Introducing the Mizoram Synod Choir

I will try to tell the story of how people I have never heard of, who live in a place I have never heard of, and speak a language I have never heard of – have used a photograph I took for the cover art of their musical album.

[singlepic id=260 w=525 h=257 float=center]

At the end of 2001 I went to India and spent about six months backpacking. One photo I took was of a street beggar. I shot it in a small village called Hampi in the state of Karnataka in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. I actually took half a dozen shots of the same man, and what I particularly liked about this one is the enigmatic face, glistening with sweat. I felt it conveyed the true meaning of being that person.

[singlepic id=259 w=300 h=456 float=right]Back then I wasn’t blogging yet, but I did manage to develop, print, scan and email that photo to folks at home. Fast forward to 2007 when I started blogging and one of the first things I did was retroactively post my travelling correspondence, including this one.

Now we get to two days ago, when I noticed quite a bit of traffic coming to my website from this forum post. I could not understand what language the site was using, but from the bits in English I could decipher the post was discussing the similarity between the cover art of an album and that of Assassin’s Creed, a video game – both featured a hooded man. A user by the name of Angaiha was able to track down the source for the man in the cover art: Yes, it was my photograph.

Upon further investigation it turns out that the cover art was for a choir named Synod Choir for their video CD titled Pathian Hmel which apparently will set you back a hundred Indian Rupees (a little more than two bucks). Oh, yes, it turns out that this musical ensemble comes from the Indian state of Mizoram which I have never heard of, inhabited by Mizo people who speak (and sing) in Mizo language and look nothing like the Indian people I have met travelling.

How do I know what Mizo people look like? Glad you asked, as it gives me the chance to direct your attention to the album’s eponymous song:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jFJuaxppCM

It should be mentioned that everything I post on this blog falls under a Creative Commons license which allows for certain uses of it, but using any of the content for commercial purposes goes beyond that scope. Basically, there are legal ramification for the unauthorized usage of my photo, but I will not get into that at this time.

It’s a Free Trip to Israel – So Why Aren’t You Already Here?

I have written before about Taglit-Birthright Israel       , a beautiful program that sends young Jews from all over the world to visit Israel for the first time for free. Yes, free! There are no strings attached, and no hidden agendas: the goal of the program is posted on its website: “to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.”

I am not sure people need much persuasion to get a free 10 day trip, but if you do you can check out this video, summarizing an evening of solo performances of monologues, spoken word and hip-hop inspired and performed by past participants, and directed by Vanessa Hidary, a.k.a. The Hebrew Mamita, of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4zAjS9cRE0
Make sure you check out the schedule for upcoming performances.

Greetings From An Indian Restaurant

On my 2001-2002 trip to India, I spent a night in the city of Mysore in the state of Karnataka. In the evening, I dined with fellow travelers at the Parklane Hotel garden restaurant, and was taken aback by the dining instructions quoted on the cover of the menu. Obviously, I just had to borrow a copy – only to return it on my very next trip to India, if and when one should come by. It only took five years to get around scanning and uploading the thing for everyone to benefit.

Front cover:
Parklane Hotel garden restaurant - front cover of menu

Back cover:
Parklane Hotel garden restaurant - back cover of menu

Full transcription provided for search engine optimization:

Front:
á la carte
Parklane Hotel
Drink, Dine, Dwell!
BEST FAMILY GARDEN RESTAURANT IN CITY
2720, SRI HARSHA ROAD, MYSORE – 570 001
PHONE: 437370, 434340
FAX: 0091 821 428424

GUESTS ARE ADVISED TO BE WARY OF STRANGERS WHO MIGHT STRIKE UP CONVERSATIONS, AS THEY MAY LEAD TO UNPLEASANT OR RISKY CONSEQUENCES.

Back:

1. A gentle reminder that dishes are prepared after receiving the order and normally take twenty to thirty minutes, and for special dishes over fortyfive minutes should be allowed.
2. Dishes are liquors are subject to availability of commodities.
3. We take pride in the quality and quantity of the dishes and drinks served. Please do not bring in food and drinks of any kind for consumption.
4. We reserve the right to alter the rates without prior notice.
5. Sales Tax or any additional Taxes will be charged extra for food and liquors.
6. Sales are strictly on cash basis or with major Credit Cards. Please do not embarrass us by requests for credit.
7. Disposable vomit Bags are available on request in case of need, as a consideration to fellow diners.
8. We do our best to satisfy you. Please do bear with our short comings and inform us of same. "To err is human but to forgive is devine"s.
9. It is not our intention to take advantage of your satisfaction over a "Full tummy" or " fuddle-headedness"! May re quest you to please check your bills and bring any error that might have indvertently occurred to our attention.
10. Type of music played will be the sole choice of the management.
11. No music  after 11pm.
12. Any unauthorized alterations in the bills may be brought to the attention of the management.
13. Candle lamps for the table will be provided on request.
14. Last order for both food and drinks should be placed when the bell is rung. Restaurant lights will be switched off half an hour after the bell is rung when the guests are requested to leave the premises.

RIGHTS OF ADMISSION AND VACATION RESERVED.

Free Flight And Trip To Israel

Just came back from an amazing experience – a ten day guided tour of Israel. I was one of five Israelis who joined a group of 42 young American Jews, in a free trip organized by a foundation called Taglit-Birthright Israel       . They provide first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel’s founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlyfESc7wjA

120,000
150,000
160,000
180,000
200,000
250,000
300,000 people have already participated, so click here if you want to learn more.

Singing Waitress at McDonald’s

[05/05/2002 21:00 Bangkok, Thailand]

Hey everybody!

On a whim, I decided to skip a return to the northern part of India and fly from Nepal to Thailand.
I arrived here two days ago and I have been floating on air ever since.

It's everything.
The people are beautiful (unlike my first choice of India) and the taxi drivers don't try to scam you and beg for more money.
They sing here on the street, you know.
Well… they told me they don't really sing for me, it's just that the intonation is so very strange and funny.

It's impossible to explain in an email, but whoever has been here knows _exactly_ what I'm talking about.
([Name redacted], it's _exactly_ how you said it will be).

They linger at the end of each word, and it sounds just like singing.

Sawatdee kaa

Kop khun kaa

And their English! Oh, their English.

Cannot, Misteeeer. Cannoooot.

Losing money.

No hab.

Two days here, and I'm already in love.

Whoever said Khaosan Road is dirty – whoever said Bangkok is stinky, obviously never been to India.
In my eyes, it is heaven.

THEY HAVE SIDEWALK HERE!

Lots of BKK smiles,
Shahar.

One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free
You'll find a God in every golden cloister
And if you're lucky then the God's a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

"One Night in Bangkok"  — Murray Head  — The musical "Chess"

Arrived at Chomolungma!

[28/04/2002 16:30 – Kathmandu, Nepal]

Hi everyone!

My feet have swollen, my back is aching and I am so very tired, but after 12 days, I came back from the Everest Base Camp.
I apologize for being absent, but I have been trekking here in Nepal in the Sagarmatha National Park, where Mount Everest lies.
Words cannot express the beauty of the scenery I have seen so I will not even try.

Instead I will just lay some facts on you:
1. This has been, by far, the most difficult thing I have ever done, except my army basic training.
2. I trekked with Eli Ha Mem-Pey (also known as Eliezer and the Glacier) and with Avi Ha Katach.
You may assume this was as close to reserve duty as it gets.
3. We ascended in 9 days (as a precaution due to AMS or Heights Disease). We descended in 2 days (about 30 km per day).
4. We used Diamox pills to help us get used to the heights.
5. This is the route we took, you can follow it using the following map:
Everest Base Camp Trek Route

Day Date Route
Saturday 13/4/2002 Flight from KATHMANDU (1,300m) to LUKLA (2,840m)
Sunday 14/4/2002 Trekking from LUKLA to JORSALE (2,805m)
Monday 15/4/2002 Trekking from JORSALE to NAMCHE BAZAR (3,440m)
Tuesday 16/4/2002 Trekking from NAMCHE BAZAR to KHUMJUNG (3,780m)
Wednesday 17/4/2002 Trekking from KHUMJUNG to PANGBOCHE (3,930m)
Thursday 18/4/2002 Trekking from PANGBOCHE to PHERICHE (4,240m)
Friday 19/4/2002 Acclimatization at PHERICHE
Saturday 20/4/2002 Trekking from PHERICHE to DUGHLA (4,620m)
Sunday 21/4/2002 Trekking from DUGHLA to GORAK SHEP (5,140m)
Monday 22/4/2002 Trekking from GORAK SHEP to EVEREST BASE CAMP (5,364m) and back to GORAK SHEP
Tuesday 23/4/2002 Hiking from GORAK SHEP to KALA PATTHAR (5,545m) and returning back until TENGBOCHE (3,860m)
Wednesday 24/4/2002 Finishing the route from TENGBOCHE to LUKLA
Thursday 25/4/2002 Staying at LUKLA
Friday 26/4/2002 Flight from LUKLA to KATHMANDU

6. The first picture attached is of me, Eli and Avi at Everest Base Camp.
This is the highest place trekkers can reach and the starting point for professional mountaineering expeditions.

7. The second picture attached is of the gang at the peak of Kala Patthar, which is the mountain opposing Everest, where you get a good view of the highest mountain in the world.

8. The third picture attached is of me and Mount Everest.

As mentioned before, words cannot describe the actual experience, and even pictures show only a vague resemblance to the actual reality.

As always, more pictures are available at:
[redacted]

Lots of love from the beautiful country of Nepal,
Shahar.


Shahar’s trek to the Everest Base Camp was sponsored by Yahoo! Travel.
If you want to see more pictures of the gang trekking, go to:
[redacted]

Never Break The “Law of Four”

[09/03/2002 19:36 Kathmandu, Nepal]

The Indian people don't lie. It's just that when they don't have the answer, they'll give _an_ answer. It won't be the right one, but they feel they were nice to a stranger.
This is why the "Law of Four" was invented. If you need correct directions to go to a certain place, you always ask 4 people.
The correct way is usually what the majority of the 4 said.

I broke the law of four and regretted it!
I thought that it was enough to ask the train station enquiry clerk for the correct platform when I went from Delhi to Agra.
3 hours after riding the train, I asked the guy next to me when will we reach Agra.
His response?
He laughed and said: "Agra? This train is going to Punjab".
Not only did I take the train in the opposite direction, it was to the state where all the Hindu-Muslim riots happened.
6 Hours after departing from Delhi, I was in the same place, taking a taxi to Agra…

Never Break The "Law of Four"

—-

Hi everybody! Long time no update!

Been having too much fun I guess…
Anyway, I am in Kathmandu now and it is a _whole_ other country.
The people are so pretty, the streets are so clean and it is such a relief from the Indian atmosphere.

I plan to do some trekking here and some white-water rafting.

There were so many rumors in India about the situation in Nepal, including the one that the Israeli Ambassador fled to New-Delhi (did you hear that one?).

Of course everything turned out to be totally incorrect. Everything here is fine – which is not something I can say about our little country.

US$550 for a plane ticket to the East! Think about it…

—-

Some pictures, all from India, to remind you of how I look:

The first picture is from Kodaikanal. It is a hill-station (that is, a town up up in the hills)
where the Brits used to go on their vacation (ruling the country is a difficult job). It is a beautiful place, and since I was with beautiful people, it is (up 'til now) the most memorable I have ever been to on this trip.
In the picture you can see all the beautiful people I was with: Oren, Ziv and Ya'arit. We are playing cards at sunset (a game called "Asshole", I'll teach you when I get back home…).
And the rock we are sitting on is called The Dolphin Nose, a half a day trekking distance from Kodai.
It is so worth it, just for the magnificent view!

—-

The second picture is from Chennai (Madras) in the state of Tamil Nadu (South-East part of the sub-continent). You can see us (the ol' gang), drinking the best Ice-Coffee in the world.
It's called Iced-Eskimo, and it is only served (with or without ice-cream) in Cafe Coffee Day, an Indian coffee shop which is actually a gate to the western world.

Chennai is a city that most Israeli travelers skip (for no good reason). Whoever told me that Delhi is the place for western food and shopping (I know your name and address), whoever that was, obviously never been to Chennai.

—-

The third picture is from the train I took from Chennai to Jaipur.
It's a 40 (forty) hours ride from the South-East to the North-West state of Rajasthan.
Being that long a ride, me and Ziv took the 3rd A/C Class so it was fine.
You even get bed sheets and bad food. :)

—-

One last thing before we depart again:
The Indian post office has very strange working hours. Just from 10:00 to 16:00.
This is just to serve a specific purpose.

I arrived to the post office in Varanasi to send a parcel at 15:30.
Of course you need to pack each parcel with cloth, but no worries, there is a nice guy that will do it for you for just 100 Rupees.
Then, I reached the counter at 16:00.
But no worries, the clerk is still there, only he will not talk to you, just to a guy that "fixes"
everything.
He showed me a piece of paper that the post office
clerk wrote.
It read: 1,460 for sending parcel – 350 for Bakshish.

Yes, this is how the Indian post works. After working hours you need to bribe the clerk. So of course I did my "I am shocked" look, and told the "fixer" I would only pay 100 Rupees bakshish.
The clerk of course did his daily show, where he takes the parcel shoves it back to me and says "Come back tomorrow 10:00".
So now was my part, where I said, "Okay 200".
So get this: this clerk made 600 Rupees (for 3 parcels) in 10 minutes. That's a 4 days pay.

When I kindly thanked the clerk and turned away, the "Macher/fixer" guy told me that his service is 50 Rupees. When I told him that he should get the pay from the clerk he told me that the he can't because the clerk shares the money with all the other postal workers, including the manager.

India! What a country! What a culture!

—-

That's it for now, although you can see some more
pictures at:
[…]

Lots of love from the only land that does not have a rectangular flag,
Shahar.

First Picture I Like

[Sunday 3/2/2002 01:11 – Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu, India]

[singlepic id=259 w=300 h=600 float=right]Hi everybody!

I am in Chennai, the 4th largest city in India. It is in the south-east, but you probably know that after checking the map at […]
Right?

Anyway, it’s a huge Indian city with all the beggars and the sewer in the streets, but it has its perks.
Malls! Huge shopping malls to spend all your Rupees in!
Today for instance I spent all day in one (1!) store inside a mall.
7 hours in one _huge_ store!

The weather here is a bit hot. Not as much as the hell in Cochin, but a huge different from Kodaikanal – the town I just came from.
It is a hill-station established by the Americans up high in the mountains.
It was so called there, waking up in the morning reminded me of waking up for guard duty in the boot-camp. But then again, everything here reminds me of boot-camp.

One last thing:
After 30 rolls of camera film, more than US$200 spent, and around a thousand clicks I have finally found a picture that I really like:

Attached is a picture of a beggar. It was taken in Hampi, Karnataka state, India in January 2002.

Shahar.

Some thoughts to share from the end of the world

[26/1/2002 16:15 Kanyakumari, Kerala, India]

Hi friends!

Yes, I'm at the end of the world.
Well… close to it – I'm at the end of the Indian sub-continent, at Kanyakumari.
Check the map attached, if you look up close you can see me waving.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some stuff:
First, you should know that I bought the newest Lonely Planet guide for 200 Rupees. Now, bare in mind a new one costs 1,200 Rupees.
Mine is used but in excellent condition.
Not only that I saved 900 Rupees, I sold my old LP Guide for, who much?
You guess! 210 Rupees!
So that made me happy for a day or two.

Second, I wanted to share with you something I noticed about the local currency:
Most of you know by now that 10 Rupees equals 1 Israeli Shekel.
But that does not mean that something you buy in Israel for 4 Shekels you would buy here for 40 Rupees.
Oddly enough, many items are 1/10 of the price, so if you buy a cup of tea in Israel for 5 Shekels – you would also buy it in here, for 5 Rupees.

The third thing I wanted to share with you is that I was a model for my friend who is studying Ayurevedic massage. She needed someone to practice on.
Silly me, I said "Okay" before I was informed an Ayurevedic massage includes a butt massage.
The things I sacrifice for my friends… I tell ya…

Fourth insight I got from staying too long under the Varkala sun is the Indian way of saving money:
An Indian clerk at a shop will turn on the lights and the fan when a customer comes in, and when he comes out, he will turn it off and sit in the dark.
I met a driver that never tried the Air-Conditioning at his Boss's car.
I saw Indian people, sleeping at their desk offices, waiters sleeping at their restaurants, drivers in their cars.
I saw plastic drinking straws being re-used, and wooden ice-cream spoons being washed and served again.
Sheesh…

Fifth update, is close encounters in my served food. I won't elaborate more than this:
Fly in the sugar, glass in the spring roll, human hairs in the Palak Paneer.

Last thought from the Varkala Beach – India is so polluted!
Every human organ is affected:
Lungs – with the unbareable Rickshaws and cars polluting the air,
Ears – with the industrial noised and drivers honking their horns for no reason,
Eyes – with the over putting up signs everywhere, so much that it reminds me of an army base.

Hope I didn't occupy too much time off your busy schedule with my rambling…
Love you all from the most Southern point I will ever reach in this trip,
Shahar.