boat rides, boats, Case Western Reserve University, caves, Chitrakoot, cows, Deendayal Research Institute, demons, DRI, Govansh, Gurukul Sankul, Hanuman Dhara, holy site, holy water, India, legends, museums, Nanhiduniya, poverty, Ramdarshan, religion, research, river, rural villages, Siyaram Kutir, solar energy, solo, student, travel
Our picture in the newspaper.
I thought I would sleep better on a nice bed and in air conditioning, but it wasn’t the case. The temperature kept changing, for one, and then the power would cut out periodically as it will. If I weren’t such a light sleeper, it wouldn’t be a problem. My room mate was able to sleep through the cut outs; however, I woke up to them and had trouble falling back asleep. Nonetheless, I woke up and went to the 6AM yoga session.
The yoga wasn’t what I was used to, partly because it was already so hot. We did less intensive poses, mostly just focused on stretching, breathing, and getting limber. We chanted a lot, too, like “Om” and phrases in Hindi. After yoga, I went back for a short nap until breakfast. We had breakfast in the professors’ kitchen, as always, and continued afterwards in our caravan of white cars to go see Hanuman Dhara.
This site is actually a spring located in a cave inside a hill and is considered sacred. I thought it would be more of a hike. Instead, there were stairs leading to it, a room for our shoes and bags, and beggars at the top and inside trying to give bindis for money. We went through the first part of the cave and were disappointed by how manmade the walkways, railings, and lighting were. Inside, we saw numerous bats clinging to the ceiling, unafraid. We passed through some places were we had to duck and descended into some areas where we could view holy figurines and stands with burning incense and money collections. There were two points to the spring which were being guarded. At the first, our professor took three cups of water and threw it over our heads. I then joined a couple students in stepping into the spring, dipping my hand in, and placing the holy water on my head. We were also shown a room with a stalactite that rattles and is supposedly the frozen figure of a demon.
The second part of the cave required us to exit the first and climb down some steps past another beggar. This time, we had to roll up our pants (and us girls couldn’t wear shorts because they were too short if they came above our knees for us to wear in public). I wore Gauchos that I could easily roll. In our bare feet, we carefully stepped into the murky water and made our way with a line of people to the back of the cave. At one point, as we reached the end, the passageway became almost too narrow for two people to pass. The bottom under our feet became very jagged and I had to grip it with my toes so as not to slip. A few girls in front became claustrophobic and panicked for us to turn around, but I insisted on passing them with a few others. We made it to the back room where there was a stone pillar and a circular walkway around it. We went clockwise around this walkway. At the back of the circle was a man with a small shrine. We didn’t give him any money, but he still did his ceremony: he picked up some rupees and threw them towards a figure on the wall, then he dipped his finger in red paint, pressed it to my forehead, asked my name, then slapped the wall with the rest of the paint after I spoke.
When we finally left the cave area, we passed through the shops leading up to it and back out through the scattered huts to our next site. As usual, we had to dodge auto-rickshaws, cows, people, and potholes as we wove our way back towards our next stop. The surroundings were very barren with mountains visible through the haze in the background. The huts were stacked bricks with stick frames supported a straw cover and handmade clay shingles. Most huts had a stack of dried cow patties to be used as fuel for cooking.
GURUKUL SANKUL, NANHIDUNIYA
This visit was short: an educational project designed by our tour guide that allows children to walk and play on the inside. There were large life-sized sculptures of wild Indian animals, like bears and tigers and elephants. It reminded a little of the creepy, abandoned Grimm’s scene in the movie Hanna… but it’s a great place for kids to come and “say how they feel and realize the animals have a lot of the same feelings that we do,” as my professor explained.
There was a small cave-like walk-through and even a room with an enormous topographic map of India and the areas around it.
The next stop was a museum. We could only take pictures from the top of the inside steps, then we had to leave our cameras in a room. We walked through and learned the story of Ram and some historical figures in India. The museum was very pretty, with large paintings, life-size models in 3-D scenes, and even some hangings made of clay depicting scenes. My one Indian professor said he wished he could have photographed every quote and subtitle because he thought the lessons were beautiful. That’s what I’ve learned here so far: In India (and Asia in many cases), traditional morals of respect, family, and selflessness are so deep-rooted and everything centers around educating these points and building from the branches out. We walked through the whole museum before taking some cold basil drinks in the room with our cameras and packing up for lunch on campus. After lunch, we took a short nap before meeting and heading out again.
This site was in fact a cow research center. Our first stop was to see some medicinal herbs being pulverized, tumbled, etc. into packaged products for use. They made us wear booties on our feet and caps on our heads, but there weren’t enough to go around. We entered anyway, rendering the ones that were already distributed as somewhat useless. At the end of touring this particular building, we were shown the final products. A lot of people bought jars of aloe vera gel, honey, etc. all made at the site. Then we left the building and walked down the road where we were greeted by some people and two small children. The children presented us with bindis. We had to stoop down to let them do it. They used their right ring fingers, allowing them to connect to god in some way. Once inside this center, we walked past a long pavilion filled with cattle. There was Indian music playing which we were told helps keep the cattle happy. The particularly rowdy cattle were pierced through the septum so that a control rope could be threaded across the face and through the nose. The cattle was tied up tightly but allowed to roam every morning.
A professor holding a bottle of the urine.
We were given molasses cubes to feed the cows, feeding them with flat palms as if they were horses. Some monkeys including a small baby were swinging through the rafters. They watched us until one jumped down at a student, barring its teeth and screaming at her. The monkey was quickly chased off. Next we were shown where the manure is laid out to make compost in less than two months. I was too busy watching my back from these monkeys who took to trying to eat sawdust from a machine. They kept getting in trouble for going into the barn. As we gathered where they could watch from the roofs, we were told again how the center finds ways to use every bit of the cow, including its milk, cheese, cow patty fuel, urine for medicine, etc….. Several products (for sale) were presented. One of these was a bottle of medicine made from cows urine. Many of us, including myself, took a “shot” of it. I think it didn’t taste much like what it was if you didn’t think about it. Mostly, to me, it tastes like smoke. Almond milk was offered and we soon made our way to the next location.
When we got out of our vans, we were surrounded by children with trays of dishes with burning candles and flower petals. We were instructed to ignore them. Pushing past the shoving children, we organized into three groups and descending some steps towards the river in front of us. There, we boarded one-by-one and alternating sides onto small boats with a roof made of arched branches, decorated with leis, and a seat for the oar master up front. We cautiously distributed our weights and leaned against the pillows behind us to begin our voyage. We didn’t go very far downstream, but it was slow and we could take in all of the people bathing, the debris in the water, and the festivities occurring on the streets above. We passed an area where the water was dredged away from some repairs on the staircase. Machines pumped water in sprays around the area and we were threatened to get soaked. Soon, our boats pulled to the side of the street and we got out.
On shore, we were confronted by a man dragging himself on the ground with an outstretched hand. More children attacked us with trays. We shoved past them and up steps that smelled like urine until we reached the dusty road above. We scanned the shops along the waterfront for about 15 minutes before night began to fall and we were called back. Suddenly, the children were shoving candles in our hands and disappearing. We learned that some teachers had bought a candle for each of us, for the upcoming ceremony. We all took our candles to the water and placed the bowls in, pushing them out. There was a sea of two dozen glowing bowls before us. We were urged to come back up the steps and waited there for a moment, ignoring the children and the man who had managed to follow us. Before long, we were put back on the boats where we idled in the water, watching a ceremony involving a large tree-like holder of dozens of candles burning in the night air.
People rushed around it and followed it as a elderly man carried it back and forth. There were drums and music, then we drifted away to a point much farther downstream than from whence we had come.
Next we went to a building along the river with some beautiful lights and large, cool rooms inside. The building we visited hosted people of DRI who work on projects such as solar lighting in rural communities. It was late at this point and many of us were falling asleep despite the (per us ual) excellent hospitality and snacks with drinks. Afterwards, we were given a choice of returning to campus or seeing a cultural event similar to what we had seen the night before (and with the same children). For once, I decided sleep was a better option, especially because we had to pack so we could leave Chitrakoot in the morning after breakfast. I went back, ate dinner, hand washed some clothes, and went to bed, skipping yoga in the morning to assure that I would feel good the next day.