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Taking the North Country to Northern India

Becky McCluskey, age 18, is a 2004 graduate of Potsdam High School. She is participating in the Leap Year Program, which enables students to earn a year of college credit while immersing themselves in another culture. Students learn through language classes, service projects, home stays, and seminars/retreats with local teachers. Becky is spending the Fall Semester in northern India, including New Delhi, Mcleod Ganj, home of the Tibetan government in exile, Rishikesh, and Varanasi.

1. Getting There, and a Confession: 10/6/04
2. Settling In: 10/12/04
3. Education, Secular and Religious: 10/18/04
4. Living at the Monastery: 10/22/04
5. On to Rishikesh: 10/26/04
6. A Mountain Retreat: 11/6/04
7. On to Varanasi (Benares): 11/13/04

Messages for Becky

Getting There, and a Confession:
October 6, 2004

I'll try to give you as good a play-by-play as I can of my past 4 days. They've been crazy long, so I 'm sure I 'll leave stuff out, but here goes...

On some day (I don't remember which anymore) we arrived in Hong Kong and explored the city. I was totally surprised by it at first because the city is surrounded by these beautiful mountains; whenever I pictured china all I saw were rice patties. So, yeah, the city was basically like any other city but it had a lot more chinese people and a lot more chinese signs (naturally). Oh, but everybody drives on the other side of the road (because of the British occupation) and in the park that we went into there was a kung fu corner. I mean there were literally signs that said kung fu corner, and there were people doing tai chi and whatnot so we did our resonation stuff (Tibetan rights - ask me later to explain) in the corner of the kung fu corner :). Later in the afternoon we went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art where I saw a bunch of calligraphy stuff and, well, other stuff. And then we took a tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak where you could see the whole city and the bay...it was really pretty.

After a 6-hour long flight later (on which I felt sick, I got a cold and was getting chills) we arrived in Delhi around 2 in the morning. That first day was a bit of a blur because I was out of it because of my cold and it was really hot in Delhi so it didn't make for a good combo. Anyway, we stayed in a hostel that was about a 5-minute walk from Connaught Place- a shopping area in New Delhi that is as close to western civilization as you're gonna get but is definitely not like any other city I have ever been to. The thing with Delhi and I guess all of India is that poverty doesn't have it's own section like it does in the US. I mean, there is no slum section, because the slums are everywhere...there are garbage and homeless people in the street next to five-star hotels and fancy cafes. The outward appearance of everything seems shabby but on the inside places can be extremely nice. And the smells are not what I imagined. I pictured one gross stench but it's more like there is no one smell, there are just wafts. Some wafts are really good-smelling food, and other wafts are incredibly nasty. But yeah, the first day in Delhi most of the stores were closed...i guess they close on Sundays...but the second day we went out there was people everywhere and everything was open. On the second day I also got my first taste of rikshaws (death traps on wheels, but they're tons of fun), I saw a snake charmer,and well, tons of other stuff but I can't think right now.

At the end of our second day we got a bus that would take us from Delhi to McLeod Ganj (near Dharmsala) which is where I am now. But let me explain. So the bus ride was 13 hours of hell (sort of). Well, first to get out of Delhi we got to drive through Old Delhi. New Delhi was set up more under British influence whereas old delhi was not, so compared to Old Delhi, New Delhi is clean. There was tons and tons of poor people and so much more garbage and grossness in Old Delhi (i guess more of what it's really like). That was also where I saw my first cows wandering around. But anyway, we were on that bus for a long time and we stopped at sketchy places to eat and the bathrooms...ugh, there were some pretty nasty bathrooms.

Anyway, around 6 in the morning we got into the mountain region and the sun started coming up and oh, it was sooooooo beautiful. The Himalayas were like, right there as a backdrop as the sun was rising. Needless to say I went picture crazy on the bus which was stupid because the pictures will probably be blurry and I could get really good ones now because McLeod Ganj has got to be in one of the most fabulously brilliant places in the world. There is still poverty and poor people here but the view everywhere you look is to die for. This is the place where the Tibetan government is in exile so there are tons of monks, and prayer flags, and prayer wheels. Unfortunately His Holiness is out of town (mom- so much for that letter of recommendation :) ) but that's alright.

So yeah, we're staying here for the next 2-and-a-half weeks or so. We start homestays on the 9th and do internships around then, too. As of right now I don't know anything about my homestay family or what I 'll be doing as my internship, but I did have a class with this guy who's a tangkha painter...but we just drew stuff, we didn't actually paint. It was still a lot of fun (we were split into 2 groups--one cooked and one did drawing, and tomorrow we switch).

Anyway, time for my confession. It's a bit of a love-hate relationship, but first, let me explain my reasoning (there are many reasons but here's a few):

  1. You only live once, and I knew if I didn't do it now I would never do it
  2. When we were joking about it in Hong Kong, I told myself I was too attached to it...I was too insecure about myself...and that it was something that I would simply never do
  3. I realized the main thing that was holding me back was my fear of what people would think when I get back home.

But you should never limit yourself just because you are afraid of what others might think, so I did it. I shaved my hair. Not Mr. Clean shaved my hair, more like a baby monkey or an army recruit. So yeah, when you see me again I will probably have pixie-length hair. As I sit here rubbing my head all I can do is smile and try to imagine what you must be thinking as you read this... And all I can do is laugh. :)

Love you lots,

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2004 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475