Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hot and Sticky....Again: A Mutual Effort

We're back from our stint in Delhi, which, let me tell you, was cold! (comparatively) about 40 degrees at night and as low as 60 during the day. Now we are in Auroville and it is getting hotter by the day.

Delhi was Delhi, in that the air quality is so bad by the time you wake up from your first night there your throat and lungs start to hurt. The pain gets worse over the next two days and you begin to start coughing up lots of gross shit ranging in color from yellow to brackish grey. For whatever reason the chill in the air went straight to the bone unless a pile of blankets covered you when you are indoors, regardless of the time of day. Which just exacerbates the pain in your lungs and increases the gross shit.

Aside form all that, we had a wonderful time in Delhi...sorta. We spent all day, every day, shopping at an incredibly slow rate for the wedding. Thus not completing our extensive list, which was added to nearly daily. Then the familial attack of love and kisses was a routine welcome every time we entered the room, even if we had been in our room for ten minutes. On top of this tensions between our host and his s.o made the last few days uhhh awkward to say the least.

Upon our departure the airport was awful nice though. India has changed so much and its only been two years. Soon the India I remember will be gone and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing after all.

At BKK we were standing in line and there were four Indian men with huge plasma TV’s checking in. They had bags and bags and crates of stuff they had bought while on business in Bangkok. The richer India gets the more materialistic, as though they are trying desperately to escape the spiritual heritage that was left to them. I wonder if anyone realizes what they are losing. We ended up griping with a professor from Calcutta about the phenomena of prosperity that is both blessing and cursing the subcontinent.

So we were glad to leave Delhi and travel south, through Chennai and onwards to Pondicherry (Pondi). The first couple of days here in Auroville however, was quite the disappointment. We quickly discovered that bureaucratic French, inherently making things unwelcoming and inaccessible, mostly run the city. Needless to say they were very unhelpful in us getting settled. They seem to accept tourists because they know, but probably don’t know that we know, that they are milking us for our external moolah. Thus adding to their ever-growing economy. It seems very much like a gated community with several worthy tourist attractions. One of them not being, repeat not being, a sustainable eco-village.

Not to say that there aren’t wonderful things being done here. The list we have heard of the positive affects of Aurovillians on the community at large and even in the southern bit of India are quite long and worth repeating, but not now. Now we are off to do something other than sit in the dark internet cafĂ©.

All in all we are slowly settling in and I can safely say the place is growing on me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

from the westfield to the holyoke of the east by fiz

For those not from Western MA, Westfield is a city… with nothing in it. It is a city that seems to have spontaneously sprouted up simply because people wanted a place to live that was close to the major highway in MA. Sukothai is the Westfield of Thailand, it is a town where the cool place to be, because it is the only place to be, is the 7/11. The surrounding scenery however, is beautiful.

The reason we went there in the first place was because, outside of the city, a bit of a ways off actually, was one of the old capitals of the Siamese kingdom. The ruins of this city were magnificent. We rented a scooter and drove around in between the crumbling remains of what must have been wats that towered over the streets. Some of the streets still had the original stones laid down. While other parts of the city were just lawns. The ruined city wall looked like nothing more than a levee.

What made the whole trip worthwhile was the white Buddha, which wasn't white really, but it was huge. We had to leave the city ruins behind us and go quite a ways down a road that eventually turned into dirt with many twists and turns, or at least that is how it felt on the way there (more than once we made a wrong turn).

We eventually found it and from the top of the driveway we caught our first glimpse of it. The entrance to the shrine was tall enough to see the Buddha in its entirety, and only wide enough to see his face in full. We parked our scooter and made our way inside only to have our awe grow. There was no roof to the shrine and it was the only place where the Buddha hadn't fallen into disrepair.

There was a small monastery tucked away behind the shrine. The statue was sitting cross-legged and his left hand was in his lap, while his right hand rested on his knee pointing down at the earth. This specific mudra (hand position) wards off desire. To give a sense of perspective there is this famous picture that found itself on an older edition of the Lonely Planet Thailand where a young monk is praying on his knees in front of the right hand, which has been covered in gold leaf, and the hand is twice as tall as the monk on his knees.

While exploring the shrine I found stairs that curved around the back of the Buddha and led up onto his lap . We snuck up it ( the sign said no climbing not no stairs ) and we each took turns sitting in his palm for a moment or two.
It felt amazing. I would go back just to see him again.

Other than that Sukothai really is dead. The only place to eat is a really seedy bar.
From there we made our way to Ayutthaya, another ancient capital of the Siamese kingdom. This city was said to have beautiful ruins scattered throughout downtown, which is an island at a junction of two rivers. However the city is still inhabited, so the charm of the ruins is lost entirely and after the ruins of Sukothai. If you are in Thailand and headed north remember Ayutthaya first then Sukothai, not the other way around.

Ayutthaya seems to be in ruins in much the same way as Holyoke. Which was a mill city that was once a hub of trade and the place to be if you had money. Ayutthaya was this kind of city, once. Called the "Venice of the East" between the 1500’s and the late 1700’s it was a city full of gold. (Actually if anywhere in the world had streets paved with gold it would probably have been here)
and guess where there is to eat... seedy bars!!!

In the last five days or so the charm of Thailand has deteriorated tremendously and we have run out of steam to see Ayutthaya's sites. We want to get out of the heat to the point where we saw a Thai movie in the cinema with no subtitles. Which we happened to enjoy a good bit, but that’s besides the point.