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Two women stroll among the walls of Halebid, built in the 9th century

Sharing experiences from travels is a bit like sharing dreams: The iconography and narrative are personal and not well suited for public discourse. So other than sharing the rudimentaries, my report on my time in India will be succinct.

A phrase or two from Mira Schor‘s juicy and very personal book, A Decade of Negative Thinking, captures much of what I am feeling now that I am back home: “I’ve wished that I could give my students and myself the gift of time, time to work or not work in the studio, and, more importantly, to forget about ART; time to just take a walk…”

That is what this trip to southern India was for me: time away from the studio, a hiatus in thinking about art making and the world we have created around that rarefied activity. Yes I took 2600 photographs which serve as a kind of quick capture sketchbook/scrapbook. But making art was not on my mind at all. In a culture that old and that confoundingly complex, stepping away from my life was a much better way to offer up an open, fertile, receptive spirit. The resonance is outside of language and still echoing.

Hindu shrine at the top of the Fort hill in Hyderabad

Hampi’s Vittala temple, known as the musical temple because striking the columnns produces musical tones

Inscription at Hampi

The exquisite Chitrangini Mahal (or Lotus Mahal) in the Zenana Enclosure, Hampi

Figures from the 12th century goparum at Belur which effortlessly incorporate images from the Kama Sutra

The lacey Chola temples at Thanjavur

Entrance to the Ekambaranathar temple in Kanchipuram

Enchanting and sacred Madurai, pilgrim site

Rajasthani pilgrims at Chidambaram

Meal time at the Children’s Aid Society in Hyderabad

Lord Gommateshwara, the world’s largest monolithic stone statue, at the Jain temple in Shravanabelagola

Students at Tiruchchirappalli (Trichy)

Hampi, from a distance

Sign to the pilgrimage site, Chamundi Hill in Mysore

Altar for Saraswati

Dak Thok Monastery Festival

On the long flight back home from India, I kept searching for a pivot point—that spot that could bring coherence and comprehension to so many disparate experiences. I’ve never had an adventure quite like this one, one where so many extremes were in play. We came upon oppressive heat as well as intense cold, explosive color set against backdrops of barrenness, timeless traditions and technological adaptability (even the man sweeping the street has a cell phone), a national driving style that requires both aggression and cooperation, the full range of human functions carried out on the street while the womenfolk elegantly preserve their modest draping, never giving public exposure to a shoulder or a knee. This is a country where the sensory and psychological overload is of a completely different order. Everything catches the eye and/or the imagination, which is why I returned home with 2500 digital images.

Trekking in Ladakh

I felt that timelessness in the hand of nature as well as the hand of man. The mountains of Ladakh are empty and vast, encircled in every direction by successive arcs of snow capped peaks. The air is crystalline and rare at the high mountain passes. And the monasteries clinging precariously to the crags of cliffs harbor yet another form of landscape—the endless expanse of our own interiority. The mystery of that inner landscape comes to the surface in those richly textured rooms regardless of spiritual orientation. The sound of monks chanting early in the morning is a clarion call for everyone, not just Tibetan Buddhists.

Spituk Monastery

David at Spituk Monastery

Hemis Monastery

There are several places I would like to write about in more detail. The 11th century monastery at Alchi. The 6th and 7th century carved caves and paintings at Ellora and Ajanta. The museum at the Hemis monastery. The hermitage at Gotsang. Maybe later. Right now I’m in limbo, neither here nor there, with a mind that is neither sharp nor dull. Perhaps it is my own micro version of the extremes and paradoxes that seem to define the entire nation of India—a sprawling, larger than life, outrageous, in your face, exquisite country.

Painting at Ajanta

Note: The poetry I had queued up for posting while I was gone did not appear. Sorry for that glitch. Those poems will appear over the next few weeks along with more content that is India-centric.

Shey Monastery

I leave today for India. We’ll be in the southern region for a week before heading up to Ladakh. After a trek through the Himalayas, we will visit the Ajanta Buddhist temple caves in Maharashtra.

I have been trekking with this group of friends for over 15 years, but this is the first time I have been able to convince my partner David to come along. He’s only joining us for the first half of the trip, but it’s a huge step and I’m so happy he agreed. His attachment to the concept of daily showers has been a major impediment to his participation in these “off road” adventures in the past, so we plan to introduce him to the glories of being dirty and smelly with careful moderation.

Someone asked me, “Is this a pilgrimage?” I suppose the correct answer to that question is, perhaps.

I will be gone for most of August and will be spending my time outside the reaches of the cybernet. While I am gone, I have queued up a slew of my favorite poems to appear every other day. I will return to writing in real time on August 25.

This parting wisdom is compliments of Whiskey River, my favorite wisdom drinking hole…

Just live that life. It doesn’t matter whether it is life or hell, life of the hungry ghost, life of the animal, it’s okay; just live that life, see. And as a matter of fact there is no other way. Where you stand, where you are, that’s what your life is right there, regardless of how painful it is or how enjoyable it is. That’s what it is.

–Taizan Maezumi