Endia

I left India in an intense rage, and I couldn’t have imagined it any differently.

After a 13 hour bus-ride down from the Himalayan town Dharamshala starting at 7 am I made it to Delhi to await my 6am flight in the airport.

Though sleep was desperately being asked for that night, it was not received on the hard floor of the crowded, blaringly hot New Delhi airport. Eventually 6 am rolled around and I groggily hefted my pack onto the ported plane. My flight left just as the sun was rising on the hazy Indian skyline.

DSCN1015

To Chennai!

Definitely not my favorite city in India – the last time I was there I was chased around the bus station at midnight by a group of teenagers trying to force me to take innumerable selfies with them. And it’s gotta be the hottest place in the world. I can’t properly say it’s the worst, however, because I didn’t catch Kolkata – where faulty infrastructure regularly results in metro overheads becoming metro onto-yer-heads.

But despite even my best efforts not to I had a very awesome, sleep deprived, caffeine loaded day exploring the Capital of Dosa (big gravy and potato filled pancakes)

DSCN1089
Chennai buddy Mano in his tailoring shop

Disclaimer: Dosas were harmed in the making of this day

My last day in India was filled with sentimental goodbyes to the small things that had charmed me along the way. With melancholy I said farewell to the Shiva temples on every block corner and the consequential Ganesha temples across the street.

DSCN1100

I purged every part of myself on the senses given by the birthplace of spirituality. Her crooked sidewalk under my feet, her blistering air on my skin, her kaleidoscope colors like desirous dreams in my eyes, her smells of incense and human depravity, her tastes of nature, spice, and soul. India was as fresh in my mind as it had been every day for the past 6 months.

6 WHOLE MONTHS! Half a year! 1/38th of my entire lifespan had taken place here. And this was the end.

India had held some incredible adventures for me – climbing Delhi temple ruins like a monkey, scouring the crowd-packed markets, sharing the train berth with 12 strangers, biking recklessly through the Ghats, sneaking stealthy past wild elephants, leading an enterprise to investment, becoming an expert traveler/friend maker, becoming strong within and feeling my strength without.

India held some incredible lessons for me as well – I learned many hard truths about life on earth. I saw many things I won’t forget if my eyes see another thousand years. Things that make the circumstances of my own birth seem nearly sarcastic in contrast to others – my privilege would stare me in the face with a grimace every single day, sourly spitting the contempt, “Why are you so special?” over and over. Things that told the true trivial nature of the things all humans make important in our lives – revealing to me that we can only find meaning through celebrating the people that care for us for the stupid, gross, fantastic, goofy people they are.

I thought about the last incredible week I’d had in the birthplace of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, the Hindu yogis of legend – the Himalayan mountain range. It could be called the greatest of God’s creation – and I would agree wholeheartedly, and wholestomachedly – because Tibetan food is the cat’s pajamas.

Oh – so are the masterpieces of the universe. Here’s a pic of me enjoying both!

13076872_810150772424948_2329692471470303075_n

(Speaking of Tibet I’d like call your attention to the terrible injustices that the Tibetan people face under the tyrannical rule of the Chinese government. Take a moment to check out this link: www.freetibet.org. China keeps their terrible doings under wraps by limiting the speech of the people – the more people that know about it the better!

Now back to the story!)

DSCN1322

On a bizarre collision course of fate I met up with a fellow Gap Fellow (the best people in the world) there in the Himalayas (the best place in the world.) Leah and I hiked, camped, marveled, depolluted, and motored ourselves through the white giants, belligerent on the will of becoming and constantly in awe of what we could mold from reality.

13119096_810150079091684_2990165836833759677_n13095971_810150139091678_2607767219547900992_n13119045_810150559091636_2188247060653544813_n13094427_810150712424954_7595221173671077085_n13102673_810150392424986_5741878771863289625_n

We were, in every sense, on top of the world.

Suddenly I lurched from my flashback to find myself drooling into a cup of hot chai on the hottest day in the hottest city, sweating furiously. I was dreaming about the cold I had just left up in Himachal Pradesh, delirious from a lack of sleep.

I looked up from my warm predicament to see my best friend, Koushik, come to see my off to my next gap year leg.

DSCN1289

At the same instant my heart swelled with affection and terrible remorse. How could I leave my bud after everything he’d done for me? How could I leave SustainEarth after we’d accomplished so much?

DSCN1272

I was leaving at the very beginning! Being forced to sell my shares.

I was being Zuckerburged by destiny.

Koushik took me to the airport as I tried to decide if I wanted to sleep or weep.

Good byes do not get easier, friend.

“Bye, buddy,” Koushik said as we stood in front of the airport gate as ritual demands.

“Shut up,” I said – not wanting what was happening to be happening. There was a pause.

“Hey, cheer up, man – you’re going on another great adventure. You’re the luckiest guy I know and deservedly so, enjoy this! I’ll see you again in a year or two, I know it!” said Koushik.

“Yeah, I’m just sad that I won’t be a part of SustainEarth when it becomes a billion dollar success. Put aside a million for me, yeah?” I shot with a little grin.

Koushik tugged my shoulders in a fraternal embrace, “You’ll always be a part of SustainEarth, dude – India welcomes you anytime.”

13100709_10209144484120086_7559154548532821434_n

“See ya soon,” I murmured as I turned away and walked into the airport as quickly as I could flee the scene with my huge pack in the state I was in.

With an hour left before my international flight I was greeted at the check in counter with a smooth, “You need proof of onward travel to enter Thailand,” which I definitely did not have at the moment. So I bent over, bit my finger, and prepared to be screwed one last time before I left India.

It was only appropriate.

I ended up having to buy a very expensive plane ticket from an obscure Lebanese travel agency located in a makeshift – blue tarp hut just outside of the airport grounds, that I had no use for whatsoever and was unable to cancel or refund.

Hence my fit of rage.

For all of a moment all of my emotions were numbing my spongy, depleted mind and I was experiencing a tangible depression that I could almost look in the face.

I felt like spit getting on the plane.

But if India taught me a single thing, it’s that adversity is not the equal of failure. It’s not a very good reason to be upset ,either, actually nothing that comes to mind quite is.

So before I let myself fall into a corpse-like state of rest high above the Bengali Bay, I celebrated my time in India – the solitude, the alienation, the praise, the grand, and the glory of loving those who were around to love – and paid homage to what I’d learned by practicing my stride that could take anything.

DSCN1163

As you do.

Ba dum.

And then I died as much as the most alive person can do so – to wake up in a new life, in a new world with a new set of rules and new terrors to dispute.

Cued up: Thailand.

Advertisements

God Nose (The Face of God)

I stood facing a mountain that looked like a face.

“The face of God,” Koushik told me.

“God is a lot uglier than I pictured,” I said.

tirupathi-hills

180px-Srinvasa_face_in_Tirumala_Hills

As I looked upon the deity’s rocky busted mug I reflected on all the dismally warm afternoons I had spent cycling the village roads in the foothills- jamming Tchaikovsky and screaming Kendrick Lamar lyrics at innocent, gawking bystanders- and wondering  what all the hype about this god was about.

Thousands of pilgrims come here every day to scale this god’s poor, almighty cheek. For the past three months I had witnessed swarms of hairy people go up and similar swarms of bald people come down.

Apparently this god eats your hair.

That’s pretty weird, dude, I thought.

Maybe all those neck tattoos out there got it wrong… Only can judge God, 

Yeah, that train of thought got out of hand.

Tirupati is the second largest pilgrimage site in the most religious country on Earth. Tens of thousands of Hindus are drawn to the city every single day appeal to the man upstairs.

And today I was going to climbs those stairs myself.

I had put it off for too long, but I was waiting for the right moment. Until I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for.

I was very appropriately avoiding cultural appropriation for the sake of those who hold the tradition dear by filling myself in on the details of the subject beforehand and truly appreciating their meaning in the culture. (I would ask you to do the same for any long held tradition that you suddenly think is gram-worthy unless you have a genuine desire to tread on beauty- in which case I don’t wanna be your friend.)

So in the weeks preceding the climb I researched elaborately and found the story behind the god.

At the beginning of the age of man – the Lord Vishnu (the Hindu creator) turned to stone on top of the seven hills of Tirumala, the earthly façade of God, after prophesizing the marriage of his next incarnation and the goddess of wealth.

A temple was built around the God-turned-to-stone and it is said that any wish made purely in his presence will come true for the price of humility – symbolically displayed by removing the hair from your scalp.

That’s why fathers of the sick and mothers of the ill-fated – people at the beginning of their life’s endeavor and others at the end of a tragedy come to this place and scrapes their heads slick.

To correct the wrong and materialize the right of the crooked, bumbling universe with the fulfillment of a true desire.

So I decided to complete the pilgrimage myself.

I began the climb early one morning, just as the sun was creeping over god’s forehead. Koushik dropped me at the foot of the steps painted crimson and gold with holy colors.

300x240xfoot-step3-300x240.jpg.pagespeed.ic.4bE-W2R6Qh

9 km up… shoes not allowed.

For 3 hours I climbed barefoot alongside hundreds of people.

People from all over the nation.

People quadruple my age, people a quarter my age. People much more wise, people much more dumb – people much more deserving of a wish granted, (it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were people there wishing specifically for my setup,) but accepting of my company nonetheless.

We all climbed up the god’s face like annoying flies perturbing his sleep. By midday my shirts and pants were drenched in perspiration by over 100 F heat, but I made it to the temple of Venkateshwara (the stone incarnation of Vishnu) panting and glowing red.

That wasn’t so difficult, I thought just before my definition of difficult changed dramatically.

This was the point when the real fight began.

13250420_10209244082049972_423085863_n

Like an overflowing liquid we were all funneled into a caged hallway to await our brief council with God. The pilgrims began to chant the name, “Gowinga” as we squeezed along through the barred narrow corridor like cattle moving blindly towards the slaughter.

But we were.

After another couple of hours of having about as much say in the direction my body was moving as a pint of water in the Pacific, I was shoved into the courtyard of the temple and ushered in front of the black, unmoving figure – the champion attraction of this spiritual amusement park.

Tirumala-Venkateswara-Temple-at-Tirumala-in-Chittoor

For all of 15 seconds I saw it. The smooth, black stone gleamed underneath the floral adornments piled higharound the idol’s neck. He peeked out from behind mountains of red, white, orange, and gold petals. The holy golden chamber was illuminated by low, dancing candlelight, making the air sickly warm and fragrant. The fever dream settled over my milky mind. Shadows danced around the figures solemn face as my gaze settled.

I was in sight of God.

IMG-20151028-WA0000-c632a8e1-beaf-4570-bb31-10adfc42e80b

And God is exactly what I saw.

I wasn’t looking at the idol, though.

I was looking at the mother carrying a coughing child in front of me. Then at the middle age man about the send his only son off the university in the States behind me.

I watched their solemn lips slide silently apart, willing to never reunite for the sake of their destination, like smooth granite stones in a fierce stream.

I watched as they laid themselves as primitively bare as possible, laying down on their faces, as humble as the dust from which they came at the foot of a thing that would be dust had a chisel been put to it. Because their instinct had, after millions of years of ‘not enough’ manifested a human soul that had drove them to the madness of hope.

This was the true face of God.

My mind’s eye flashed back and forward at the same time, to a time that it couldn’t possibly wish to conceive – yet was built of nothing else except that purpose – to the start of the universe. The stars that came to being that would eventually come to form every aspect of this moment, the great carpenters. They are our dreams coming to being in us for the single sake of being spoken aloud at least once. Here. Now. This is our hopes and desires being ritually given back to the universe with the most impenetrable faith that they’d be fulfilled unconditionally.

And in the hopelessly wide gap between our expectation and reality is where I saw God.

Because sometimes there is a bridge. Like a whisper spanning a canyon, bafflingly complex in design and ambiguous in purpose – yet there. Sturdy, unreliable, encouraging.

Suddenly I felt the humility I deserved. My privilege, my arrogance, my intelligence, my beauty, my flesh, my bones were all stripped away in a second and I stood there naked, more raw and naked than on my entrance of the world.

I felt the presence of Everything, and I saw my insignificance to it all. My life, the big things that I think are important to the progression of the way things are or will be, are as dead leaves on the forest floor.

But I also saw the beauty of having the privilege to exist in the way that I do in the first place. I can run, I can jump, I can eat, I can dream, I CAN LOVE, and as insignificant as that may be to the universe – that’s the greatest bit of meaning that any of us could possibly pull out of this weird thing we’re all doing.

And with this epiphany fresh in my brain I left the temple as another current of visitors rolled in – and with spontaneous conviction I made a stop at the tonsure cue.

With a fresh razor and a ticket in my hand I stooped down in front of a beaming barber. Without a moment of reverence before my characteristic golden shock he poured scolding water over my head and whispered a mantra before peeling my scalp like an apple.

The entire time it was happening I could only think about how bald I was going to be.

The baldest man on earth, really. For a few seconds anyway.

It was certainly less hot on the way down the mountain.

With the most respect for the culture, the religion, and the universe, I accepted this tonsure as a gesture of awe.