Sunday, January 18, 2015

Assam, India

I am currently in Assam, India.  Upon arrival we drove through Guwahati, where we would be staying as well.  My husband is doing a 2 week project with a company located in Assam, and we will be travelling around visiting their different sites.  Mostly I’ve been room bound, since I’m working on school stuff.  My advisor has been generous enough to let me come to India and work on write-ups for my project.

 Some pictures from the road :)

I did manage to visit a museum in Guwahati.  It was actually one of the cutest museums I’ve ever visited. There were 4 floors to this museum many artifacts, most likely more than one hundred, however they had no descriptions posted for any of the items. It was anybody’s best guess what the items could have been used for, some of the items had a single name, and perhaps it was listed what the item was made from, often it was cow dung, hair, etc.  Amazing all of the things you can make with cow dung. I had no idea.

The most interesting part was 2nd level where they had put mannequins out with all of the traditional styles of dress from all of the different communities. I had no idea there was such diversity among the people in the way they dressed themselves. Assam is in the Northeast region of India, quite close to China, Bhutan, etc.  It was interesting for me to see how politically we have drawn borders between countries, but how culturally borders aren’t so defined.  It’s observable in the styles of clothes that can be seen as well as in the bone structure of the face and shape of the eyes.  It’s interesting how the mixtures of characteristics typically defined to certain regions, take on a very unique form of beauty when they are blended with another 'country’s'. 

Afterwards our driver took us to the only ‘male’ river in the world. At least in the hindi language.  It was explained to me that the river looks very gentle from the outset, however on the inside the river is raging.  If anyone were to fall in at any point in this river, they would be absolutely done for.  Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. It was a beautiful river. 

We were supposed to go the next morning to a temple. The most famous temple in Guwahati, it is said that anything you wish for will come true when you are there.  Apparently this temple is supposedly a representation of ‘mother’s’ or ‘mother earth’s’ vagina.  I know it’s a bit strange sounding.  They even close the temple 3 days in the year to allow for the ‘temple’s’ menstrual flow.  Whatever that actually means, I don’t know, but apparently they figure it out with complex astrology.  It’s all very interesting.  I was told that inside the temple there is nothing, it is barren.  My husband looked it up, and found pictures of menstruating goddesses, in rather provocative positions with painted red all over.  Seemed a bit intense.  The last straw that really made us uninterested to visit the place was the continued presence of sacrificial killings of animals.  Goats often were the subjects. 

I made up my mind, no way would I be interested in visiting such a place.  Sorry, cultures have always fascinated me, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around why sacrifice is still such a big thing. I understand to an extent, many people live in fear of the unknown and of the future, of the wrath of gods and bad luck.  Anything that has been done by the ancestors, must have worked right, since the people are obviously still there.  How do you respect a people yet not support their practices? 

I’d like to see the age of man, where we no longer are bound by our fears but we are living in trust of life, and in respect of all beings on Earth.  This respect would be given to them because of their innate qualities, not for the qualities that are often used and exploited by humans.

I realized this too late, but only 1 hour from where I was staying was a wildlife sanctuary.  If I had been familiar with this sooner, I would have planned a trip there instead but as it was, didn't happen.  Maybe on the next journey :)

Yesterday we made it to Lanka, about a 3 hour journey from Guwahati.  It’s a much slower paced place, much more greenery than the average city in India.
I’ve been sneaking fruits to the goats who live next door to the guesthouse I am staying in.  Their pasture is unfortunately completely eaten to the bone. I have no idea how these animals are actually surviving.  The people who are ‘herding’ them seem to move them around often, however there are hardly other places that have grass or food available for them.  Anyway, I’ve been happily sneaking them grapes and apples. I’ve been doing my best to be discreet about it, never fun getting in trouble, good news is, I’m obviously a ‘foreigner’ to this place and the only advantage to not speaking the language is in playing dumb. 

I actually haven’t seen anyone who isn’t Indian in this place as of yet, I think for the most part ‘foreigners’ aren’t allowed in these parts of the country because of the political unstability of some of the places.  Now that I have a PIO, none of it really applies to me.  A PIO though doesn’t exactly change your skin or hair color, so the fact that I am not from here is all too obvious to most.  At the museum it was funny to watch how the people reacted to me.  They were sneaking pictures and sometimes forming crowds.  In some of the places in the south, they explained to me that often many of the people from smaller towns had never seen a white person before, the only place has been on television, so their first assumption when seeing a white person is that they must be a movie star.  In the south, the difference is in some of the villages that they will actually come up and ask for your autograph. 

Anyway, I find it all kind of cute and amusing. 

India is a very rich country, both culturally and ecologically.  I recently read in the paper about how the new prime minister wants to make it as easy as possible for business and industry to acquire land and make work very possible and easy here. It’s pretty disheartening to see the leaders of this country, basically say to India,  I don’t care about your health, longevity or happiness. I don’t care about your wilderness, your greenery or beauty.  The moment we throw all else out the window for the sake of development, pollution and business and the majority of the population doesn’t seem to bat an eye at this?  It’s a very disheartening time.  I hope to see people radically standing up to such claims with vehement enthusiasm to withhold from such kind of economic development.  It serves no one in the long run. Short term profit is a political joke.  A very sad state that our leaders have made us believe is the ultimate goal in life… but in reality it means nothing, just the degradation of our beautiful land and beautiful nature. 

At our last guesthouse, I was on the balcony admiring the trees and all, from the corner of my eye it looked like a white flower in the tree, I turned my attention to it, only to find that it was a crumpled up napkin. How did the napkin get into the tree?  A further inspection was that the tree was actually covered in floss, napkins and wrappers. They had been taking the trash, our trash from our rooms and throwing it over the balcony.

How can you be more at one with nature at the point? You can’t.

I immediately stopped using napkins.  In fact, I really would like to overall cut my use of products that generate waste, either because of their creation or disposal. I know this can be a difficult thing and requires that many thing to be used, ought to be made from scratch, from whole materials, grains, fruits and vegetables that don’t require packaging. 

The challenge that I would have is using a car as well as my computer.  Which is relatively needed for school. It would be possible to mitigate my use of my car perhaps, and opt for the bicycle more often. 

Let’s see how it goes. 

I think this is why I have such an immense appreciation for India.  The lessons it gives you through these extremes, you really wouldn’t otherwise get.  You can cognitively understand and ‘try’ to be a good person who uses limited resources, however your actions and repercussions are so disconnected from your life, how then do these lessons sink in?  I don’t think they properly can. 

So I am sitting here, in this nice guest house, listening to the village music which typically will permeate through an entire town. Not sure how they manage to get such an efficient sound equipment.

Last thing I wanted to share is that recently my brother in law and father in law in Pune, wrote to me. There was something about soil in the paper. 

Apparently much of India suffers from micronutrient deficiencies in the soil such as iron and zinc.  This is because there is so little emphasis on organic inputs in most conventional operations, the emphasis is on nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, however over time this creates problems.  The article mentioned how this is having huge health repercussions; people aren’t getting the nutrients necessary for good health from eating from these lands. 

Awareness is certainly getting it’s way around.  I was also recently contacted by an NGO just outside of New Delhi. They have 1 acre, where they grow many fruits and vegetables for 30 children who have AIDS. They also have an animal shelter, and place for the residents who take care of the place.  The gentleman who contacted me is in charge of composting on site, he has learned a method of composting that takes only a couple of weeks for the nutrients to turn over.

He was curious to know if there was a way to make the system more productive, sustainable and healthy.  He was interested in soil tests and making sure there were no contaminants on site.  I did a little bit of research, since in USA soil tests for contaminants is pretty pricey, I quickly found out that it's no different in India.  Most of these tests cost about $ 10 per contaminant per sample which can easily add up to over $100 depending on what all tests you are wanting.   

I told him we could investigate his property’s history and understand what soil tests would be most relevant. 

I'll be visiting his farm in a  few weeks, and I'll be sure to update again and post some pictures, especially as they are doing a lot of great work and are very interested in permaculture and sustainability :)

All the best 



We also had the chance to drive by a wildlife sanctuary, it has the highest per capita number of rhinos in the world!

This picture is a bit blurry.. but it was so amazing to see the rhinos especially with their young.