Saturday, May 13, 2006


Thanks only: Derek's first few days in India...

Derek's India entry #1:

Arriving, like the seemingly endless process of preparing, has taken a while, but the shift into being in India has taken no time at all. It feels right and good to be here again, to fool around with the kids, the joke with the swirl of people trying to earn a few rupees from me, to laugh from the sidelines with Wes at the absurdity of it all. One could regard the touts and the beggars and the idle curious children as pests interfering with one's experience of India, as so many obstacles to seeing the country itself. Or one can see them as the real fabric of the experience, the foreground enlivening the pulsing landscape. Every bit of it seems required and therefore a delight.

At the same time, the contrasts all around can ache and sting. Two days ago, we went to a currency exchange place to get rupees to pay for the bulk of our hotels and transportation. The stack of bills, many thousands of dollars worth, was nearly a foot tall. When we left there in an auto rickshaw, I was holding a bacg of money with well over a hundred thousand rupees. As we sat in traffic, a thin and spindly heron-like waif approached to beg for a single coin. Yet traffic zoomed away before I could wrestle one from my pocket.

The same day, we wandered the side alleys of Pahar Ganj in search of a zipper and a strong sewing machine to repair my trusty daypack's upper pouch. After being referred from here to there, we found an efficient Sikh material merchant with busy and precise hands. He sat cross-legged in his cramped quarters -- no more than 6 feet across, 6 feet deep, and 5 feet high -- nimbly reaching for bolts of material, spools of trim, and coils of colorful sparkling accompaniments, measuring each length with precise and uniform gestures. He was still executing one order with his hands as he interviewed the next customer to ascertain their precise needs. When my turn arrived, I handed him the backpack and explained that I needed a new zipper. He reached for a small anvil and swiftly delivered 3 efficient hammer blows, and ran the zipper back and forth several times. Amazed by his fix, I smiled and asked him to name his price. "No money," he replied, "Thanks only." I shook his hand and paid my debt.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Everyone loves a good map...

India is a mere three days away for our group from East Carolina University. Pretty much everyone we've talked to wants to know where we'll be going. They want specifics: The names of the towns, where they are in relation to each other, stuff like that.

So in response to popular demand, to the right is a map of the key destinations in India. Our plan is to fly in to Delhi, then go south to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is). We'll then make our way to Varanasi. To find Varansai: Locate the Ganges River from Delhi and trace it west to Varanasi. From there, we'll visit Patna and Bodh Gaya. For the second half of our trip, we'll visit McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala). To find McLeod Ganj, locate Delhi and look just north of Chanigargh and Simla. McLeod Ganj is near there. Wish us luck on our travels; we'll be taking planes, trains, Jeeps, buses, and the occasional motor rickshaw. More to report later!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


In case you want to go... next year!

A link has been added for those who are interested in joining Derek on the May 2007 excursion to India. This link will bring you a web site with basic details, a few photos, and an overview of the trip.

At right, Bob is one of 17 students heading for India Monday!

Monday, May 08, 2006


Dreaming of Delhi... One more week!

I have a friend at ECU who works across the street from me. Apparently she has “Erica leaves for India” marked on her calendar. It was she who reminded me May 1 that India was 15 days away. It was she who called a few days later (well, five) and said: “Wow! Ten Days! Are you packed?”

It was she who so lovingly recorded for me Jeremy Priven’s two-part Travel Channel tour through India. I have my suspicions regarding her enthusiasm, however. It would not surprise me if I saw her on the 14-hour flight to Indira Gandhi International Airport or if she was spotted in an auto rickshaw in Connaught Circle or scaling the walls of the Red Fort. Truth be told, she has been somewhat of a cheerleader for my trip. A few months ago, I didn’t think I could get more excited about leaving for India. But I am. The countdown is here!

It will be a week from today that our little group from East Carolina University leaves for India. I am beyond thrilled at the prospect, and yes, I am all but packed. I need to pick up a watch battery at lunch, grab House of Mirth by Edith Wharton downtown at Parker Kenneybrook booksellers in Greenville. Oh Yes. I must also send out a gaggle of news releases and photos of the students who will no doubt become good friends by the end of this 32-day journey. I have added a few stock photos of the sites we'll visit. In descending order, after our group photo, we have: the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, the Red Fort in Delhi and the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya.

Speaking of the students… they are all fabulous. There are 15 in all, plus Derek (the director of our program) and me.

Each student is so different, as far as abilities and talents and insights. Josh and Nathan plan to study music, such as sacred chant and musical philosophy. J.T., a theater major, will study traditional Tibetan theater. Lynda graduated from ECU this month and will enter the Brody School of Medicine in the fall. She and Nabeel, a biology major with plans to attend medical school, plan to research eastern and traditional Indian medicine with the hope of informing their studies.

Wes, Forrest and Bret plan to study the history and politics of Tibet. Wes, who will stay on longer than the 32-day trip, will also have an opportunity to conduct research at the National Archives in Delhi. Danielle (who enjoys archery) and Ashley (who plans to work in foreign service) are producing a film on women’s issues. Jamie, who plans to become a math teacher, will look at education in India. James (a black belt in Karate) and Geoff (a master swimmer and budding physicist) plan to deepen their understanding of meditation practice and eastern religion.

Two students are non-traditional. Bob is a professor of metals/jewelry at ECU’s School of Art. Aleta, who is married to Bob, is a Greenville reflexologist and artist who hails from Colorado. Aleta would like to further her meditation practice and possibly look into traditional arts practices, including paper making, fabric design or Thangka painting.

Derek, our guide and all-around Man in Charge, is a religious studies professor at East Carolina University. He teaches courses in Buddhism and Islam. He has lived and studied in India for two years, but this is his first attempt to conduct a study abroad program.

With thanks to Thomas Bland of Raleigh and Scott Wells of ECU, I am joining this group as a writer. My plan is to capture and record the essence of this experience for ECU and the communities in which these students live. I have traveled and studied in Nepal and India and hope my past knowledge of the region will come in handy.

Listen for us on Public Radio East (88.1 FM) from time to time. I’ve managed to figure out how to take audio recordings and will air a few Travel Diaries from the road.

Accounts of our adventures will also appear in the Daily Reflector in Greenville; the Wake Weekly; the Cary News; the Holly Springs Gazette; the Pamlico News; the Elizabeth City Advance; the Rocky Mount Telegram; the News Argus in Goldsboro; the Garner News; and the Carteret County News-Times. Send us links, if you see them online! And don’t forget to post your comments and observations!

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