When I come to the point in my life when I deem it necessary that I must settle on a vocation, I hope that I can find one that will accurately reflect my skills and accomplishments. Namely my unflappable ability to efficiently take a hot water bucket shower, ride a bike one handed through narrow blue alleyways dodging motorcycles, cows, bikes, people, and dogs while filming with a videocamera (I have the film to prove it), and eat with one hand without making a disaster of my clothes. These are a few of the skills that I am becoming reacquainted with.
As with all journeys in India, my route from Delhi to Bundi to meet friends for New Years was filled with delays, detours, and determination. I found myself at the end of Pharagang, the backpacker oasis of Delhi, staying in the last hotel I stayed in before I left India the last time. The men at the front counter are the same, the room just as dark and dreary but blissfully quiet. I was bound and determined to get out of Delhi asap. My goal was to meet up with Melea and Thomas, their daughter Acacia and Shawna, Jeff, and Kyler. All from home in Alaska. Melea, Shawna, and I are all attending the Odissi intensive in Pushkar together.
Gratefully, I met the end of the protest that resulted in the train and bus halt of Rajasthan. Bus and trains had been canceled for the week before I arrived in India. I made my way down the familiar Pharagang market street to the New Delhi train station. Except for the hiccup of being polite to touts that were trying to tell me that the tourist reservation office was not where I knew it to be, the train booking was uneventful. When the tout was dishonestly explaining the whereabouts of the office, a German man descend on us out of nowhere, grabbed my hand, pointed me in the right direction, and sent me off with a smile and good luck. I smiled back with gratitude. This is the first time I’ve had another traveler intervene for me, I hope I can pass along his kindness.
In the reservation office I heard my first of many “You’re traveling alone?! Is that safe?” from other travelers. My reaction is always a quizzical look and “of course it is.” I’m surprised by the fear many first time India travelers exhibit. I have never felt unsafe here. Traveling alone is brilliant. The biggest downfall is planning bathroom breaks and not having someone to watch my stuff if I’m out and about.
I secured an overnight train ticket out of Delhi the night of the 30th, meaning if the train was running on time I would make it to Bundi at 2am the 31st. Just in time for New Years. I spent at total of 15 hours in Delhi from the time I flew into Delhi and the moment I left on the train. Long enough to sleep for about 4 hours, play tourist and take the high class Delhi metro out to the Qutb Minar, and to eat my first Indian dish, a modest dal makhani and chapati (delicious and triggered a flood of memories).
I made my way to the train station, found my train, stored my bags under the seat and sat waiting for my sleeper compartment to fill up. No one else came. There were about 8 other people in my entire train car and I should have known then that something was up. A samosa wallah came through and I purchased two. The first of many warm flaky moments of delight. I hesitated at first and almost felt ashamed enough to try to hide that I then tossed the plate out the window.
The sleeper compartment was just as I remembered. A two tone blue scheme which had definitely seen better days. The grunge is thick from the exhaust and pollution, but the beds are surprisingly clean. I pulled out my silk sleeping bags, the blanket my dad prophetically purchased for me at the airport in Anchorage (it has been invaluable) and set my alarm for 1:30am. I awoke to see my breath. There are no heaters in these compartments. I put on all of my warmest clothes, few considering I packed for India, and sat and waited for the stop to arrive. At about 2:30am I found an Indian train passenger and asked if he knew when the train would reach Bundi. He disappeared down the car into the mysterious mist of other compartments and returned with the news that we were no longer on the route we left upon. Instead, we were somewhere in northwest Rajasthan. On top of that, we were no longer going to make it to Bundi, but bypass it and head straight for Udaipur. This is ironic because the original plan for New Years was to meet in Udaipur but Melea, Thomas, and Acacia could not leave Bundi to get to Udaipur. Funny universe.
I spent the next 6 hours trying not to freeze or chatter too much as my new found Indian friend taught me Hindi. Vinoth is from Tamil Nadu (the South of India) and works in the oxygen side of a lead factory. I learned a lot about mineral production in India as well as practiced my numbers and verb conjugations.
On a whim, I got off the train at 8am in Ajmer, hoping that I could get a bus to Bundi. Without stopping, I downed a extremely garam (hot) chai to warm up my frozen extremities on the platform and took a rickshaw to the bus station. Forgetting the useful phrase that Vinoth taught me “Which bus goes to Bundi?” I instead wandered through the bus station with my beastly backpack asking “Bundi?” with raised eyebrows and a head tilt. Eventually I was directed to the right bus and we left within 5 mins of my boarding. Five hours, a sore neck, and screaming bladder latter, I arrived in Bundi. I was terrified the bus would leave without me if I got off to use the restroom at one of the few stops. This is one of the moments that traveling alone can be tricky.
Melea had not emailed me back to say where they were staying before I left Delhi. Using my extraordinary powers of deductive reasoning, I had a rickshaw drop me off in the hub of the guest houses and I found an internet spot. I quickly read the email Melea sent that morning stating where everyone was staying and I walked the five minutes to Uma Megh Haveli. At last in Bundi, at last with friends. It was a trip to see everyone from home on the other side of the world. My room was beautiful and spacious full of quirky paintings, stained glass windows and a window bench looking out over the lake! (I have wanted a window bench since I was a little girl). It was here I would finally settle and relax into the shanti shanti time of India.
I will leave it at that for now. Adventures from Bundi to come as I write from Pushkar.
Full Power, shanti shanti.