The Last Word

The time has come to close out the blog. We want to thank all of you who read about, and shared in, our adventures. We are all safely back in South Dakota, re-immersed in our old routines – so much so that the experiences we had in India and Nepal feel somewhat unreal, like a very vivid dream but not quite all the way to a solid memory. Yet when I think back on the trip, one thing really does stand out in my memory – how fantastic the students were. I can’t imagine going out of the country for the first time to a place as difficult and exotic as India. One should start traveling by visiting England, then perhaps venturing to France or Germany, and taking the big step to someplace like Greece or Turkey before plunging into a trip to India. But the guys jumped in with both feet and were superb. My husband and I had three young men with us. We would say “they are our students” and people would look confused thinking they had misunderstood, or look suspicious thinking we were making a joke or some obtuse reference (making them students of the world). Everyone was much more comfortable when they thought the students were our sons. So we got in the habit of simply calling them “the boys” which people found acceptable, understandable, and comfortable. We were proud to claim them as our “family”. I can’t imagine how much more proud their real parents must be of these amazing young men. They took problems in stride and were gracious visitors who were unfailingly polite, culturally considerate, and were adored everywhere we went. Not least of all by us.

I also want to take this opportunity to express my thanks once again to all the people who made this trip possible. Thank you to the administration at SDSM&T, from the President, Dr. Wharton to the Provost, Dr. Hrncir to Dr. Kyle Riley, the head of the Math and Computer Science Department – we couldn’t have done this without you. To all our new friends at the India Design Center – thank you, we miss you. You were the best part of our trip. And finally, to the folks at Rockwell-Collins, especially Arlen, Roger French, NN, and Param a special thank you for having the vision to dream up this experiment and the courage to make it happen.

Travel changes you. No matter how much or how little you have traveled in the past, each new journey leaves an indelible mark. How have I been changed by this trip? I have a renewed sense of how fortunate I am and what a privileged life I lead. But I also see that people with what looks like very little to me are capable of finding joy in the world – they don’t need to be constantly entertained by electronic gizmos or to engage in “retail therapy” to be happy. They have each other and it is enough. Don’t misunderstand me – I suspect any one of the people I met would trade their life for mine, but I am impressed by the capacity of the Indian people to be happy with what they do have. I gained an appreciation for the rising Indian spirit of nationalism. India has been a nation of fiercely independent states tenuously held together by a fragile central government. But there is a spreading sense of national identity and pride – a feeling that the good times are just around the corner. I contrast that to what feels like a cloud of gloom hanging over the US, to our shared vision that the future is not all that bright. And I wonder why. We have everything, and perhaps that’s the problem. We are in the position of holding on to what we have rather than reaching for something we want. The latter is an exciting quest, the former creates a constant state of worry. And I was reminded once again how much I enjoy traveling to other countries with students. I get to see the world through their young, optimistic eyes. I get to experience their sense of wonder, their delight in the strange and exotic. It’s addictive. I want to do it again, with new students and new locations. I don’t know where, why, how, who, or when I will have the chance to do this again but I do know that when you want something, opportunities have a way of appearing. I will be watching for them. Namaste.



Welcome to Nepal

We have just about come to the end of our journey and are now enjoying the last few days of this amazing adventure in Kathmandu, Nepal. I never thought I would go to Kathmandu. It just sounds like the end of the earth, rather like Timbuktu. We flew from Delhi to Kathmandu on Jet Airways. The flight was packed – every seat was taken. I don’t know why that amazed me. There are a billion people in India so every flight is probably packed (and all the flights we have taken so far have been). But I must say that I saw something I haven’t seen for years on our flight to Goa – open overhead compartment space. Really. Half the bins were empty! Back to the flight to Nepal. Flying time was one hour and 5 minutes so naturally they served a hot meal. I can’t get over the stewards and stewardesses on these flight. They are the hardest working people in the sky. We had beautiful weather coming in so we had eye-popping views of the Himalayas. Spectacular doesn’t capture it. We landed and were met by the travel agency and whisked off to The Yak and Yeti Hotel. It’s a lovely hotel and we are very comfortable here. I have been a lot of places but a few things here still took me by surprise. For example:

– There is a shortage of diesel fuel so there are intermittent blackouts. Power will go off and, I assume, come on later from a backup generator. When we were in Nagarkote, there were hours when the power (and hence the heat) were on and times when they were not. We were well-informed and I don’t think it was a real hardship, it was just unexpected. We are pretty lucky in the US to have such a good power generation and delivery system. A sad side note is that deforestation had increased rapidly since the price of fuel has risen and availability has dropped. The result is not only forests disappearing but also a really dense smog layer over the Kathmandu Valley that prevents you from seeing the Himalayas. The reason people come to Nepal is to see the mountains. The 18% of the GDP that comes from tourism is threatened by this terrible pollution problem. We never saw the mountains from the ground – only from the air.

 – Kathmandu has over 2 million people! I pictured a small town in the middle of green fields. Nope. It’s a big city with nice areas and severe slums, old historic sites and modern billboards, markets being run out of shacks and hawkers to drive you crazy at the tourist sites. Our guide said the city has grown rapidly recently because of the guerilla activity in the countryside. We didn’t hear much about the civil unrest that was taking place in Nepal a few years ago but it was horrendous. Things have calmed down but there is a sense of unease about the future since the king and the entire royal family were slaughtered by a deranged prince (who later “died”) and an unpopular distant relative tried to take up the throne only to be forced to abdicate. So no royal family. Unfortunately, other civil institutions were not in place to take up the slack. So no constitution. People seem a little concerned about where the country is going – the direction is not yet clear.

– Only 25% of women are literate in Nepal. There is a hesitation to educate girls since they “join other families and are not a good investment”. We were here for national Women’s Day where the main speeches were about trying to stop the trafficking in girls to India for prostitution. I asked our guide what one thing would make the biggest difference in the future of Nepal. His answer: education for everyone. Again, we take a lot for granted in the US. Nepal does not have compulsory education and it doesn’t even have viable educational opportunities for the people who want their children to be educated. In Nagarkote, we ran into some women from the Seroptimists (?) who run a school for girls in a local village. They had stories to tell, some harrowing and some marvelously uplifting. I don’t know their names but if they run across our blog, I salute you and name you Women of Valor who are doing what the rest of us only dream of doing – making a difference.

– The Buddhists and the Hindus appear to live side by side in perfect harmony and accommodations have been made by both religions to find ways of joining the two belief systems. I don’t pretend to understand it all but Buddha has been named an incarnation of Vishnu in Hinduism and a reciprocal recognitions has been made by the Buddhists. There are also local variants that I found pretty interesting. For example, there is The Kumari. This is a young girl who is selected by the priests as the incarnation of one of the Hindu gods. She lives in a house, never leaving except on special occasions, is tended by priests, wears ceremonial garments and very heavy eye makeup, and makes appearances at the window sporadically. She came to the window while we were in the temple and the guides were thrilled that we had been able to glimpse The Kumari. When she reaches puberty, a new Kumari is selected. The infant girls are rounded up and tested to see if one meets the criteria. There are physical requirements (black hair and brown eyes and a list of other attributes) as well as a “bravery” test. The girls are exposed to noise and music to see who becomes scared. Then the finalists walk through buffalo heads (stuffed, I’m guessing) and the bravest one becomes The Kumari. I had never heard of this before so it was fascinating. What happens to the old Kumari? Well, she has a tough time since no man will marry her (for fear of dying young) and she isn’t exactly ready for the real world. The King used to give the ex-Kumari a stipend to live on but now there is no king, so the future of the current Kumari is uncertain. Nepal has been very interesting and the mountains are amazing. I would love to come back here and get out in the countryside more to experience the nature in Nepal – before it is gone.

Himalayan Sunrise

It was 5:30 am as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. The hotel porch was beckoning me to come see what scenic vistas the world has to offer. The scale was grand. There was a peek of sunlight coming from behind the colossal mountains outlined against the backdrop. The selfish mountains would eventually let us see the sun as the moon quickly coward away. Just being able to see the outlines of the famous Himalayan mountain range took my breath away. Continue reading

Yes, please? Yellow Dal, please?

During my time here in India I’ve learned a few things, one of which is: if you want to make Indian food then there are two things that you need to know how to make; Dal and Paneer. Dal, as far as we can tell, means Lentils and Paneer is a kind of cottage cheese block and from what we’ve seen these seem to be the staples of Indian cuisine. (You also need to know how to make rice to put the Dal on, and Naan, or some other kind of Indian bread, to eat the Paneer with. But that’s beside the point.)

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Staring Out a Window

The second part of our trip has been different from the first. The first part of our trip could be described as a business trip. We stayed in hotel rooms paid for by Rockwell Collins worked with local people seven to nine hours each work day and sometimes went out at night. (A couple people from work took us sightseeing on the Saturday we were there) Our second part could be described as a tourist trip. Riding a bus to scheduled stops, walking to scheduled stops at our scheduled stops, taking pictures, seeing sights, stopping at government owned shops where they give us tea and try to sell us the handmade goods they specialize in, and riding a fancy (if cramped) train with private bathrooms in the rooms and personal cabin attendants that are more than helpful.

It has a very different feel from the first part. Overall, I feel much more separated from the culture. Most of my experiences with the local populace have consisted of looking out a bus (or train) window at people going about their daily lives, looking out the window at people looking back in the window at me, or waving back to friendly school children. (The school children wear uniforms) Most of the people that I meet off the bus are either tour guides, persistent people trying to sell me things (You have to ignore them, because saying anything means ‘I might buy something’), or kids that wave to get your attention only to try to get you to give them money. (Almost all are well clothed and well fed or working for someone standing not too far off.) So far I liked the first week best, but that’s not to say that the tourist part has been bad. The elephant ride was fun as was the camel ride; however, one of the best parts has been sitting on the train staring out the window.

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2 Wonders, 24 Hours

It’s amazing to think that we have covered so much ground and have seen so many wonderful sights. As I am writing this, we are in Kathmandu, Nepal, getting ready for our second official tour in the country. Nepal is absolutely beautiful and a change of pace compared to India. Still a bit on the crazy side but feels more tame. Anyways, I wanted to brush up on the last 24 hours. Tuesday, We saw the Taj Mahal at approximately 4:30pm. Talk about wonderful! It brought a tear to my eye! Every angle is just sheer perfection. Within the next 24 hours, we were in Nepal(Wednesday afternoon). I saw Mt. Everest on the plane ride to Nepal. So, not many people can say that they have seen two wonders of the world within 24 hours!

Earlier today(Thursday), we took a plane tour of the Himalayas and circling next to Mt. Everest. I have seen quite a few mountain ranges but nothing compared to seeing the Himalayas. There is seriously something about them that just comes off as so majestic and god-like. This too, almost brought a tear to my eye. Sometimes you have to keep pinching yourself to make sure this is reality. Anyways, I am a really lucky guy to have seen such amazing places. We are about to start our next tour and internet is limited. So, until next time!

Bon Voyage!

– Michael

Highlights of My Week

Dear readers, we are very sorry we have been out of touch recently. For the past 8 days we have been on the Palace on Wheels train traveling across northern India. Despite the many amenities of this train, it does not include internet. We are now in a hotel in Nepal and Dr. Logar has paid for 24-hours of internet access, but the next few days will be spotty as well. Whether we get another chance to post or not, we’ll be home on Sunday, March 11, if all goes well.

Without further ado, here the a few of the highlights from my week.

Elephant Ride

In Jaipur, we went to visit the Amber Fort. This fort had breathtaking views, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But the best part was the ride to the top of the fort… on an elephant. We rode two people per elephant, except I did not have a partner to go with. I ended up riding alone on mine; the ride was like nothing I’d ever done before. There were also people standing on the ground along the path trying to sell us their wares. It was a bit comical to see these people desperately trying to get the attention of the riders on top of the elephants.

Well, it turned out that the driver of my elephant was in cahoots with one of the merchants on the ground. The merchant was insisting I smell the wood carvings he was selling, and he held them up to me. The driver promptly took them and plopped them in my lap. I only have myself to blame for being interested, though. I did find one I liked and after some bargaining I felt I had a reasonable price, but I did not have the exact change. The merchant said, “No problem. I give you change.” I bet you can see where this is going. So I gave the guy my money and instead of giving me change he immediately started trying to sell me more. I kept saying, “No, I only want one!” I held out for a long time, but eventually it looked like we were nearing the end of our ride, and I was worried I would never see the change he promised me. So I accepted his latest offer of buying two of the carvings. I looked in my wallet and again did not have exact change. Uh oh. This time, though, I told the merchant to give my driver the change FIRST. Oh well, I came out with a good story, two rather nice carvings, and a lesson learned.

Camel Ride

Thirty kilometers outside of Jodhpur, in the middle of a desert, our bus stopped and we all piled out. Lined up next to the road were a bunch of camels. Despite the strong wind constantly blowing dust in our faces, we were going on a camel ride. This time, I did have two riders on my camel. With Colton on the back, me on the front, and our camel driver walking beside, the driver led the camel farther out in the desert. We were near the back of the line of other camels and had almost caught up with them, when our camel driver offered me the reins. I looked around and saw every other camel was still being led, but I accepted them excitedly. I was going to get to drive my own camel! I figured it wouldn’t be long and he’d ask for the reins back, but instead he said, “Do you want to go faster?” Of course we wanted to go faster! So he ran behind slapping the camel, and I sat on top with the reins spurring the camel onwards. Soon we passed everyone else in our group and were pretty far ahead. We eventually slowed down and got to talk with our camel driver. His name was Ali and he seemed to be around our age or younger. We told each other a little about what it was like where we were from. Ali was the most genuine person I’ve met on this trip. He wasn’t constantly trying to milk us for money, and he had a very positive attitude despite having to work as a camel driver for tourists for half of the year and as a rock cutter in a quarry for the other half. This experience will stay with me for a long time, and I wish Ali all the best.

Everest Plane Ride

As I mentioned, today we are in Nepal. This morning we awoke very early to take a flight tour of Mt. Everest. Believe me when I say that the Himalayas are an awe-inspiring sight. Words cannot do them justice, but unfortunately, I do not have time to upload any pictures. So for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

– Ethan