4:44pm Wednesday Sept. 10, 2008 Delhi, India
Well, I’ve taken a break and had a mocha (which was untimely taken from me by the way toooo efficient staff at Costa’s; every time I’m there they want to take my mug as soon as they give it to me. This time I went to the restroom and my half drank mocha and water bottle was swept away even after a warning that “I will be back, don’t take my mocha.” The water bottle was recovered but not the half drunk mocha.)
Continuing the story……..
We arrived in Delhi after the night on the bus floor on June 5th. Malachi managed to gouge a chunk off the bridge of the nose of the luggage guy with the sitar case by accident when he put the sitar in the bus the night before. Suffice to say, the luggage guy didn’t want the lychee I offered him the next day, he wanted rupees for removing our bags. Tough luck dude, not after a night spent on the floor of the bus. While Malachi argued with the rickshaw drivers over fares to Paraganj, I handed out lychees to the cycle rickshaw drivers. I’m not sure why I was in such a generous mood. The rickshaw drivers found it funny. We checked into a mediocre room in Paraganj (the backpacker hub of Delhi) and jumped at the opportunity to dive into the mayhem and heat of Delhi. Well maybe not jumped…..more like “I guess we should leave the room….” *accompanied by the sound of dragging feet*
For the next few days we ran errands and bought things we thought we needed while in the capital city of India. We went to the movies (Malachi is a movie whore) and generally enjoyed the finer aspects of New Delhi and avoided the mass amount of people and heat of Old Delhi. We found cozy coffee shops and good food. We took a break from India in the midst of one of the most populated cities on the planet. On our last day we went on a mission. Goal: to recover some of the money we spent on the bus ticket that resulted on sleeping on the floor. After the calm demeanor I showed after the incident, all of the frustration and heat of India was released on the unfortunate fellow who maned the travel agency in Delhi. We paid 400 rps (about $10) each on our inflated sleeper tickets and I demanded that we each get 300 back. They could keep 100 for gas. The man offered 200rps each but I would have none of it. I was a woman on a mission. A woman that has been harassed and cheated too many times in 4 months. Long story short I made a scene. Apparently I use big words when I’m mad, who would have thought. Malachi had to act as translator periodically because supposedly the travel agent didn’t understand my “big words.” I essentially said that if he didn’t give us the refund, I would make sure their agency was black listed and never make it into “this!” as I threw the Lonely Planet travel book onto the table for dramatic effect and explained that every traveler in India had one. I garnered quite the group of onlookers because again, apparently my decibel level rose with every word I uttered. The man looked at Malachi and said “I don’t understand her” Malachi replied calmly, “You will get a bad review if you don’t return the money.” Ahh I saw a flicker of fear and one phone call to “the boss” and we happily strolled away with 300 rps each. Small change, but it’s the principle I tell you. I felt childish at the same time I felt vindicated. I had started to reach my limits.
We bought night train tickets to Amritsar to see the golden temple, the train was 7 hours late, but we eventually reached the most famous city of the Punjab. A fantastic Seik gentleman helped us board the free shuttle to the temple. I dripped sweat all over the poor woman I had to stand above in the crammed shuttle. The man didn’t speak any English, but showed us to the free temple guest house with a smile and a wave goodbye. This was the first time we stayed in a dormitory. We met an American guy from NY with unbelievable stories of traveling alone through Eastern Europe (being stabbed in an alleyway in Belgrade, having to strip between the borders, being baptized at each church he came across to enjoy free meals, you name it. Mom and Dad be grateful I don’t have such stories).
The three of us went to Attari to the border crossing ceremony. Attari is the official entry point into Pakistan. Every evening at dusk, the guards on either side of the border strut their stuff in the most testosterone driven ceremony I could imagine. With high steps and fan topped hats, the guards march to the gate and make faces at the guards on the other side to the uproarious raucous applause of the enormous Indian audience on the Indian side and the small yet prideful handful of Pakistanis on the Pakistan side. This is all performed to the intermittently shouted slogan “Long live Hindustan!” Children are invited down to dance to blaring bollywood music, and the general attitude is one of Nationalistic pride with a hefty dose of Indian holiday enthusiasm. At the end of the ceremony, people flood to the gate to shake hands and wave at their Pakistani brethren. There is no animosity, you would think it was a greeting of old friends across borders. Too bad the head honchos gain power by further dividing the two countries without realizing the similarities and goodwill that could be experienced by both peoples. I’ll get off my soap box now.
Completely drenched in sweat, Amritsar was even hotter than Rajasthan or Gujarat, we headed back to the Golden Temple. We spent the evening in the company of young Punjabis eager to practice English and espouse the virtues of the Golden Temple which are already apparent. It is the most beautiful piece of architecture I’ve seen to date. (Still haven’t seen the Taj though….) Surrounded by an enclosed “lake” of water (more like a large pool) is the glimmering gold vision of by gone eras. The Golden Temple is breathtaking to say the least, something straight out of a fairytale. The area surrounding the temple is calm and soothing after the hecticness of backpacking. An older Seik man who lives in Alberta, Canada offered to show us the massive dining hall and kitchen that reportedly feeds 80,000 people for free everyday. There were cauldrons of curry being made by dedicated volunteers, but my favorite part was the giant chapatti making machine. It reminded me of the pasta making machine I had watched on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood as a child. The mass amount of food produced by the army of volunteers was staggering. I asked where I could make a donation. I was told there was no need, part of being a Seik is to work hard and to give back to the community, wealthy Seiks (which there are many living abroad) fund the temple kitchen and renovations. Ingenious. The cacophony of washing metal dishes accompanied us to our room where we dropped like rocks into bed. The next day we ate at the temple kitchen (fantastic! better than most Indian food we have had) and caught a bus with our new friend Morely to Dharamsala.
As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, Malachi about had a spaz attack of excitedness once we started to see the craggy peaks of the foothills of the Himalayas. We arrived in Mcleod Ganj with anticipation and a great big sigh of relief to be met with the cooler weather and mellow home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. We ran into friends that we met in Hampi, and they took one look at us and told us we needed to stay awhile. We asked why and they laughed and said we were strung so tight that we were about to snap. They had just spent the last month volunteering and teaching English to Tibetans and said they recognized the need to relax because they had been in the same state of mind when they arrived in Mcleod Ganj. We thanked them and needless to say, took their advice to the max. They left to Leh while we found a fantastic flat with beautiful views of the mountains and big airy ceilings down 187 steps from the main road. We fell in love with Mcleod. We went to one of the conversation classes with our friends and helped teach Tibetan lay persons as well as monks, English. I wanted to volunteer (which I wrote 3 months ago that I was going to) but they needed at least a one month commitment, and Malachi didn’t want to stay that long. We thought we would stay a couple of weeks and then head further North. In the end we spent the last 3 months of our trip in Mcleod. We had one gorgeous week of weather before the monsoon hit. I’ve never seen such torrential down pours. The streets turned into virtual rivers. We were grateful for our keens.
At the same time Malachi found an amazing sitar teacher, I found an amazing yoga teacher. I signed up for a six week yoga teacher training course from July 1-Aug 14. I had yoga class from 7-9am, philosophy from 10-1pm, advanced yoga class and pranayama from 4-6pm and meditation and satsang from 6-7:30pm six days a week. I also started teaching tribal belly dance classes 3 days a week from 1:30-3pm during my break. I’ve never felt so good in my life. Unfortunately, I made it through 3 weeks (finished the philosophy classes) and came down with a nasty stomach flu. I was out for the rest of the course. Although I didn’t receive my certification, I learned an immense amount and found a fantastic teacher and a life long yoga practice. I became fast friends with a French woman also taking the course, and we’re contemplating heading back next summer to help out with the next ttc. (Georgia I’m interested in your teacher training when I get home…. 🙂 ) While I spent my days learning how to stand on my head, Malachi finally put to use the large beautiful yet cumbersome instrument that he lugged around the country for 4 months. His teacher Anil is an absolute sweetheart. He has one sign hanging up in Mcleod, and a stack of posters in his room. One day Malachi asked why he hadn’t hung any more up. His answer “If I get one student every month, that is enough” in his very laid back musician demeanor.
Finally, we both had things that we each wanted to study. Two weeks became 3 months. We made friends with a great couple of Brits that lived in the room next to us and would spend our evenings eating in one of our favorite restaurants. Malachi decided to leave on Aug. 24 in order to go to the big festival Burning Man. I decided to stay an extra 2.5 weeks and here I am, on my own in Delhi. Before he left we performed a couple of times at one of the open mic nights at the restaurant Kanna Nirvana “Owned by Americans, run by Tibetans, in India.” He played the drums while I belly danced. We’ve both become much more comfortable with groups of people and a lot less shy. Not that we were shy before. We listened to the teachings of the Dalai Lama right before the Olympics, (there were protests the entire month of Aug) and genuinely fell in love with Mcleod.
Once we had been in India for 6 months, we had to register at the foreigners registration office. The forms the forms the forms. Bureaucracy at it’s finest. Each successive time we had to take the 45 min bus trip down the hill to Dharamsala, surprisingly the man at the Foreigners Registration office became nicer and nicer. By the time I signed out last week, I was met with the astonished outburst of “You’re leaving?? Why? When will you come back? You must come back!” A month ago I could have swore the man would have personally seen us to the border if he could. The ironies of India.
I accompanied Malachi down to Delhi to see him off (tearfully) and came back to Mcleod. As soon as I arrived I got an offer to be the illicit “on the side” partner of the taxi driver who gave me a ride from Dharamsala to Mcleod. Not surprisingly I declined the gag worthy offer and quickly exited the taxi.
*A note on harassment in India. For the most part men are pleasant. At the minimum level of harassment I’ve been leered at, graduating to secret photo taking on cell phone cameras, to “accidental” touching, to outright grabbing of breasts and attempted crotch grabs. I don’t dress provocatively, but the sexual maturity level of most (I know not all) men in this country is that of a 12 year old boy on a dare. The majority of the time it’s harmless, sometimes less so. All of this is to set the background for a few incidents that occurred on my way to Bhagsu. My teacher training course was in Bhagsu, it’s about a 20 min walk from our home. I would walk if the weather is nice. It is mostly populated by Indian holiday makers (mostly young Punjabi men) and backpackers looking for more of a “scene.” I was asked on average about 7-10 times for “one photo” every time I walked to Bhagsu. I used to pose for the countless photos in the 4 months of traveling throughout India, but once we settled in Mcleod, I felt I found a home and I was no longer a tourist. I was harassed constantly by the huge groups of young Punjabi men, not pleasant but not menacing. One day I had had enough of “one photo” questions and the apparent deftness of the one with a camera when they heard “no”. One man asked and kept blocking my way so I reached down and started to pry off my sandal and told him I would beat him with my shoe if he didn’t leave me alone. With a frightened face, he finally left me alone. Another day, I was walking down the street, minding my own business as usual and carrying an umbrella because it was monsoon season, and a guy in a huge group of young men happened to be the unfortunate soul who decided to press my buttons that day. He made some sort of lewd comment, well maybe not really lewd but enough to peeve me and………to my utter astonishment by pure reflex I swung my umbrella out and smacked him in the back. I turned, pointed at him and said “YOU! Don’t ever do that again” and suddenly realized to my chagrin, it might not have been him but one of the guys next to him. Whoever it was, I think they got my point and hopefully never bother another foreign woman again. If you’re a man in the States, you better watch out for my lightening fast reflexes if I think you have the wrong idea. Dad, I think you would be proud. Never had a problem again.
Mcleod has been lovely overall. The Tibetans are phenomenal and the backpackers you meet are also amazing people. I spent the last two and a half weeks doing yoga everyday, taking 2 hour salsa dance classes 4 days a week with a great British guy, and learning how to paint Thangkas with the most amazing Tibetan teacher. Thangkas are traditional Tibetan paintings of Buddhas and other deities that are framed with fabric and hung on the wall as meditation tools. I spent each afternoon in the small cramped paint paraphernalia strewn room, learning how to sketch and paint Buddha. Tashi, my teacher, also lives with his Grandmother who recently had cataract surgery and who doesn’t speak English. Every day they would make me lunch and feed me traditional Tibetan food amidst Buddhist philosophy discussions between me and Tashi. In my head, I would make up translations to the conversations that Tashi and his grandmother would have in Tibetan, because all I know is “hello” and “thank you.” I feel so privileged to have not only been taught by a caring teacher and phenomenal friend, but to have also been granted an intimate look into their lives. I definitely feel blessed by my experiences.
Now if you were to ask me how I felt about India 3 months into our trip, I would have given you an idealistic and very positive reply. At the 4 month mark I would have told you I want to go home and all this mayhem isn’t worth it. Now after 7 months, I’ll give you an all together different reply. India has been a blessing and a burden. India has changed me, in ways I didn’t even know I could change. For me, this trip has been all about growth and learning. I am a perpetual student, whether or not I’m in a classroom and India is the ultimate test. She tries your patience, your compassion, your sanity, and your world view. To me, India has been an internal journey, one of self discovery. I’ve learned from situations that I would never have encountered in the West. I’ve discovered how strong and how weak I am all at once. I’ve found that I am capable of withstanding the harshest mental, emotional, and physical conditions I’ve ever been presented with, and retaining not only my sanity, but my love for humanity. India presents you with your own demons and how you confront them will ultimately shape your experience. To put it in words that will never do justice to the feelings, I love India with a love that has been borne through adversity. India has made an indelible impression upon me, one that I will treasure and carry with me throughout life.
I now sit here in an internet cafe in Delhi. This reflection has been cathartic for me. I thank all of you who have read and responded to my emails over the past 8 months. I look forward to coming home, but I know I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart thousands of miles away from home. Thank you for playing audience to my internal ramblings and I can’t wait to see everyone when I get back. I’m stepping off the plane in San Francisco, and heading straight into a new adventure: more Life. I am so grateful for everything I’ve experienced in the past 8 months, and I am grateful to all of you who have been supportive. On the almost eve of my 21st birthday, I cannot encourage you enough to travel. Do it while you’re young, do it while your old, just go. Get out of your comfort zone. Experience what the world has to offer. It’s a huge and varied place. Enjoy life and every thing it has to offer. Even if you don’t travel, approach life with an open mind and most important, an open heart. This is my advice for each and every one of you.
Love to everyone and one final heartfelt Namaste!