We are excited to get out of Delhi for a few days. I’ve been here now for over a week, and though I am quite fond of the place, I’m ready to visit some other parts of this incredible country. Today the plan is to visit one of the most iconic buildings on the planet, the enigmatic and spectacular Taj Mahal. Our idea is to catch a day train into Agra, the location of the Taj Mahal, spend the night in an Airbnb, and ride the train back tomorrow to Delhi. So we pack our things, and head out of the house around noon to get this next adventure started.
Finding our way to the train station and buying a ticket feels sort of like stumbling through the dark. We find the station no problem, but the ticket buying process is not that easy. The teller same something in hindi and points us off in another direction. There is an older guy standing by who sees what is happening, and directs us to the foreign tourist office which is around 2 kilometers away. He walks us outside and gets a rickshaw ride to the office. The driver is a wild man and seems to think he is a helicopter, which makes for an interesting ride to the office. But we make it with no incidents to speak of, and sit down for some travel negotiations.
As we look at the available trains, he informs us that the trains are actually, no trains available. They all seem to be sold out for the day. He assures that he can provide us our own personal driver for the trip, and that also we should really think about spending a few more days going to Jaipur and seeing more of India along the way. I’m not sure if this was the plan all along, but it seems to start making sense. This guy is quite the salesman. We end up agreeing to a three day trip with a personal driver, Samir, who walks in at the end of our negotiations, and we’re soon off on our journey.
Samir is really nice guy, and I’m glad he’s our host for this journey. As we start to head out, he asks if it’s ok that he stop by a tire shop near his house to get a new tire for the car, and says we can come in for a visit with his family and to have some tea. Of course, I say sure, no problem, and before too long, we are in a very strange, very dirty neighborhood, walking up flights of stair to his apartment. Inside we find his wife and three daughters, who seem delighted to see us. I play some banjo for them, and as usual, that works to really warm them up to us. It’s amazing the power the banjo has to open doors and hearts in this world. After hanging for awhile, we get some gas, air in the tires, and we’re back on the road to Agra.
It’s about a three hour drive from Delhi to the Taj Mahal. The drive is a beautiful journey through the Indian countryside, which is full of wheat fields, brick firing smoke stacks, and the occasional camel, buffalo, peacock, and cricket game. I thoroughly enjoy the ride and all of the conversations I had with Samir as Paul slept in the back seat. We covered love, life, politics, Indian and American culture, work, and all kinds of other pressing matters.. We reach Agra around dark, check into our Airbnb, and settle in for the night.
On the rooftop of the building, we can see the outline of the majestic Taj Mahal in the distance, and it really gets me excited for our sunrise visit to this amazing place. After a short walk, dinner, and catching up on some administrative matters, it’s time for bed. Hopefully pleasant dreams of love and light await. Another full day of wonder and adventure for the Banjo Earth crew.
After going and going and going since arrival, today was a much needed day full of rest, relaxation, and recharging. I woke up feeling pretty rundown and dilapidated. The delhi belly from the last few days was getting old, and I also have seemed to catch some sort of respiratory issue. Naps throughout the day, eating only nuts and oatmeal, and a couple of neighborhood walks filled out my activities. Sometimes you just have listen to your body and obey it’s commands. It will tell you what it needs to be at optimal working order.
Despite the lack of adventurous activities today, interesting things did indeed find their way to me anyway. I set out for a long walk to explore the Qutab Manar, the tallest single tower in the world. It is a Muslim work of art and worship, and signaled the beginning of their reign of Northern India many years ago. We’ve seen it majestically rising to the sky on our rickshaw rides home, and I’ve been very interested to give it a look. As Paul periodically slept and edited video throughout the day, I set out on this 2 mile walk to check it out. However, what I though was a road to walk there, turned out to be the metro line, so I ended up in this strange but interesting Muslim neighborhood. You can tell the differences between Buddhist, Hindi, and Muslim neighborhoods by the vibe, energy, and music coming from the speakers. This was definitely a Muslim neighborhood, and though many of the people were very friendly, there was another edge present that I had been unfamiliar with. I did not feel threatened or scared in any way, but I also did not feel as if my presence was wholly welcomed. So, I snapped a few photos and videos, and made my way back toward the house.
On my way home, I was stopped by a very friendly Indian man who owned a nursery with his family. He invited me in for tea and cookies. As we was clearly not taking no for an answer, I came in with him and sat down for a nice chat and a wonderful cup of hot chai tea. I showed him some of my Banjo Earth youtube videos, and he introduced me to Mia Khalifa, and Indian porn star living in America! Haha!
The day went on as before, with more rest and relaxation, charging up the batteries for the exciting and full days of travel just around the corner. Only one more trip to get a couple of beers for my partner and I would be the only other adventure today. This time though, as I walked down the street, I noticed the trash and urine and other unsavories along the avenue started to affect me more. One side of our main street is basically a landfill and bathroom, with people openly peeing and dropping off trash, while the other side of the street is essentially vendors and car mechanics. I just really began to notice my own impatience with the dirtiness of the street, and the willingness of everyone to openly use this area as a public bathroom. I know this is a different culture, and I respect the fact that I am in their country, but I couldn’t help to become somewhat tired of the unsanitary conditions. There is such a contrast in India between the public spaces such as this, and the temples, mosques, and insides of peoples homes that are kept spotless and held with high reverence. Soon our travels will lead us out of Delhi and into other parts of India, which I’m finding to be a welcome change.
So I grabbed a couple of Kingfisher beers from the store, headed home, got them cold, and Paul and I drank a little, talked, and then it was time for bed. We’ve got exciting travels tomorrow as we are headed to Agra to see one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Onward we go!
Serendipity is all around us, if you are just open to the possibility. Today was another point in the column for this universal truth. We started out this Sunday early, leaving the house at 730 for a 9am park jam with an incredible Sikh percussionist I found on Instagram. He is always playing with a smile and energy, and I was really looking forward to meeting him and collaborating. Sikhism is a religion that originated out of the Indian subcontinent around the 14th center, starting out as a sort of warrior class to protect the royal court. You can recognize them, the men at least, by their uniquely wrapped turban and well-manicured facial hair. On the way to the park, I received a message from Yanesh, the percussionist, that he got called into work last minute for a bit, and would be a little late. He was supposed to meet us a petro pump in a somewhat odd neighborhood of West Delhi. So, after getting out of the rickshaw at the station, we explored around a little bit to bide some time.
The sun was starting to heat up, and to get a little shade, we spotted a nice little park in the back of an alley that was lush, green, and quiet. As we sat down to rest, we noticed a family looking at us from an upstairs window of a nearby apartment. They were mostly women, full of colorful garb and smiles. Paul went over for a photo, and in the midst of this exchange, they invited us up for coffee and snacks. Of course we said yes, these are the kind of exchanges that are the hidden gems of the Banjo Earth project.
What we found upstairs was a full, extended, wonderful, and loving family. They all spoke fairly good english and were extremely welcoming and warm. There was the grandfather and grandmother, the father and mother, the son and daughter, and their female housekeeper/cook. We enjoyed a chat, some stories, and even got out the instruments for a little jam. I showed them the banjo, the grandfather got out his harmonica, the dad played some bongo drums, and the wife sang, clapped, and danced. It was an amazing impromptu Indian bluegrass fusion celebration. Aaah the power of music!
We had so much fun that they invited us to stay for a home cooked lunch. We still had a meeting with the percussionist, so we told them we could come back in a couple of hours. They agreed and we set off back to the petro station. While waiting in the sun at the station, I received another message from Yanesh that his grandmother had been rushed to the hospital and he was there with her and would be another hour or so late. We waited and waited, but he never showed up, so we headed back over to our friends house for lunch. I later got a message from him with sincere apologies, but hey, Grandmothers come first, so no worries I told him. Besides, this is the serendipity I spoke of. We got back over the house and enjoyed an amazing lunch and visit with our new companions. It was such an honor for us to be invited into the home and enjoy the amazing food and friendship. Without the misfortune of our first meeting, the latter would have never happened. And this destiny of events made for a lasting fond memory of an incredible experience.
By the time we left, the day had moved on pretty quickly, and we just had time to stop for a few shots that Paul really wanted for the documentary. We found some monkeys, and a king cobra being serenaded by a magical flute player. This scene was so stereotypical Indian, yet fascinating nonetheless. The cobra is such a menacing animal when it pops it’s head up in a strike position. I’m pretty sure they take out the fangs for street performance, but that really doesn’t alleviate the deep seated human fear and respect for such a dangerous animal. With our necessary shots in the bag, we headed back to our abode, spending the rest of the evening conversing and sharing stories with a couple of Scottish travelers that were passing through. Another day in the book of adventures, another day of twists and turns, another day of serendipity, another day of the celebration and story of humanity.
This was the first full day of having my videographer for the project, Mr. Paul Byun, on the scene. We made the most of a full day. Just to get him acclimated to the feel of New Delhi, we set out on foot to explore the neighborhood. Winding back through the alleys and byways of Vasant Kunj, our home base for the trip, it felt great to get the share the sights, smells, and realities with one of my friends. I love traveling alone. I also love traveling with a companion. Sharing the experience provides a rich and deep layer with which to build a better understanding.
The first order of business in Delhi is learning how to walk around without getting run over by a rickshaw, car, or motorcycle. It requires constant heightened awareness and clarity, making good decisions on when and where to cross streets. The first few close calls can be harrowing, but once you get used to it, a graze by a bike or truck doesn’t even register on the radar. This phenomenon shows the amazing adaptability of the human sensibility.
After our neighborhood jaunt, we stop by the mall for some incredible chicken tandoori and some necessity shopping. Rice, noodles, soap, toilet paper, beer, cereal, yogurt, you know…the essentials. Walking around in the heat and dust, carrying handfuls of market items wears us out a bit, and an afternoon nap is in order. We’ve got a meeting later in downtown Delhi with a band who will be collaborating on the album, called Shorthand, and we need energy for our adventures.
Our meeting with the band is set for Connaught Place, and old english style circle right in the center of Delhi. This place has a “Central Park” in the very middle, and two circular roads going around the perimeter. It is very touristy, very happening, and very beautiful. After a wild rickshaw ride, we arrive about 1 hour early and break out the banjo in public for the first time. The park is filled with people hanging out together, enjoying the Delhi evening.
There are several music get togethers happening around us. As we finish up with our session, we walk over to the steps where there is a group of young people playing guitar, singing, and beatboxing. This is a great example of how, no matter where you are in the world, music is such a foundation of life and existence. Singing, Dancing, communicating together crosses all bounds and cultures. It is one of the foundational things people care about across the world. There is a great female vocalist and two beatboxers who really catch my attention, so I get their Instagram info for some future Banjo Earth collaborations.
Going straight from there, we meet up with 2 of the band members from Shorthand. Their vocalist is out of the country, and their drummer sprained his ankle playing futbol the day before. So these two fellas were the band representatives for the evening. The conversation with them was so much fun. They were very cool, young, hip, thoughtful people. Just about to finish up their university studies, they are really excited about going full time with their band for a year or two to see what they can do. Pursuing the dream. Obviously I gave them lots of encouragement and advice from a seasoned dream follower. We talked about music, politics, culture, the ins and outs of Indian life, and the possibilities for the future. I love sharing my optimism and positivity for life and work with young people I come across. For many of them, that is the one key ingredient that seems to be missing. It gives me great pleasure to impart the science of mindset to young talented people. Really, when you think about it, what’s the alternative?
After this amazing meeting, we stop by a nearby bar for one last cool beverage before going home. It’s been a long day full of hard work and adventure, and a Kingfisher, the people’s beer of India, hits the spot and puts a nice finish on an awesome day. We catch a rickshaw ride out on the street, negotiate a decent fare, and zip through the Delhi night, feeling the cool wind on our faces. It’s times like these that feel like the universe is in perfect order, the world, imperfect as it is, is getting better, and my place in it vibrates with harmony. Namaste.
Improvisation is one of the finest skills any human can learn. It doesn’t matter whether it’s music, language, socializing, survival, problem solving, cooking. Any and all of these require a hefty dose of improvisation. Seeing what’s not working, thinking of new ways to make it work, and adapting your approach and methods. Things rarely go as planned, and the best way to salvage a great outcome from shoddy circumstances is being adept at improvising.
This is what I have basically been trying to accomplish all day as far as gaining access to the internet. Honestly, I find going days without being connected to the webs rather refreshing. I am reading more, seeing more, thinking more, scrolling less. In many ways it is an advancement in consciousness. The only problem is that my work is becoming near impossible. It’s hard to realize how much we connect and communicate with one another until it’s gone. Much like we take our fingers and toes for granted until one of them is missing. I found that out the hard way recently when I chopped off the end of one of my most used banjo fingers. Hey, I was using that!
In any case, much of my day today was spent traveling around on foot in search of a solution to my connectivity problem. The international plan I have through my American carrier is pretty much limited to text and email. The problem then, lies in the fact that all the work I did previous to landing in India was connecting with musicians and artists through Instagram. This is an amazing platform that has allowed me to reach some wonderful people right here in New Delhi before I ever even arrived. However, when the two times I opened the app, I was hit with a $25 charge each time for going over my allotted data. This made the app pretty much unusable. Thus, my meetings and communications with Delhi musicians quickly became obsolete. I had to improvise.
I found a cafe, bought a latte, and gained access to the internet for one hour. This allowed me to gather my contacts, communicate with them, and send them over to my email, which was working. Right as the hour ran out, I received a message from “The Human Library” saying that we will meet today. But before we could set a time, my internet was gone. Thus. I headed down the road for a couple of miles and found another cafe, this one called “Cafe Connect”, which sounded like just what I needed. Here I ordered a strawberry lasse, which was delicious, and finalized the plans that we had been trying to make. We would meet at the “mall”, just outside of Pizza Hut at 6pm. Improvisation at work.
On the way to the mall, a very crazy storm began to stir. I quickly noticed that storms in Delhi are a bit different. They carry with it the severity of dust and trash flying through the air at remarkable speeds. It’s almost as if everything in the city that had been swept under the rug was immediately airborne. It was quite the spectacle, but also a formidable obstacle to moving through space. In need of an improvised plan, I threw on my sunglasses, which made the dark darker, and pulled up my shirt as a scarf. As I reached the mall, I was covered in dust and who knows what else. It felt like what I could only imagine as a bad trip at Burning Man.
In 20 minutes it would all be worth it, as Alok, aka “The Human Library” came into meet me. He is a poet and photographer who I found on Instagram and we instantly hit it off. He called his Mom to cook us up a homemade dinner and invited me over to his family’s house. There I chatted in candlelight with the sweetest family you could imagine. We sat down on the floor, crosslegged, and ate some amazing chicken curry fashioned by his mother’s hand. She sang a traditional Indian song for us, we talked about life and love, and all was joyful.
Sometimes obstacles aren’t impediments in your way, but rather opportunities to enhance your skills of improvisation.