March 23, 2010

Fantastic Finale: 24 hours in Egypt

My flight from Mumbai to NY gave me a night layover in Cairo. Bonus! After failed attempts at navigating the bus system, I surrendered and hailed a cab to take me to the pyramids of Giza. Since it was my last day out in the world, I abandoned my usual budget-minded tactics (when else would I have a chance to see the pyramids?). I only arrived 30 minutes prior to closing and fought swarms of people to get next to the Sphinx. The other pyramids I had to admire from a distance.

I tasted a local specialty, kusherie- it's a mixture of rice, lentils, macaroni pasta, fried onions, garbanzo beans and tomato sauce. MMMMM!

I walked around the city a little and really enjoyed riding through the streets and seeing the tops of minarets and beautiful mosques jutting above the fog (or smog?).

Back at JFK, I returned full circle to the airport Brian and I departed from on our way to Spain one year ago! Post-travel reflections to follow.

If you missed a bizarre meditation laser-light show experience during my final days in India, click HERE.

March 16, 2010

Raj Yoga, a laser light show and the highest peak of Rajasthan

All I knew about Brahma Kumaris before I arrived in Mt. Abu was that the meditation is done with open eyes. On our first day in Mt. Abu, we wandered into the BK museum (free) and gaped at the gaudy displays explaining human vices, the four ages of existence on earth and the problems facing the world today. Quite frankly, a lot of it didn't make sense. Before we left, we stopped in for the laser show. It consisted of 1) random photos illuminated at various points of an audio presentation, 2) a guided meditation with red laser beams to focus on and 3) a 5-second cameo by a disco ball. We were ushered out quickly and had to stifle laughs as we put our shoes back on. Directly afterward, we walked by the tourist hot-spot Nakki Lake, and up a hill towards one of 4 BK centers in the Mt. Abu area. We ran into Brian's friend, Pierro, who hosted Brian in Italy for a helpx project. He escorted us onto the BK campus, where everyone was dressed in white, head-to-toe. There, we met with our teacher, a native Indian who resides in New Zealand. He wasted no time and started our first lesson in BK ideology and Raj yoga meditation- right there in the reception office! We ended the hour with a brief open-eye meditation, where we focused our eyes on an animated picture of a red oval with a tiny white light in the center (representing the soul). We later became quite accustomed to this portrayal of the soul, and also to flashy animated illustrations of BK ideology.

The next day, we met our teacher and boarded a bus to the BK Peace Park, amazingly lush for dry Rajasthan. We met other BK followers (aka "brothers and sisters"), and they took care of us for the afternoon. We watched a surreal video where each of the five elements had an eery narrated voice. Scattered through the park were beautiful gardens, statues fit for theme parks and signs of spiritual inspiration. When we arrived at the picnic site, I felt like we had walked into recreation time at a psych hospital keen on happy meds. Everyone except us was clad in white. Neat rows of pairs played badminton without a net, donning giddy smiles. Under colorful umbrellas, masses of people in white looked on at games. We were fed lunch at no cost and looked on amused at all the Westerners dancing to Indian music. We learned that there are BK followers in a whopping 130 countries. Many followers make an annual pilgrimage to Mt. Abu, the original site for the founder and his first followers. Interesting conversations and hot chai kept us engaged until we boarded the bus back to town. We both were struck by the loving vibes flowing from the BK "family." It felt good to be around such positive energy, however cynical I might have been feeling.

Later that evening, we attended meditation at the tower of peace, a small statue with the same red oval and white light representing god and the soul. We joined Pierro for dinner in the dining hall- the kitchen is capable of producing thousands of free meals a day. We met lots of loving people- even a woman who owns a shop in Portland, two blocks from where we used to live.

The next morning, our lesson started at 9am. We sat in the Spiritual University and listened to a guided meditation tape that, for me, invoked the feeling of certain scenes from the movie the Blade Runner. Our teacher showed us more animated diagrams to illustrate the BK ideology. I couldn't get down with it. We ended with more relaxing meditation. We had chai with our teacher before sitting for another meditation in the founder's former bedroom.

We continued our lessons and toured the large-scale BK hospital, the only hospital in the Mt. Abu area. A nice doctor gave us a spiritual "prescription" for daily life and told us that the facility provides medical services to local residents at little to no cost. Next, we went to another BK campus, much larger than where we were taking lessons. There, they ushered us around to videos, another laser show and an art gallery with large paintings representing the different ages of human life on earth. I was struck by all the money, thought and preparation put into the exhibits and campuses. We were able to eat several meals, travel between BK sites and learn meditation for free. The organization depends solely on private donations.

On my last day in Mt. Abu, we took the public bus tour of the area, covering 6 or 7 major tourist attractions. The most amazing was the Jain Dilwara temples, dating back to the 11th century. Unlike many temples of that time, this one survived due to it's modest outer appearance. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed, but here's some from Wiki:
The interior was stunning. Almost every inch of the marble interior was intricately carved, with sculptures hanging from the ceilings. Inside one of the temples, men and women squatted on the floor designing brightly colored rice into magnificent patterns. We also climbed to the top of the highest peak in Rajasthan:

I left Mt. Abu on a night train to Mumbai and encountered a prisoner chained to a guard and a loud yelling match in the over-crowded car. Ah, India.

To spend 8 seconds with me on a bus in India, click HERE.

March 15, 2010

8 seconds on a bus in India

Join us for a short sample of a bumpy bus ride! Sometimes we get airborn, somehow Brian manages to read, for some reason I LOVE riding buses in India (bumps and all!). These bumpy rides lasted anywhere from 4 to 14 hours.

If you missed the colors of Holi festival, click HERE.