amazing it was. 

Next we visited the Gardens of Peace. The archway leading in bearing a startlingly similar symbol to the Nazi symbol (which I have now discovered is a Hindu symbol) we were led in by a preacher of sorts. I thought that Christians were the evangelists but boy I was wrong. This man attempted so fiercely to convert me to the mixture of Jainism and Hinduism represented at the gardens that Father almost got himself thrown out. It would have been easier to get away from his preaching if priests here wore the traditional white collar that we have come to know in America but unfortunately they do not. And thus it was until the sky started to drizzle that I was able to beg off. We stayed to take some pictures of the things they had stationed around the enclosure. Here is a picture that marks the entrace to the ‘children’s zone’ of the enclosure that is designed to entice small children.

After we visited the gardens, the rains truly came. When we think of rains in America, we think of maybe a few hours of rain that the windshield wipers can easily handle. Just a casual once a week kind of rain. Here, it is completely different. The rain came down so hard that we took to the car for safety. We arrived at a sister school to St. Anselm’s on Mount Abu to drop off the sister who had accompanied us and huddled inside there waiting for the downpour to lessen. It never did become less than a deluge but we eventually took our leave from the school. Areas that had been perfectly dry and barren as we ascended the mountain became waterfalls filled with dirty water cascading down the mountain. 
The weekend of the 15th of July amounted to our vacation to Jaipur. Sonia and Anju joined Fr. Soji, the other priest at St. Anselm’s at two in the morning as we departed on the six (realistically seven) hour drive. We slept most of the drive there and were exhausted when we finally arrive. We switched out drivers for one who knew the area and the highlights as well as to give our poor drive the chance to get some shut-eye. 

We set off through the crowded streets of Jaipur to our first stop: a gigantic marble temple. While I lack the proper memory to tell you its name, I will probably end up google-ing it and finding out. 

Next stop: Jaipur Zoo. There were many beautiful animals there including leopards and tigers. I personally found all the other native Indian tourists ogling at the crocodiles and alligators to be quite entertaining.  Outside the zoo:  He says ‘Peace’.

We then journeyed to the National History Museum situated in Jaipur. Anju and Sonia had a moment of joy right off the streets of New York as they ran into the fifty or so pigeons on the ground in front of the museum. They were unsure at first but after I scared a few pigeons off by stomping at them, they took to the idea very quickly with rather large smiles on their faces. 

Something that probably shouldn’t have surprised me was the price difference for natives versus foreigners. To get into the museum, Indian tourists had to pay a mere 20 Rupees, the equivalent to about $0.50. For me, on the other hand, we were charged R 150 the equivalent to about $3.50. While four dollars is not much in our eyes, it was a startling difference. (Don’t even get me started on the entrance fee to the Taj Mahal! R20 vs. R750! [$0.50 vs $18!]) Even so, the museum was very interesting and they even had their own mummy. I got several pictures but the lighting wasn’t wonderful so they did not turn out quite as well as I had hoped. 

Another rain started while we were in the museum and we were crowded around the covered pathways that formed a square around the courtyard. Very quickly, people were trying to take pictures of me. This is the less glorious side to being like a celebrity (a status brought about by nothing other than my blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes), the constant photographs. Finally, I gently took one girls phone from her handed it to her mother and smiled next to her. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate taking photographs by myself? The next notable person who wanted a photo was a father with his barely toddler age son sitting on his shoulders. Practically throwing his child at me, he took a picture and showed it to me afterwards. I think that little boy is going to be made fun of for the picture of him screaming for his father, arms extended towards the camera, with an apologetic looking American holding him. The second to last spot (but most important) we visited was an old fort and palace of the Maharaja. 

The palace turned fort or fort turned palace (I couldn’t quite catch all the words from our guide) served the hidden castle buff in me quite well. After a few well placed questions regarding scructures around the place, the security guard seemed to like me and my interest enough that he gave us a private (free!) tour of the entire locale. From real life murder-holes (holes made in the wall to allow you to get your target without him being able to see you: see picture) to a royal garden that had been walked by the Maharaja (prince) himself the palace was beautiful. I knew all that knowledge about castles and forts would come in handy someday. (I salute you, Tamora Pierce!)

Last, but not least: the greatest news of this entire post. I, Megan Christine Schlitt, had the undeniable pleasure of riding a camel. The trip to some beautiful refurbished Hindu gardens that concluded our Jaipur trip paled in comparison to the fact that I rode a real life, honest to God camel.  And with that, I’ll close this extra long post with a victorious picture of me mounted on the aforementioned camel.

The Busiest Sunday You Ever Did See

Since I have arrived, Sundays have been set aside for sightseeing. The first week I was here, we took a short trip to neighboring state Gujarat to see two Hindu temples. The first temple we visited was called Ambaji.

 Two other women also accompanied us: Sonia, a teacher and Anju, who works in administration. Father Simon dropped us off a block (if you could call it such a thing) down from the temple while he went to go park. It was here I discovered the less glamorous side to being a ‘celebrity’ or ‘popstar’ or just being different. Everyone stared. I watched heads turn to follow us as we walked down the narrow walkway through the impromptu market. We had to turn our shoes in before we could go into the temple and then when we tried to go in, the security personnel (see: men and women in army uniforms = frightening) made us go back and turn in our purses. We shoved all of our phones into one bag because I was allowed to keep my small shoulder bag. Our tags that marked the cubby where I stuff was were placed hastily into my purse as the press of the crowd shoved us towards the temple. 

There was a rush because the temple was closing in a mere twenty minutes. Father Simon had gotten a worker to show us around and make sure we got to see everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if he used me as an excuse for special treatment. Finally the bags were all checked, my purse was looked through by the security guard and the metal detector had examined us as we passed underneath it. Little did we know when we stepped out from under the covered walkway that the marble ground would burn our feet so fiercely! It was helpful in the end because it made us cross the temple grounds much faster in an attempt to get to the shade on the opposite side of the temple with the greatest speed possible. 
The guard took us right into the temple itself instead of through the metal guardrails that were designated for the rest of the temple visitors. We went right up to the statue (altar?) and received tilaka (the red dot some Indian women wear) and oil. It was very beautiful and I admire all of the detailing that went into constructing the marble temple.
After Ambaji, we went to the temple at Pavagadh which we had to ride in a lift to get to. Think an enclosed ski lift, or better yet, one of the ferris wheel cars on the ropeway that takes you to the top of the mountain. We took several pictures; the girls and Father were very amused at my insistence on not looking down and they enjoyed immortalizing  my distaste on camera. I’ll snag those pictures soon and get them up here in some form or another. We didn’t actually go into the temple at Pavagadh, merely rode up the lift. It was a much smaller temple and consisted of one open air room with the focal point in a niche on one side. 
Our last stop that first Sunday was a marble quarry. I deemed it ‘Marble Canyon.’  The pictures don’t quite grasp the vastness of the quarry. The first picture is about 500 feet above the base of the quarry. The second picture shows a much shallower part of the quarry.

More coming soon on Mount Abu and the trip to Jaipur!

Swing to the Rhythm of Life

With the Plain White T’s on the mind, I’ve settled into a good rhythm here. I wake up at 6am, get ready for the day, eat breakfast at 6:45am then skype a few people until 8/8:15am. I head to school, teach two classes, have a break for the students’ lunch, drink some tea, teach two more classes, and shake hands with all the children as they leave at the end of the day. Once that is done I happily retire momentarily to the principal’s office where I sit under the fan and try to regain normal body temperature. Then we drive back to the church, have our own lunch and then I work on my materials for the next day. I am definitely a routine-enthusiast. I feel so much more in control now that I have a schedule established and I know what I need to do and when I need to do it. Now that I have my schedule, it is time to shake things up a little bit! As to how I’m going to do that, you’ll just have to wait and see!

I have found my third culture shock (numbers one and two being the use (or lack thereof) of the left hand and the scarcity of male teachers, respectively). In India, you eat with your hands. Now, you would think that it would be fun to regress back to our toddler days where we got to move food around our plates with our fingers. However, I can tell you that it is extremely strange to mix rice with sauce on my plate with my right hand. It is weird because as soon as we reach a certain age in America, we are instructed not to eat with our hands and scolded if we do. I don’t know if I am more uncomfortable because of that or because were I to eat with my hands at home, I would use my left hand. Now, not only are my fellows making kind fun at me for having difficulty with the concept of eating with my hands, but I am having to do so without my dominant hand! We were joking around at the table saying that after a month I will be a master at eating with my hands. Then, when I return to America, I will reach for my food with  my hands and earn strange looks from my wonderful parents. I eagerly await that moment!

Father Simon has promised to show me how to cook some southern Indian food and I am going to teach him how to make Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. Yes, I know. American tradition, right? I do have the instructions and ingredients memorized without looking at the box….mostly. My family and friends at home are being kind enough to send me a care package and I have the exclusive information that it will contain not three, not five, but TEN boxes of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese! You have no idea how excited I am.

While I am here, I am learning more and more about India each and every day. First of all, I learned that if your door is open, bugs will accompany you into your room. If the door is closed, don’t scream when you see the tiny lizard on the inside of the window in the morning. They like to sneak through the cracks under the door. Let’s just say that was an interesting morning that may or may not have been split by a screech in the wee hours of the day.

A few days back, about ten monkeys showed up at the church! They were on their way through to some other trees but we had food to offer them. What monkey could turn down perfectly delicious japati? It seems the monkeys really enjoyed the food because they stayed around long enough to eat everything we had prepared. I got some great shots of them and a spectacular video. There were even several babies with them that looked so adorable clinging to the bellies of their mothers!

 I’ve been thinking of new things to teach my students every day. The tongue twisters lecture has been a great success and if I get to visit the classes I haven’t been to yet, I can continue to use it. Although, there are a few classes that I have used all of my backup lectures on so I need to keep thinking of more! I am having an absolute blast here and had an amazing trip to Mount Abu on Sunday.

As far as my rhythm goes, I feel more at home here now and am comfortable enough to start stepping outside of my box and to start doing more exciting things. Yay for India!

This Post is Hot Hot Hot

Temperatures have skyrocketed here just as the crazy American girl arrived. For decorum, I wear long pants to school so not only is it stifling and muggy (similar to Memphis) but I am also in full dress! I will never take advantage of the fact we have A/C in America ever again! Fans are also the saviors of my sanity. Even the locals are a little surprised that the rains haven’t come yet so I know it isn’t all in my head.

I have finally found my favorite class. (Though don’t tell any of the students, they will be wildly jealous!) My 5th grade B class is the very first class I ever had and they are the ones I am most familiar with. It seems classroom standards are met universally: there is the teacher’s pet, the troublemaker, the person who tries to stop the troublemakers and gets in trouble, the ‘Hermione Granger’ of the class (not that that is a bad thing), and even the person who sleeps. Even so, they are my most productive class because I have seen them almost every class day since I got here. They are also pretty darn cute!
I finally gave my first real lecture this morning since it is the Fourth of July. I find that it is a lot easier to teach when you have material you are comfortable with! Here’s a salute to Dr. Leung who taught me so much about U.S. History. It is really coming in handy now! I’ll give my lecture on the American revolution to the older classes over the next few days and my lecture on the flag to the younger ones. 
I had to punish my students for the first time (they were in 5th B too!). Two were playing what looked like a different version of Rock, Paper, Scissors during class. I made them stand in the front of the room facing the wall for a few minutes. The class was much more behaved after that since they realized I actually could, and would punish them. As a little secret between me and you, I am so guilt ridden and I hope I never have to do it again! I don’t think I am cut out to be a teacher if I have to punish them!
The weather isn’t the only thing that was hot yesterday. Fr. Simon was kind enough to go and buy fireworks for me to light off! It turns out the safety regulations on fireworks in the US don’t apply here and we had a few close calls. It was so awesome! I will admit that the pyromaniac in me definitely had her fun last night. We had a big cylinder one which shot fireworks about 30 feet up (I have it on video), cones that were like lighting super powered birthday candles with shooting flames, and these little wheels that you lit one end and it spun in fast circles spraying sparks everywhere! Those little wheels were the most dangerous because when we were lighting other things all of a sudden they would burst into flame on the ground! I was well covered in ash after that adventure. 

Who would have thought I would get to celebrate the Fourth of July in the middle of India? Woohoo! 

Life Sans Internet

Note to readers: This is less about India and more about transitioning. It is less of an update and more a self-reflection.

The past few days have been busy! I was rather sick after the Sirohi trip but sleeping almost the whole afternoon after school the next day really helped. The fact that the power (and my A/C) and the water pipes went out that morning didn’t help any. I guess I should know better than to set my room to cold when I know it isn’t helping me adjust especially since I have the only A/C in the entire building. A girl’s got to have the little things, doesn’t she? The lack of cool air coupled with my inability to shower really frustrated my day. On the bright side, that was the first day where we finally got Skype to work and I got to see my mother. Even though it was only fifteen minutes before the internet shut down, it was a welcome fifteen minutes; it was also remarkably cheaper (i.e. Free) than the $0.50 each text messages. Phone companies can be annoying, can’t they? 
I never realized how much I depended on the internet to be there for me. With everything being done online through social media sites, email, shopping, and leisure websites there are few things left to do. (Mind you, I was not cognizant before the advent of the internet so I’ve never had to live without it.) It seems like everything I go to do in my downtime involves the internet! I can go learn new songs for guitar – nope, chords are on the internet. Oh! I can go write on facebook – nope, that needs internet. Well…I can’t go on dearblankpleaseblank, or givesmehope to waste time. Nor can I use stumbleupon. I can’t Skype my friends or family. What is there for me to do?
I find that I am writing. Whether it be this blog, a novel that I started but never finished, or a meager (and I mean meager) attempt at songwriting, I am just going at it. All I can think of to do is to write. I have many books with me (three print books with the rest on my kindle) but only three are new books and the others, while all good, can’t hold my attention. The kindle’s whispernet doesn’t quite reach out here, despite what Amazon would claim, so I have no new books from that avenue. (Edit: I was able to purchase four new books when I was at school and download them to my Mac there.) 

Here is a picture of a small class singing at the prayer service that started the school year.
I guess this is more of a ‘rant’ post than an update on India. Don’t get me wrong, I am really happy to be here and am enjoying it a lot; it is very eye opening yet there are things at home that I particularly miss. That is to say, the first thing I am doing when I get back to the US is to take an extremely hot (<– very important since there is no heated water here) shower and sink into a big bathtub filled with bath salts and bubbles with a big bowl of Macaroni and Cheese in my hands. You have been warned. 
Have a happy Fourth of July and light off a few fireworks for me! I will be wearing as much red, white, and blue clothing that I am physically capable of!