Himachal Police: “Better Late Than Never”

*In case you were wondering, the subject is from a road sign on the way up the hill between Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj. It’s suppose to mean go slow and don’t get in an accident on the road, but the Himachal Police department paid for the sign and of course advertised their name right above the warning. I love India.

I know you have all been beside yourselves waiting for an update that is 3 months late. I apologize for all of the disappointed faces who kept checking their emails only to find that there hasn’t been an email from Kenni. Well this one should make up for all that anticipation. I hope.

Sept. 10, 2008  Delhi, India
I’m on the second to last day of my trip. I head back to the States on Friday. Being who I am (a procrastinator with amazing resilience in the face of a deadline) I decided I must finish the tale of our adventures before I leave India. I am picking up where I last left off and then I’ll bring everyone up to date on Malachi and my current status as travelers.

Beginning of May 2008 Rajasthan!
I left off of our trip update with Bhuj, back in the beginning of May, so I’ll start where I left off. Malachi and I left Bhuj with the image stamped into our minds off four adorable beggar children chasing our train, laughing, and waving at us until we left the station.  Malachi tried to convince me to take them with us, but there was the issue that maybe they weren’t orphans and we would be abducting some one’s small children. Instead we will always remember their adorable happy filthy faces.
We left Bhuj and spent the next day in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. I threw my back out lugging around my huge backpack, surprise surprise. Needless to say I wasn’t pleasant to be around in Ahmedabad. We spent the day at Gandhi’s ashram where you can see real live replicas of his glasses and the spoon he ate with.
Once back to the train station to continue into the great state of Rajasthan, we met a Polish couple taking the same train to Udaipur. We all almost missed the train while relaxing in the air conditioned cafeteria and had to run across all the platforms to catch our train. These are the times that I contemplate giving all of my possessions to passing beggars. We really do carry too much stuff.
The train to Udaipur was slow and pleasant. Malachi and I had our own cabin to our selves (sleeper of course, we’re not big spenders). I slept on the “seen better days” blue swathed bottom bunk, wrapped in my duppatta, and spent the night staring up at the passing stars through the blue barred window. There are moments at night of utter stillness of peace. For all the mayhem that happens here during the day, the evenings are as calm as a mountain lake and just as refreshing. I wonder where all the energy from the day’s mayhem goes? At night all you can feel is the collective sigh of 1 billion plus people.
We arrived in Udaipur with our Polish friends in tow, and Swaftka and I guarded bags while Malachi and Peter went on the prowl to find the best deal in accommodation. They found 2 beautiful rooms with a views of the lake and the Lake Palace for a reasonable price. Mainly because every time you went to your room you ran the risk of having a brick dropped on your head while they renovated the hotel. Malachi spent one evening helping the men who were all a head shorter than him, hoist an I beam up 2 stories with only ropes. Who says you need fancy equipment, there’s power in sheer numbers. Dad you would appreciate the hilarity of the situation.
We shopped, visited the Monsoon Palace, watched Octopussy (the James Bond movie that was filmed here, and advertised ALL over the the city) and enjoyed the beautiful weather. That beautiful weather also meant that there was no lake around the Lake Palace, in the height of the sun in the afternoon you could walk to the majestic building. Malachi ordered a tailored made white linen jacket (snazzy huh) and the “tailored made” part somehow got lost in translation. “No problem with the jacket…..your collar bones are wrong……chest too small.” Suffice to say he got his money back and no jacket. We were boxing up stuff to send home when we heard about the Jaipur bombings. Right away I sent an email to family saying that we were in UDAIPUR but failed to mention the bombings, because that would have caused unneccsary worry on their part. Unfortunately Dad reads the fine print on page 15 of the business section of the newspaper and the worry alert came in the form of concerned emails from my Mom. “WHERE are you? Are you sure you aren’t in Jaipur? On the map they’re only about an inch apart….that’s very close.” I love you Mom.
We spent about 10 days wandering around Udaipur and then decided to head to Mt. Abu for the summer music festival. Before we left, we sent packages from the post office. Being the seasoned travellers that we now were, we weren’t daunted by the dreaded POST OFFICE. That is, until the customs form man demanded rupees for the customs forms, the rickety tape that he used to tape them to our box and then proceeded to throw the tape roll at my feet when we refused to pay up. As we walked out of the post office, I thought our boxes were goners. Surely the angry post man (gives a new literal meaning for me of “going postal” both in the sense of the officer worker, and how I felt leaving the post office) was going to rip off the flimsy tape holding down the flimsy customs forms and distribute our goods throughout the office as soon as we were out of sight for failing to pay and extra 35 rps. Thanks be to the multitude of Hindu gods that one must be able to call on in thanks for safely delivered packages, our boxes have made it to Alaska. Woo.
We left Udaipur for Mt. Abu under the impression we were lunatics. The Lonely Planet travel book writes, “If one is mad dog enough to be traveling through Rajasthan during the summer, there is a summer music festival in Mt. Abu.” We were definitely mad dogs. Well I guess I was the alpha mad dog and Malachi was the sane one saying “North, please! To the mountains, I can’t stand the heat anymore.” But the wish wouldn’t be granted for another month.
We arrived in Mt.Abu in the evening with our recommended guest house reservations and proceeded to refuse the little blue push cart that resembled a little red wagon pushed by a man in a red turban, white jodhpurs, juttis, and big gold hoop earrings, in favor of walking the ridiculous distance up hill. Stubbornness I guess. That or heat stroke insanity.We spent a week in Mt. Abu where there is soft serve ice cream on every corner and a mass amount of holiday makers looking for relief from the sun baked plains below (taken from the lonely planet description). The summer festival landed on the same weekend as the full moon, which meant their was also a tribal people gathering taking place at the same time. The tribal men and women are some of the most beautiful people in India. I don’t get the slimy leering look from tribal men that I usually get from other men, only simple curiosity. It’s refreshing. I could follow the tribal men and women around all day if they let me, which they probably would because “no” is not a commonly used phrase in this country. Just try to ask for directions, the average Joe will almost always refuse to tell you he doesn’t know where something is. He would rather make up a direction and point you in it.
We had a fantastic time in Mt. Abu. We watched classical Indian musicians, Kalbelia gypsy dancers!, ghoomar dancers, African-Indian dancers, and Bhangra dancers. The first and second nights of the performances, we sat near a group of gorgeous African-Indian women (India brought over African slaves too, once released from slavery, many settled in Gujarat where they still preserve their own unique languages and culture.) I figured they were the spouses of the African-Indian dancers and on the second night when their hubbies came on stage to perform their peacock dance, they started giggling. I thought maybe they just enjoyed their husbands performance, but nooooo, one of the peacock dancers gets off stage, makes a beeline to the only white people in the audience (us) and proceeds to pull us up on stage. I just know the ladies were behind the whole deal. So, in front of hundreds and hundreds of Indians, Malachi and I danced like peacocks. Sadly there is no physical evidence left to prove this, because we had no one to take pictures for us. I’m personally not too worried about that fact. It was actually a blast, maybe because there was no one to make fun of us later. Instead we became celebrities. For the next few days that we stayed in Mt. Abu, we received compliments on our dancing from everyone including the random person on the street to the waiter at the restaurant. The smiles were genuine and I believe we must have looked only “mostly” ridiculous not “totally.”  We spent our last night getting Henna from a 13 year old boy, eating fantastic North Indian food at the Hotel Jaipur, and watching the closing night fireworks. Our last day was reserved for exploring the amazing Jain temples that really do look like sugar icing, speaking to friendly Gujaratis about Girnar Hill and the US, and spotting the one completely naked sculpture on the side of the last temple that must have been a sly joke inserted by one of the craftsman.
We were finally on our way to Pushkar! On the night bus from Mt. Abu and Ajmer, I came to the sudden realization that Indian night buses are driven just like the night bus from Harry Potter, except there is no magic to keep you from smacking into the oncoming traffic…. only wily bus drivers who don’t believe in speed limits or any traffic laws for that matter.
I had been so excited I would almost shake when I thought of finding the gypsies that Melea and Carrie studied with in Pushkar. I thought I would have to search them out, but the morning we arrived, they found me. We had checked into the fantastic guest house Carrie and Gary recommended and then ate breakfast. As soon as we left the restaurant, a group of 4 young gypsy women and 1 old woman, descended upon us in a flurry of color and jingling bells. My hand was grabbed and henna was being applied while the obvious leader told me she was a gypsy and she would teach me dance. They were dressed in red, yellow, black, blue, silver and every color in between. They wore Rajput dresses, (skirts with short kurtas over top, and scarves on their heads). I was immediately taken off guard. Maybe from the heat, the long night bus ride, the color of their dresses, the henna on my hand, the immediacy of the gypsies that I had hoped to find, or maybe just the self assured “don’t mess with me because I can overcome anything” demeanor of Gita, the lead gypsy of the group. I fell in love at the same moment that I was scared to hell, not for myself, only worried about how I was going to maneuver through the minefield of a relationship that laid before me. Come to find out, the minefield was completely my own making. They gypsies are who they are without any reservations or apologies. I discovered in the next two weeks that  it would be my reactions to situations that would shape our relationship.
I told them I was interested and that I didn’t want henna at the moment (which resulted in an expert flick of a fingernail that removed it from my palm) and that I would think about the dancing. I was introduced to Gita, Raihka, Raju, Rakhi (not yours Carrie), and the old woman whose name I didn’t catch. Gita told me to “remember my face, I will teach you dance, don’t talk to any other gypsies.” I told her I wouldn’t promise to not talk to any others, but I would remember her. I was impressed by her forthrightness, her ferocity, and how apparently young she was.  Within a couple of days, Gita became my teacher. Raihka and Raju also helped, but it was Gita that I really connected with. After one of our long hot dance classes, while drinking chai, we sat with another group of gypsies (chai or lassis always marked the end of a class). In the corner sat a beautiful gypsy I hadn’t met before and I asked her if she was Rahki at the same time she was about to ask me if I knew her friend Carrie. I smiled and told her yes I was a friend of Carrie’s and I couldn’t believe I had found her. I  showed everyone pictures that were on Malachi’s IPod from the professional dance troupe photo shoot that we did back in Dec of 2006, and Rahki was so excited. My teacher Gita lives with Rahki and I got to know both women. I had an amazing time full of emotional ups and downs with the gypsies for the next 2 weeks. I visited their village where Rahki’s house blew down in the sand/wind storm. They dressed up for us and danced after feeding us. Seeing where they come from, shined a multitude of understanding upon their strong characters.  Throughout the couple of weeks, they slyly pointed out that I had “a good husband.” Apparently they were all smitten with Malachi, I can’t possibly imagine why….haha 🙂  When we left, Gita told me to come back and bring our baby! Hahaha It was so hard to leave them. It took almost the entire two weeks to gain the trust of Gita, and just as we were starting to really get to know each other, we had to leave. I swear strong Gita had tears in her eyes when I left. I love them so much! Right before I left, Gita told me she was 20. I said, me too, when is your birthday? She looked at me for a moment and said “I don’t know.” I was taken aback at first, but told her no matter, we’re both 20 so you can have my birthday. I feel like I found a sister; a blunt, dirty joke telling, betel nut chewing sister.
We left Pushkar in a sad state only to experience a horrific night bus trip to Delhi. While we were in Pushkar, protests started.(complicated but here’s the gist: a group of lower caste people from Rajasthan the Gujairs, were protesting the fact that their children had to score higher on their tests and had less reserved spots than children from upper castes in order to go to school. A completely understandable protest if you ask me.) Because of this, no trains were running because the peaceful protesters were sitting on the tracks. All the bus prices doubled and were packed. We had a sleeping bed and our bus broke down in the middle of the night. We were ushered on to another packed bus with no seats and only aisle floor room and driven to the next dabba. We were ushered onto yet another bus and told we had to sit in the front cab of the bus with the driver, conductor, a family of 5, us, blaring bollywood music, and the ridiculous horn that plays music instead of a “beep.”  If you ever want a harrowing experience, ride in the cab of a night bus. You will reflect on all the positive things you’ve done in your life and how grateful for tomorrow you now are. After about an hour, we both laid down in the aisle with our bags and slept on the floor. Humbling to say the least.  We arrived in Delhi surprisingly well rested and in good moods which is a miracle in and of itself. Probably because we survived yet another “only in India” experience.
Well I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll write about our adventures in Delhi, Amritsar, and Dharamsala next. First I need a break, I’m going to wander out of the air conditioned Internet cafe and find myself something to eat amidst the craziness of Paraganj, Delhi.

Love to all of you and I promise I’ll finish before I leave!

Kenni

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