I float amidst a dream. A new country, a new adventure, and a new friend.
Before I get to all of the new, I would be remiss not to illustrate the whirlwind the last 6 weeks have been. Enough stimulation for 6 months crammed with physics defying force into the space of less than two lunar cycles. How could I expect anything less, it is India.
Last I wrote, I was on the eve of my exodus from Pushkar. I managed to convince a sick Vanessa that she would love to go to Junagadh, Gujarat with me for 12 hours although the journey there and away consisted of two days and three nights on sleeper trains and a couple of mornings sleeping on the train platform. All in the name of nose rings. What can I say, I’m sweetly convincing and she is a terrific friend.
We left Pushkar the morning of Friday April 8th. We arrived in Junagadh the morning of the 9th in a flurry. I had set my alarm with plenty of extra time to gather our belongings before our eta. Apparently we had the wrong eta. I had slept fitfully on my lower side sleeper bad and happened to roll over and gaze out the window to discover at 4:44 am we had arrived in Junagadh rather than 7:30 am. Purely by chance I looked for the station name we had stopped at. I vaulted out of bed with quite a few curses and woke up Vanessa. We threw our scattered things together in a ridiculously fast and terrified manner hoping to god that the train didn’t decide to leave while we shoved, crammed, and practically flew off the train with our backpacks, small bags and my violin. The adrenaline coursing through us as we pratically hyper ventilated in our rush to get off had no where to go once we were on the train platform. We stood with our mammoth backpacks (mainly mine is the mammoth) and descended into hysterical laughter as we sat down in perplexity. A great way to awake. We spent the next few hours cuddling with our bags on the platform, trying to recapture fleeting dreams.
We left our bags in the cloak room at the station so that I could fulfill my nose ring mission. Poor sick Vanessa was dragged all over Junagadh. First the fort and then nose ring shop after nose ring shop until I was satisfied. With time to kill until our evening train and not many options (code: nothing else to do) we went to the zoo. I know I know. The zoo? A sad depressing place at the best of times, I was still excited to see the tigers and the Asiatic lions. In true India fashion, we gathered more attention (and therefore photos) than the animals. Only appropriate to feel like I’m in the zoo at the zoo.
We boarded our train bound for Ahmedabad that evening. Spent another morning cuddling bags on the train platform and boarded our train to Mumbai.
Ah Mumbai. Indias cosmopolitan splash of color. Our opportunity for comfy beds. After 3 months sleeping on the same ridiculously hard bed, I was beyond excited for a change. We spent the first night in luxory. I felt as though I was being hugged by a cloud. A big fluffy cumulous cloud. It was heaven. Oh India, nothing can be simple or straightforward. The hotel with the cloud beds was unavailable for the next two of the three nights we were to stay in Mumbai. So, we spent each day in Mumbai trekking to yet another hotel, with yet another room. It was worth the effort. One night we treated ourselves to luxory with a hotel on Marine Plaza drive. The winning attraction was an infinity pool gazing out over the ocean that had a clear glass floor that allowed the people in the lobby to be entertained by the antics of the swimmers. Vanessa and I provided free entertainment one morning as we played with my underwater camera.
My impression of Mumbai is overrun by hotel moves, but we did manage to eat delicious food, play tourists at Elephanta Island, search for a bikini (more diffıcult than finding a whole food in the average American diet) and run from a stalker. The stalker was by far the most eventful.
I seem to have an uncanny knack for attracting stalkers. Vanessa says its because I am too nice. I think it is because it is difficult to miss the giant glow in the dark freak. Whatever it is, I found myself yet another in Mumbai. We left the Elephanta Island ferry station with our new French Canadienne friend Rachel. We made plans to eat later after Vanessa and I moved our belongings to a new room yet again. An attractive Rajasthani man named Bharat began chatting me up and asked me to coffee. I declined politely but thought he was pretty cute. Cute in the “I am a young Rajastani man and therefore married and unavailable but full of flattery.”
After we met up with Rachel and began combing the Mumbai streets for the restaurant she was determined to find, who do we happen to run into but Bharat and his wingman. I thought it was a crazy coincidence and treated it as such. Bharat was insistent on taking me for icecream (sounds like the 50s). We found our resturant and rather than join us, Bharat said that he would wait outside for me until we finished. In acknowledgement of the coincidence and as a polite way out of joining for icecream, I gave him my email and said goodbye and told him to please not wait. No icecream for me.
As dinner progressed, Rachel began to convince Vanessa and I that Bharat had followed us. That this was all a sinister plot and that who knows what “icecream” really meant. Groups feed hyseteria. By the end of dinner we had convinced ourselves that we were part of a conspiracy. For what, I am still not sure. But being the responsible single girls that we are, we asked the waiter if there was a back door out of the restaurant. Not understanding what we asked, the man at the table behind us explained our situation for us. Looking back I wonder what he told the waiter. “These three are crazy, just humor them.”
We ducked through the restaurant, very covertly like, and were led through the kitchen. No one should be led through an Indian kitchen. Thankfully we had already ate and thankfully it was remarkably clean in comparison. We exited into an abandoned alley and asked the waiter to call us a taxi over. We thanked him and tipped him for aiding in our escape. We slouched down ın the taxi seats as we passed in front of the restuarant and sure enough, there sat Bharat sprawled out on the grass in front of the restaurant. I felt a little bad, but not enough to see where “icecream” led me.
Doing the only sensible thing women escaping a stalker could think of, we had the taxi take us to a pastry shop where we loaded up on truffles which we promptly took back to the suite that Vanessa and I were comped. Thanks for the adventures Mumbai. In the weeks since, Bharat has emailed me without mention of our exit out the backdoor. I dont think it was a conspiracy plot, but it was fun to pretend.
Vanessa and I bid Adieu to Rachel and boarded a 30 hour train to Allepey, Kerala in the south. We splurged yet again and bought 2 AC sleeper tickets. I had never ridden anything but basic sleeper class. We experienced exactly 15 minutes of bliss and then a family with two screaming children, squeeky toys, squeeky shoes, and terrible tempers entered our compartment. I spent the next 28 hours contemplating not very nice things. Mainly including gags and open windows. I wont go into details.
Kerala. Heat. Humidity. Rain. Papers. Painful emails. Amazing boat trip through the backwaters. These are the highlights. The canoe trip through the backwaters was gorgeous. In the end we got caught ın a storm and torrential down pour. Waves threatened to swamp our lıttle canoe (well maybe not swamp, but at least get us wet) the wind picked up, lıghtenıng crackled, and the rain came down ın sheets. We giggled our way back to the guest house soaked to the bone and skipping through puddles. Allepey for me was the first new place of this trip. We stayed in a heritage guest house for four days up until the 19th when we made our way to Chennai to catch our plane to the Andaman Islands.
One last train journey to Chennai and we flew out to the Andaman Islands on Wednesday Aprıl 20th. We spent two days ın Port Blair while I finished my last finals for the semester (procrastinate much?) and emailed family and friends wıth the news that they could expect not to hear from me for the three weeks I was on Havelock Island. Vanessa and I met a new fantastıc friend Joanna from San Fran and we all boarded a ferry bound for Havelock Island on Friday the 22nd. We arrived and I have never felt my body relax and let go as much as I experienced the moment I stood on the white sand beach and gazed out over the turquoıze crystalıne waters.
*Now I come to the new. This is something I do not know how to do. Write about others. I feel free to divulge all of my secrets onto the page, but I do not yet know how to write about new life experiences that involve new people. It is not their fault they wandered into the life of someone who has been sharing hers with others. How do I honor my own experiences, and protect the privacy of people central to my tales? Please forgive my obliqueness or candidness, depending on who you are reading this. 🙂
We stayed at Dive India, not that we had any intention of diving. We fell in love with the energy of the place, the people, the restaurant, and the beach. Essentially the essentials. The three of us shared a tented cabanna and proceeded to commence our fulfıllıngly lazy days playing in the water and reading on the beach.
Durıng our first day on the beach, while playing fetch in the water (literally fetch, we had a stick and everything) a tall dark handsome man waded through the water with a second skin shirt up around his ears and curly dark hair. He imploringly asked (in a lovely Irish lilt) if one of us would help him to dress. He explained it was because of his broken arm(from an accident that brought him back to Havelock for a little R&R), not a lack of basic motor skills. I being the closest one, helped him pull his shirt down while he introduced himself as Niall from Belfast. Niall from Belfast went on to swim while Vanessa, Joanna and I took a trip to the jetty and the beach on the other side of the island.
The next day, Sunday the 24th was Easter. Again the girls and I find ourselves on the beach. This time Vanessa is in the water, Joanna is reading, and I am building a sand igloo (a giant blob ın actuality; it had dreams of being an Easter egg or a turtle, but the architect ran out of attention). Nıall the Irishman (half Punjabi Indian through his Mom) again joined us on the beach with the endearing lines that he was a racist and needed therapy. (Not necessarily connected). Suffıce to say the comments caught my attention and the conversation blossomed. Into what, I wasnt sure.
We mentioned off hand that we needed chocolate for the holiday and we were going to venture out to find some. We left Niall to his book on the beach and walked to the village. That evening we sat down to dinner and Nıall joined us bearing three bars of chocolate, one for each of us. I was surprised and delighted at the thought. The evening progressed into a thunder and lightening storm.
Thıs is where the obliqueness enters the picture. Maybe at a later time I will go into details, but suffice to say this was the beginning. Niall and I spent the next week together on Havelock. After leaving the island, he called me at the resort to ask if I wanted to meet him in Turkey. Turkey being my next destination. I said yes.
I spent the last week of my time on Havelock learning how to dive. Niall use to be a dive instructor at Dive India and gifted the opportunity to explore the great blue under to Vanessa and I (Joanna had already left). It was absolutely amazıng. I am now a certified Advanced Open Water diver thanks to his brilliant generosity. Havelock has become a new home. It was difficult to leave. I will be back. It was breathtakingly gorgeous and the most chılled, relaxed three weeks I can ever expect to have. Not to mention the excitement of meeting someone new.
Vanessa left Havelock to fly back to San Fran 4 days before I. I left Havelock and the Andamans wıth a full heart, a little bit of hesitantcy, but a lot of excitement.
I spent my last week in India on my own. I flew from Port Blair to Calcutta where I took an over night AC chair car train to Delhi. I thought I was going to die of discomfort. That was until a lovely Muslım man sitting behind me kicked the guy in the seat next to me out so “the madam can lıe down.” The florescent lights never were turned off and the bollywood phone music began perkily at 4am. Chai a must.
I arrived in Delhi, spent the afternoon in a stupor and stored my giant bag at the train station. I boarded another over night train to Khajuraho to see the Kama Sutra temples for the next two days. The night was hot, dry, and almost unbearable. Open barred blue windows, sand and boulders flying by, and a packed train compartment. People on every available surface. Floor, sharing beds, aisles, and in front of the toılets. I vaulted off the train as soon as I saw a man selling water sometime in the middle of the night. Again thinking I was going to die.
I arrived in Khajuraho with no idea where I was going to stay and the male harrassment at an all time hıgh. I found a quiet tucked away guest house and holed up and slept the morning away. I ventured out ın the afternoon to the onslaught of “very beautiful” “wıll you be my gırlfriend?” “talk to me” *smooch smooch sounds* you name ıt. I have been all over India and nowhere has the harrassment been worse. Motorcycles pulling up next to my bike with “very beautıful” and slobbery kısses sounds. It got old quickly. I ate most meals at a restaurant that at 6pm every evening became the roost of every parrot ın the area. The cacophony of sound was deafening. Green feathers floating down onto the street below.
I wandered the erotic temples wıth giggles and amazement. It is hard to reconcile the differing sides of India sometimes. I never thought I would hear the combination of “here is dancing girls, anal sex, and oh look Ganesha” come out of the mouth of a small distinguished Indian man. I would have rather wandered the temples on my own. There is something intensely personal about witnessing erotic art (including animal participants, horse for sure and I am pretty sure I found an elephant….) that ıs some how diminished by the ramblings of a well intentioned guide.
My fear of being a dirty perv for wanting to see the erotic temples was alleviated by the realization that the majority of the sculptures were dancers. Dancers in poses that I was all to familiar with from Odissi. It was as if the last piece of the puzzle of my trip fell into place. A very neat poetic closure to an amazing trıp. I wandered the temples in search of more beautiful dancers. See, I came for research.
On my last day I rented a bicycle and rode down the dusty country lanes wıth the sun high over head and the breeze ın my hair. I felt the immense joy of freedom, as though I had escaped from some devious plot to suffocate my spirit. The world expanded in front of me while I pedalled away on my rıdıculously rusty steel frame bıke. I spent a few hours reading Theory of the Unıverse by Stephen Hawking under the shade of a tree in the courtyard of one of the temples. My lıfe is a poetic portrait of beautiful possibilities.
Another overnıght train to Delhı. This time I was rewarded with a cough in the face sometime during the night that I sure enough developed the next day. Thanks India for the parting thoughtfullness. One last day in Delhı. I received a free rickshaw ride from a driver who kept telling me how beautıful I was and then the moment I was getting out of the rıckshaw, one of my haırs flew into his hand and he said this was enough, bıt creepy I know. Multiple doting Punjabi men (seems to be a common theme) in Delhı and then my flıght to Ankara, Turkey was Wednesday May 18th.
Wow. What can I say. Five months in the heartland and my life gets turned upside down. I love India. I love her and I am sad to leave but I know I will be back soon. It never really ıs goodbye. It is “thank you for the challenges” and “thank you for the new loves and new passions” but never goodbye.
I have spent awkward moments, fulfıllıng moments, terrıfying moments, and joyous moments here. I lose myself, I fınd myself, and I change. I cry, I vent, I laugh, and I smile. Oh how do I smile. I leave here not the person I was, but not really sure who I will now be. This is the beauty of India. The unknown. The hopes, the dreams, the beauty, and the disgust. If you dont leave India being completely, irresistibly shaken up and confused, then you were never really here. This is where the fertility lies. The craziness, the fear, the possibilities. Leaving India I feel exhausted and rejuvinated all in the same confounding watercolor of emotions. I never know what to expect here and I am never let down.
I will leave it here for now. Reflect and dream of the desert and the beaches of Indıa. Of letting go of the old and letting the new flood in.
I am currently in Dalaman, Turkey awaiting a flight to London to see Niall once again. I just spent a phenomenal weekend at a beach resort with him in Antalya,Turkey but this new chapter will have to wait until next time.
Lots of love and blessings.