29 January 2016

Mumbai, the First Time (I Think)

gateway of india

The plan is to fly out of Mumbai on April 14, but this plan, of course, might change. I might stay longer, or leave sooner, but I’m thinking I’ll probably just leave on this very date. Regardless, I’ll plan two more days in Mumbai, and there’s lots more to do.

I arrived exhausted after travel stress because of hyped-up security due to Republic Day (show ticket and passport before entering airport; show ticket and passport before entering main part of airport; get luggage scanned at x-ray machine; show ticket and passport again when checking in; separate electronics at security; x-ray machine; get pat down; show boarding pass again; collect stuff and wait at gate; leave gate; get bags searched and pat down again; then finally board plane). But even in the cab, I knew I already loved the energy of Mumbai. Sure, there was traffic, but it was nothing as crazy as it was in Delhi. But there seemed to be a certain energy, with gorgeous buildings (hello, Victoria Train Station) and lots of great street food.

I dumped off my stuff in Traveller’s Inn Hotel (a hostel of sorts) and headed to dinner around the block. Mixed veggies, cheese naan, a mango lassi. Then I went back to my room, and felt totally exhausted, and a little depressed. What was I doing here, all alone in an Indian guesthouse, missing my boyfriend and everything back home?

I suppose I’m having a great adventure?

In the morning, I woke up and did yoga. I felt better, and then showered and ate breakfast at the hostel. Then, following the directions the hostel gave me, I went to the Victoria Trail Station to catch the local train two stops away to my PT. Yes, I’m in India and I have a PT. My injury flared up, and Amit recommended a PT to me.

After confusion locating the place, I had my PT session (400 rupees) and he tried to calm me down about my injury. Then I decided to take the train down to Churchgate. I wandered around, looked at Gateway of India, saw the chaotic hell that is the Colaba street fair, and went into an Indian restaurant for some good, cheap thali. I met an Israeli girl, and we began talking about traveling and India. She has been to India four times, and said she’ll be coming back. I felt a bit out of it as I’m not yet in love with India. It’s magical at times, yes, but oh so hard so many other times. It also makes me feel without a purpose: what am I doing here anyway?

Oh yeah, yoga and writing. And I have been doing both.

After I left her, I walked over to Marine Drive and saw the beach. I just wandered, drinking water. I tried to write a bit, but I find a lot of the times, when you pull out your journal, people instantly talk to you and want to know what you’re writing, or stare at you. I ended up walking quite a long way, and then feeling homesick.

So I headed to Coffee Day, which is basically like the Indian version of Starbucks. It’s not special or even that nice, but I wanted something with more of a Western feel. I sat in the cafe and drank a masala chai and read my kindle.

After a while, I began chatting with the two people next to me; an artist/scientist from LA/Hawaii, and a PhD student in Buddhism, who ironically went to Naropa. We instantly bonded.

They said they were going to go on a walk; did I want to join them? Sure, I’ve been walking all day. Why not walk more?

We stopped at random shops on the street, I bought a new phone case, we did a lot of street shopping, just talking.

We ended up at a French place, where we got drinks (and I also got a soup). It was a very Western place, and I was somehow grateful. After they left for their dinner reservations, I stayed on to order a veggie dinner and another glass of wine. I felt relaxed.

I went back to my hostel and worked on some freelance writing pieces.


marine drive....

closeup of dhobi ghat

The next morning, after yoga, breakfast, and PT, I went and met up with Amit. Amit is a Mumbai ultrarunner who I connected with via my friend Henrik; I met him and his fiancee (Mexican-American woman living in India), Monica. We talked about ultrarunning, India, races...a good dorky running conversation. We drank tea and talked, and then they showed me around Bandra, a neat suburb neighborhood of Mumbai with lots of expats and a great vibe.

After, I went to Dhobi Ghat, and saw the infamous “human-powered washing machine.” It was pretty neat to see tons of people doing so much laundry and hanging it….though I’m sure they don’t love that they’re a tourist attraction. I hopped back in my cab (the driver who later tried to rip me off….sigh) and went to the museums. WHICH WERE ALL CLOSED. In Churchgate area, I realized that tons of things - basically, almost everything, was closed because of Republic Day. Finally, I found some food, and headed to the common room of my hostel and worked on some freelance writing. There were a bunch of people in there because everything was shut down.



dhobi ghat
After a few hours, there was a lot of noise from nearby Republic Day festivities. I headed out to watch some fireworks and see some energetic drummers. I saw a guy from my hostel; he was leaving the next day to go back home. Turns out, he had a really hard time with India. (I think a lot of travellers do. It’s a very difficult country to travel in.) His bank card was shut down and he didn’t like people scamming him (no one does...it kind of sucks) and he didn’t really get how to backpack and this was the first hostel he stayed in. We talked for a while on the street, and then I invited him out to dinner with me. We ate, talked, walk over to the legendary Leopold’s (yes, from Shantaram), talked….and I tried my hardest to convince him to not go home. I gave him suggestions; I told him he could travel with me to Mysore and Hampi, even share my rooms. I told him the things he could do, how to travel better, what to do differently, how hostels are awesome….and I felt good, he was going to stay, he was going to love traveling...and then, at the end of the night, said he thinks he should go home. I felt so bad: India was so amazing and great and I didn’t want him to leave. Yes, it’s tough and everyone wants to just go home - but there are ways to deal with it. I wish I could have helped him.

I passed out to sleep in my room, feeling bad for him, and woke up the next morning, and headed to the airport to fly to Bangalore!

24 January 2016

Holy Holy Varanasi

I had wanted to see Varanasi as I’ve always heard what a holy city it was. I only had three days, but I actually wished I had more. There were so many neat alleyways to explore and walking around the ghats was so fascinating and I stayed at a great hostel. But that’s traveling. You spend too much time stuck in transit and not enough time doing rad things.

After a day of pure hell in several airports and two different airlines, I arrived in Varansi. My first cab driver gave me a weird vibe, so I didn’t even get in his cab; I found another cab and arrived in Varansi after a long drive.

My hostel, Stops Hostel, was great. I almost didn’t book because I hate when hostels charge single people double occupancy price for a double person room, but I’m glad I did. Free breakfast, chai time, lots of activities, different chill-out areas, yoga. It was great.

Shortly after I arrived, I ended up going out to dinner with a random English girl. We ate chana masala and mixed veggies with lots of chapati. A group of women and men came in, and they began smiling and bowing at us. We ended up taking photos with them (An Indian thing is to take photos with a Westerner - I get stopped all the time and get asked to pose for photos with Indian people.) and finished our meal. I was so exhausted after my long day that I just went and organized my bag and then went to sleep.

In the morning, I went to do yoga with Siddharth on the roof. It was me and another woman, and it was pretty tough. It was also freezing on the roof at seven a.m. As monkeys ran by, we balanced on one leg and breathed. It was also a wonderful way to start the day.

During the hostel breakfast (omelette, eggs, cereal, toast, biscuits, chai), I met some other travelers and made plans with them to walk along the ghats.

The ghats are the stairs that lead down to the Ganges. The Ganges is a holy river where many things happen. When I arrived in Varanasi, I told my mom, “I’m in Varanasi. Google “Varansi AND Ganges.”” My mom wrote back, “Sewage and bathing and cremation came up - I’m not sure how that all goes together.” It does and so much more.

Along the Ganges, people are doing laundry, drinking the water, cremating bodies, taking boat rides, bathing, going for a holy plunge...It’s chaotic and insane. Boatmen try to get you to take a boat ride; people try to sell you beads; cows are everywhere, and so are their lovely piles of poop. There are tons of dogs and puppies sleeping in the sun and eating garbage. Holy men pray; tourists take photos; laundry is drying. It is such an insane and interesting place.

There are two main cremation sites; if you die and are cremated in Varansi, you will reach nirvana. Only men can be at the cremation sites because it is thought that women cry more and no one can cry; if someone cries, the soul cannot be released and will remain. The body is wrapped in white, and then a glorious orange and gold covered shawl is draped over the body until the last moment. The bodies are burned on the beach at a various levels in a building behind, or a crematorium on the Gaganes. (It costs about 15,000 rupees to be cremated on the Ganges in Varanasi.)

Women or men can be cremated, but there are 7 or 8 categories that cannot: pregnant women; babies; transgender people; people with leprosy; people with chicken pox; animals; and I can’t remember if there are any others. These individuals (there are about 200 a day) have a rock tied to their bodies and the bodies are dumped in the middle of the river. Think about it: 200 bodies a day are dumped into the river. 200.

And yet, down the river, people are drinking the water, bathing in it, swimming in it, doing laundry in it…

I went on a boat tour and when our guide told us that the laundry was done excellently, one guy at my hostel freaked out when he thought the laundry he had sent out was done in the river. Kind of gross...but to many, it is very holy.

In Varanasi, I walked along the Ganges; got lost in the maze of alleys that led to the ghats; ate a Blue Lassi (amazing, best lassi ever!); ate at Brown Bread Bakery (the real one, not the fake one 50 meters away - yep, there is a fake one!); ate street samosas (2 for 10 rupees); hung out at my hostel; drank lots of chai; got lost; have fun.

The last morning, I was the only one doing yoga so Siddharth’s assistant picked me up and drove me by motorbike through the maze of alleys. We did yoga along the Ganga, just Siddharth and I watched the sunrise over the Ganga and monkeys run around. I drank a rose lassi and thought about how lucky I was to be here - but also how hard India can be, and how much I miss home.

Next stop - Mumbai!

Hello, Mumbai!

This trip has had me homesick more than ever before. It’s a wonderful sense of freedom, but India can be exhausting. Traveling in India is HARD - things rarely run on time, security is a huge pain in the butt, there are often delays and breakdowns, and there are no apologies.

I find it exhausting to go from place to place, to constantly haggle, the trash, the cows, the cow poop, the stares, the crazy traffic like you wouldn’t believe, the cold water, the never-any-toilet-paper-in-the-bathrooms, the lack of vegetables, the lack of soap, the filthy toilets, the squat toilets, the mud on my shoes, the shoves on the street.

Why am I taking it all so personally?

I guess becuase I’m a person.

I was at an impasse with my career; I was stuck and I couldn’t get ahead where I was. I thought a change would give me a fresh perspective, and I’ve always wanted to study yoga. I could have time to write. It would be like a dream come true.

I’ve figured out more what I want to do with my life: write. I’d love to write full-time. It would be amazing if there were a writing job that requred research skills. Or my dream would be: part-time librarian; part-time writing (freelance or otherwise); teach a yoga class or two. But I also need to pay the bills and get benefits. It’s stressful to think about it.

But changing places so much leaves little time to write. i barely keep up in my journal. I haven’t written as much as I’d like. Travel arrangements have taken way more time than I thought they would. Delays at airports and buses and trains have also taken up more time. What am I doing with my life?

I miss eating salad and cooking. I miss being in Wayne’s arms every night, and my sweet cats. I miss a variety of clothes and clean clothes and laundry. I miss my shower. I miss my family and friends. I miss my yoga studio. I miss wine. I miss my routine.

I’m being honest here because homesickness happens. I suppose it could be worse, but right now, I wouldn’t mind being in my sweet little apartment. But because I’m here, I’m going to grow, live, laugh, and experience what’s next.

Hello, Mumbai!

22 January 2016

And then I lost it....

I paid 2 or 3,000 extra rupees for an earlier flight. I reckoned it was safer to arrive before dark. Turns out, that plan was for naught. My earlier flight was delayed by over three hours, and because it was a different airline, and things don’t run as smoothly as back home, I know have to pay nearly 6,000 MORE rupees. Great. Wonderful.

In the ticket agent’s office, they tried to tell me to fix it on the website (The website, like many things in India, didn’t work; it just kept running me in loops. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to book a guesthouse or plane ticket or bus ticket and had a similar experience.). I ended up talking with an agent, but surprise, my foreign credit card would not work. (This often happens in India. Way to say, “We don’t want you to travel here…” Supposedly, it’s to thwart off terrorism….or maybe it’s tourism?) I cried. I just could not deal with losing all of these rupees to stupid airlines and my stupidity and I haven’t eaten today and why the fuck am I here in India when I could be snuggled in Wayne’s warm arms? I dreamt of him last night, that I had gone home for two days, and how painfully I do miss him?

I haven’t eaten anything other than snacks today and that might be why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. I just caught myself gnawing on my finger (No, I’m not exaggerating.). I only hope we leave soon and the rest of the day goes as seamlessly as it can.

Every time I see other travelers, they’re mostly with friends. It’s a way easier way to travel in India. I suddenly feel so very lonely. In two weeks, I’ll be on my yoga training, too busy to be lonely. And then I travel with my boy! And another friend might come over too.

Some days suck. That’s life. It doesn’t mean you should toss it all away...but just means you need to clear your mind and hopefully things will work out in the end.

And after I cried, the ticket agent/flight attendent who originally tried to help me came up to me. “Have a chai...You were crying. Why were you crying? Your makeup is ruined.”

I was annoyed. and pissed about the money. “I don’t really care.”

Later, in the bathroom, while washing my hands, I noticed my eyeliner. With my shirt sleeve, I wiped off the smudges under my eyes. “You know, you are very beautiful. Very beautiful,” said the agent, who was standing at the mirror.

And this is what India is like. You are ready to throw it all in, and then a gem like this happens. Someone offers kindness and compassion. And you think, “This isn’t such a bad place after all. Not at all.”

Rishikesh!!!


Rishikesh was a super chill place where I really enjoyed just relaxing and not having as many cars circle around me. Rishikesh is a pretty little town (well, the part where I stayed was cute….not so much with the rest of the city!) and is known as the capital of yoga. It’s a great place to go on a retreat, do some yoga, relax, take some meditation courses, drink some chai….

It was like a bigger Dharamshala with less Tibetans and more yoga and more hippies. And I kind of liked it.

I got there after a horrendous night spent on a freezing cold minivan, followed by a rickshaw ride, bus ride, and then another rickshaw ride. (Travelingt in India is never easy.) I checked into Shiv Shakti Guesthouse, which had the #1 rating for Rishikesh B&Bs on Trip Advisor. #1 in India is definitely different. Ha.

I ate breakfast at The German Cafe/Pumpernickle, which was great and quickly became my fave cafe, despite super slow internet. The staff were friendly, the chai was good, the banana pancakes were wonderful, the fruit salads were lovely, and it was a great vibe. Every day, I spent at least a few hours, writing, sipping, relaxing, dreaming.

Every day, I did yoga at least once, sometimes twice. I ran a bit - but now, my old injury is coming back to haunt me. Two weeks off. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction sucks. I wrote. Taking Julian’s wisdom, I am trying to write 2-3 hours a day. Sometimes it’s pure shit, sometimes it’s just journaling, somtimes it’s articles for the baby website...But it’s pushing me to do what I came her to do. I like to write at cafes, though sometimes I write in beds, at desks, in lobbies, and in transit.

I walked to the Maharesh Ashram, aka The Beatles Ashram. They now charge 600 rupees, which is pretty crazy, but it was a really special experience. You could feel the energy there. I wandered around, barely saw anyone else, took some photos. I wanted to meditate in the little huts or the meditation caves, but it’s also India and I’m a woman traveling by myself so…I didn’t.

With some people at my hostel, we watched the Gang Aarti, which was a nightly sunset ceremony by a Hindu temple. Lovely, neat, and fun, except some of the “holy men” (I’m not sure what to call them) took photos with people’s cameras the entire time, so that made it feel a bit weird.

I basically spent my time, wandering, drinking chai, writing, eating, doing yoga, and relaxing. Pretty nice time.

I also inquired abt further yoga intensives. I think the best option (unless I want to do the full 300 hours after my 200 hour training to have a 500 hour certification) is to do a kundalini intensive for 6 days along the Ganges. I think that is prob the best option for me to learn about something that I want to learn about.

There were lots of potheads (not my thing) but a pretty relaxed atmosphere otherwise. Hippies who got caught up for year.

I met a sadhu who gave me a necklace and befriended me, and later said as he passed me, “Rich people are stupid.” Um, okay.

I’ll prob be back, and that feels nice. It’s a cute town with a ton going on. I was even able to buy two new tops to boost up my minimal (too minimal) wardrobe that I packed with me from home.

Next stop...Varanasi!

20 January 2016

Routines

We all love a good routine.

So very true. Even though I was miserable in the months leading up to my trip, I still found solace in the routines. I knew what would happen. I knew how to manage my life. I'd get up at 5:30, run, go the gym, maybe practice yoga, bike to work or work at home, mid-day run or yoga break or errands or work straight through lunch, work, bike home or not, yoga, make dinner, eat with Wayne, straighten up the house, put laundry away, talk on the phone with my family, work on Burning Man projects or freelance writing. I knew where to grocery shop (a combo of The Garden, Trader Joe's, the new health food store, Fresh Direct), how to shop on Amazon to save time on errands, what times to fly to make the most of my time, blah blah blah blah BORING.

But it was my routine and I knew it and it was fine.

Years ago, my friend pointed out the evils of routines when I said an ex of mine knew me like no one else ever would. "Well, duh. He's known you longer. You've got yourself a habit. Bad habit."

But we all take comforts in our routines. So after the urging of Jules on creating a writing routine, I'm making a routine of my own here in India. It involves a short run if i I can, yoga, breakfast and journaling or blogging, yeah tourist stuff too, but every day, I want to write 2-3 hours. Kind of a massive goal, but we'll see what I can do. I want to start with editing some older pieces, and then, going from there.

Dharmashala (or, I never wanted to leave)

I've always wanted to go to Dharamsala (or, as the locals typically spell it, Dharamshala). It's where the Tibetan government-in-exile's home is, along with the Dalai Lama's home. As someone who has been interested in Buddhism and studying it a long time (but mostly on my own, thus, I tend to not call myself a Buddhist), going here has been a longtime dream.

I wasn't in love with Amritsar (big city India overwhelms me) and hurried to Dharamshala with mere minutes to spare. The bus drive was long and rather miserable (the engine began smoking for a while, so we were stuck while they figured it out in Panthantakott....also where I went to use the bathroom at the bus station and saw a mother having her small child (maybe 2 or 3 years old) urinating in the middle of the bathroom floor, just next to the sinks. (There were open stalls.) Horrifying...).

When I arrived in Dharamshala, it was cold. Colder than I expected. I shivered in my walk to Tibet World, where I was staying.

When I got there, it was very quiet and empty; only 2 other people were staying there. I felt very lonely.

My room was frigid. I rented a space heater for 100 rupees a night, which only heated you if you sat directly in front of it (and not even all of you; just the part of your body where the small space heater was directly adjacent to) and a club was blasting bad American music. I wandered out in the cold to get food and felt alone; I saw almost no one. I decided to move rooms in the morning.

I woke up freezing cold. I headed over to Kunga House, which became my home-away-from-home. After looking at a few rooms, I settled on the Richard Gere Suite, where he stayed. It was nice, had a comfy sitting area, a private balcony, private bathroom, mountain view. It was wonderful for writing; at nights, I'd sit in my sitting area or at my bed and write on my laptop, or curl up under the blankets, talking to Wayne or my mom, watching the sunrise from my windows. Monkeys ran across the balcony. It was peaceful.

The town itself is quite small, with lots of restaurants, shops, cafes. Perfect to kind of while your days away.

I visited the Tibetan monastery. It was pretty incredible. Monks rushed around in between tourists. The Dalai Lama was in his private residence, but on retreat so he couldn't hang out.

I wandered. I wrote in my journal. I ate delicious Tibetan food. I bought some jewelry. I read. I made travel plans. I chatted with other backpackers.

I visited Om Yoga Center and Ashram. They told me I could do a 100 hour training program, but they didn't give me a lot of information, and were REALLY pushy about asking for money. My gut said no, it wasn't right, not for me. Something about it....you have to trust your instincts in life, but it was neat to see the ashram and talk to some interesting yogis.

I began talking with a random guy, who became my Dharamshala BFF. He was a writer and a photojournalist, and we began talking about writing, traveling, travel lifestyle, how our lives don't fit in at home, proper life paths, our life paths, what we really want....you know, the kind of thing you instantly share when you meet a travel BFF. 

We spent the rest of our time together, getting meals, talking.

Finally - it was time to leave. I didn't want to, but as I came to India to practice yoga, I should head to Rishikesh to figure out my yoga future. So I needed to go.

Julian and I hung out and wrote and talked. And then he took the taxi w me to Lower Dharamshala. (Upper Dharamshala, aka where me and the Dalai Lama were, is actually called McLeod.) We got there....

...and the bus was cancelled.

We hopped back in a cab, went out to dinner at a restaurant managed by a monastery, went to The Green Hotel for some lemon ginger honey tea and cake, a chat, and then went to our respective rooms to write our respective writing.

In the morning, I went to yoga at Om Yoga Center. It was very different than the yoga I've done in the U.S., though interesting. After, I tried to sort out my minibus for the next night, then got tea with Jules, then lunch. We were befriended by a loud American, and we all went to see an old English church. Jules, who was English, said, "Leave it to the English to be in India and build something like THIS." Ha.

Then Jules and I went back to his room, nicknamed The Palace because it's so huge. I had stored my stuff there, and we just hung out until my bus.

And then I had a total breakdown. I began crying, "What did I do with my life? Why am I here? This is so hard, it's so lonely much of the time. I miss Wayne so terribly, and just the comforts of my home. I don't think this is really what I want. Why am I here? Was I running away to make sense of things?"

Jules got me some toilet paper (knowing how much I prize toilet paper here in this country where it's usually lacking!) and listened to me and offered me some advice. He told me that I'm running away but looking for something else, and that we are not like other people, that we have wanderlust. "Think about all the friends you haven't met," he told me.

I think things were really bad when I left. Wayne and I were stressed, and I think this break, difficult as it is, will really help us. And my job was destroying me....this break will allow me to get back to my passions and heal my health, which was falling apart. Step by step....

I dried my tears. I said goodbye to Jules. And I sat crammed in a horrible freezing overnight minibus to Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world.

17 January 2016

Life Gives You Answers Sometimes

Life really does give us answers, but we don't listen.

I was wanting to stay here in Dharamshala because I'm kind of in love with it - but feeling like I should move on to Rishikesh for the yoga. So even though I was feeling back and forth all day, I decided to leave.

In line to buy a bus ticket, I discovered the bus wasn't happening. No comfortable bus. Only a local bus, four hours later.

F it. My English photojournalist travel bud who had decided to accompany me to the bus station hopped in a horrendous cab and back to my little comfort zone of lots of chai, cafe writing, yoga to the mountain view, smiling at monks, and pics of the Dalai Lama everywhere.

16 January 2016

Amritsar

When I first told my parents I was going to India, they were not pleased. "It's not safe," my mom told me. "I'm going to worry about you." (To be fair, she worries about me when I take the subway home from seeing her!)

But then, to show me they approved, they made me watch (again) their fave Bollywood film, Bride and Prejudice. The family lives in Amritsar, and my parents asked if I was going there. Maybe. There was The Golden Temple. And hey, it was on the way to Dharmashala. 


After struggling quite a bit with Clear Trip and India Rail, Harish booked me taktal tickets. (India Railways book up weeks in advance; however, on popular routes, the day before at 10a.m., a limited number of tickets open up called taktal. They are a bit more expensive, and it's a rush, but you can often get on a train if you need to.)

Meenal arranged a cab the night before, and the cab arrived 25 minutes early. Luckily I was ready, but this also meant I ended up spending way more time than necessary in the India train station.

At the train station, I hopped in a tuktuk to my hostel. It was my first shared room of the trip; likely my last. I'm kind of sick of shared rooms and really like my own space. I am 36, after all. (The hostel was also a bit of a disappointment in other ways, but they did have FREE UNLIMITED CHAI!)

Shortly after arriving, I arranged my things a bit, and chatted with a guy from my hostel, Chris. We decided to explore for food, and as we were wandering, I remembered that The Golden Temple supposedly had wonderful food. "Food?" Chris looked bewildered. "Yes, and it's free. A few of my friends told me." He had already been to the Temple but was okay with returning.

We checked our shoes and walked in. I was in awe. I didn't know very much about Sikhism but wow. You could just feel the incredible energy from the place. It overwhelmed me. I wanted to stay there.

We walked around, took some photos. You have to have your head covered, and I forgot my scarf, so I put my hoodie up. I was wearing a hot pink hoodie. This attracted the attention of many, many Indians, who wanted to take photos with me. Okaaaaay. After a while, I insisted that I also take photos with them. Ha!

We found the food finally. It was all 100% free and no one pushed for donations. You walked in an orderly fashion and you got a small bowl, plate, and spoon. Then you sat down in lines and they came up and down, putting food onto plates and filling your bowl with water. (I didn't drink because everyone says don't drink the water in India. I did have a bottle with me, luckily.) They moved so fast, it was impressive. They gave us chapati, red lentil dish, veggie stew, and coconut rice pudding. They even gave seconds, or thirds. They kept filling your plate until you left or said no.

After we finished, thanking everyone, bowing with our hands at our chest, we saw the insane washing area and vegetable prep area. Anyone can go and volunteer, and I kind of wish I had done that.
sitting in rows eating





We walked around everywhere, taking everything in. Basically, it's a massive temple with a floating lake and buildings around it, and there is a golden building (aka the golden temple) in the middle. You can go in it and see people praying. There are tons of Sikh religious men (priests?) praying and reading and tons of people praying. It was a pretty amazing gorgeous place and the energy was outstanding. I was nearly in tears and overwhelmed at several points.

After a while, the sun started going down and Chris was bored. We went back to the hostel, tried to use the pathetic internet, I tried to do laundry (massive disaster), and then....I went back to the temple! It was really amazing at night, and I got to see the ceremony where they move the massive book. I took some photos, talked to people, and just kind of meditated and hung out.

After a while, my foot ached, so I walked back to the hostel with a German girl who moved to Indian when she fell in love with a guy in Punjab.

In the morning, I got up early. I went first to The Golden Temple, because I couldn't keep away. It was foggy and gorgeous, but no sunrise. They insisted I take chai and chapati with spinach and lentils, and I wandered around taking photos.




Then I headed over to Durgiana Temple, The Silver Temple, a Hindu temple. They also have a sunrise ceremony, and it was still going on. Lots of singing and movement and just gorgeous. They gave me cup after cup of their milk tea; tasted like mainly sweet cardamom. Lovely. They gave me the sweet communion, smiled at me, and I walked around. There were several temple buildings, and a little lake with a gorgeous silver building. Lots of offering. Hindu temples have such amazing colors, offerings. So gorgeous. 

I wanted to stay forever.

After my 5th cup of chai, I left to hop on a Rickshaw and get on a bus to Dharamshala.

15 January 2016

Is traveling for me?

I definitely think it is, but wonder if I still want to do it in the same way.

I'm here in India for 3-6 months. I range from wanting to leave as soon as Wayne goes home, to wanting to go home on my original plane ticket (April 14), to wanting to stay until almost my birthday.

No matter; I don't need to decide now.

I've had homesickness like crazy, like never before. India is so very different that it can be a struggle to often just be. To be myself. I have to wear long skirts, wear a ring on my left ring finger and lie about being married to avoid hassling (true; anytime I slip and call Wayne my "boyfriend" vs husband, I get a much different reaction). I have to deal with filth and food issues and water and transit craziness and discomfort and so many things.

I also went from a job where I was for ten years. It was a lot in those ten years (and really, I wasn't happy for much of the end of it, but there were many okay moments, and I liked the routine, and I was good at it, and passionate about it), and the routine was embedded in me. As in: wake up at 5:30; run; go to gym; shower; eat; either bike to work or head to computer if working at home; work; take lunch run break or library break; work; bike home if in office; yoga; make dinner; eat and talk with Wayne, maybe with a glass of wine; make tea; talk with Wayne while writing freelance articles, petting the cats, cleaning the house; going to bed together.

There were many tender moments in my life and I miss the normalcy, the clean clothes, my home, my cats, and esp, Wayne.

I miss talking to my parents, seeing my friends, going to my yoga studio, my health food store, the bars nearby.

Travel is a lot. I love it, but I don't. My best friend assumed I'd been writing a lot; I really haven't been. I have been reading reviews on Trip Adviser of hotels, then trying to book them. And being India, websites don't work, or your credit card is not accepted because it's not an Indian credit card. And then you try to buy train tickets for two hours (no exaggeration) and you can't and you end up having a friend or your boyfriend buy your tickets. I have had stresses about buses and all that sort of stuff. In my downtime, I've explored tourist sights, journaled, practiced yoga, read a bunch from my kindle. 

But the next two days, I'm here in Dharamshala. There isn't really heaps to do (I've done much of the tourist stuff.), and I had been planning on going to the meditation centers and yoga studios. Unfortunately, right now, they're all closed. (Low season....makes sense, it's rather cold at night!) So I might head out early to Rishikesh to practice yoga and relax. Who knows? I'm not stressed.

Plans for today include lots and lots of chai, lunch at the Peace Cafe (the tibetan noodles are SOOOOOO good), watching a film about the Tibetan refugees, writing at some cafes, and relaxing. I have a few good ideas for articles I want to pitch, plus one I owe an editor, so I should get a start on those.

Amritsar Express

The taxi that Meenal had arranged showed up early. 25 minutes early. My hair was still soaking wet as I headed towards the cab.

The New Delhi Railway Station was pure chaos. I wasn’t expecting anything else. It all seemed a bit rough at 6am. People sleeping everywhere, shouting. Some guy came up to me. “Where are you going?” “Amritsar.” “What time?” “7:20.” “It’s cancelled.” “What?” He came closer and I pushed him away. “Just go ask.” “Go away.”

It wasn’t cancelled, but plenty of other trains were. The announcements were repeating.

Waiting was a mess of bags and people and people sleeping on the train platform and garbage.

The train showed up 40 minutes early, and we all shoved aboard. Or everyone shoved, and I tried to keep up. This whole shoving rudeness thing is a bit new to me.

I sat down, pretty exhausted. 

They started by serving us lemonade. Then big bottles of water. Then tea and biscuits. Then a weird breakfast (a veggie patty with bread that I spread my cranberry peanut butter on) and more tea.

I began reading Lonely Planet, and the woman next to me, although Indian, was reading an English paper. She chatted me up a little, is a spiritual healer and expert. I began catching up on emails offline and writing, and then after a while, she offered to do my chart. My astrological chart.

Sure!

It was a pretty interesting experience. She told me I’m to do a few things, like buy 12 bananas and leave them in the offering area of the Golden Temple - that will reflect my House of Jupiter and House of Mercury. And feed 10 blind people. And give sweets to children outside of Hindu temples.

We talked about love, marriage (She said I would get married but it would require work.), my career, finances, all that sort of stuff.

Then she invited me to her house. “Just come home with us. There’s a festival tonight.”

I almost said yes. I wanted to, but I had booked a place in Amritsar and was already thinking of leaving tomorrow instead of the day after for Dharamshala. So, ummmmmmm….

And then they left. But the guy she was with is going to Dharamshala, so I might have a friend there at least. He told me it’s one of his favorite places in India.


And it might soon be mine!

Delhi, Delhi, Delhi

After another too-long, kind of uncomfortable bus ride, we got to Delhi. The crowds at the start of the bus irritated me - the shoving, the nastiness. But then the woman next to us insisted I eat some of her peanuts, pouring a massive amount into my hands. That’s India. You want to give up because it’s so horrible and then something wonderful happens.

We got off and walked down the road and almost died, because that’s what happens any time you walk down any road in India. Arun made sure I didn’t get run over (big job!).

His friend Harish met us on the train platform and insisted on carrying my bag. Sure. Thank you very much. I was so tired. I was grateful.

We arrived exhausted to Meenal’s nice condo in Aerocity. Meenal served us snacks and lemongrass chai. They discussed train tickets, ultrarunning, Delhi. After they left, I had dinner with Meenal and her husband and their housekeeper.

Meenal was Arun’s friend, a newbie ultrarunner, who graciously offered to host me. She fed me, took me running, and we got to talk about running. Super awesome.

Then, Meenal tried to help me buy train tickets. We finally determined that it was because I didn’t have an Indian credit card. They are worried about terrorism, Meenal theorized. Meenal said we should go to sleep and try to figure stuff out in the morning when the system kept failing.

We woke up around 7ish and then went for a run. Meenal was doing a tempo run in a park. I joined her for the warmup but decided it was too fast and too much for my foot. After the warmup (which was a faster pace than I’ve run lately since my injury), I ran in the opposite direction as Meenal (so I could see her more) at a slower pace. But after 40 minutes, I realized the damage was already done. Probably that coupled with carrying a heavy pack all day the day before. I walked for 10 or 15 minutes, felt fine, and began running again rather slowly. No pain. (However, afterwards, I realized I had some unpleasant ankle swelling. Back went on the ankle brace, and no running for a week! Cherie’s orders!)

After a shower and breakfast and some lemon tea, Meenal helped me figure out the train tickets. I ended up buying two flights (Varansi-Mumbai and Mumbia-Bangalore) and she purchased the tickets; I gave her cash later. Unfortunately, I’m $#5 on the waitlist, but everyone assures me I’ll almost definitely get on. And if not….?

Then, she dropped me off at the metro. I took it to meet Kieren, an ultrarunner who was a friend of a friend. He took me to Old Delhi. We got parathas in the Old CIty at some chaotic spot; the food was good and the experience was fun. Then we went to a horrifyingly sweet place, where we got this weird thing that was basically fried dough dipped and soaked in sugar. Picture the sweetest donut you’ve ever had in your life.


We went to the Gandhi Memorial and Kieren told me that not everyone worships Gandhi and some of his teachers were vocal about criticizing him. I told him all I learned by watching the Gandhi movie. We went to a giant mosque, where I was charged, but Kieren wasn’t (because he’s Indian and I’m a foreigner) and they made both of us cover up with these hideous dresses (Kieren was wearing shorts and I guess my clothes were too tight). When we left, some guy claimed he was watching our shoes and demanded 100 rupees for each of us. Kieren gave him ten. Then we walked around, went to some markets, got some tea, and just chatted. He answered a lot of my questions about India, and showed me a different side of India - with his perspective and safety.

After, I took the metro back towards Meenal’s. She told me an autorickshaw should cost 20 rupees, “but for you, they’ll probably charge 30.” They tried to charge 100. After multiple discussions, I finally found one who would charge me “only” 30. Frustrating. But that’s just how India is with pricing.

I practiced yoga for the first time on my trip and it felt wonderful. Then Meenal had an ultrarunner friend of hers, Ragat, come over. He puts on some pretty epic looking ultras close to the Pakistan border; he showed me some videos and blew me away.

Then Meenal and I chatted some more, ate dinner, and went to bed shortly after.

And up early for the train to Amritsar!!!!

Jaipur!!!

A 30- minute cab ride, two hour airport wait, two and a half hours for the plane to get fixed wait, 16 hour flight, 10 minute metro ride, and 6 1/2 hour government bus ride...I was exhausted and didn't know how well I'd be able to talk properly when I met Arun's family. But they were so amazing, they didn't care that I was ready to collapse...and they gave me energy and love and warmth that pushed me ahead!

Even though we arrived at Arun’s  sister’s house so much later than we had expected,  she had prepared an amazing feast for us. Her husband taught me how to eat the treats, and she explained everything. The food was amazing; the spice level was higher than Indian food in the States, but truly wonderful.

They had two adorable daughters; one was four and spoke zero English but was adorable and fell in love with me; she called me "Cherie Didi," didi being the term for respected older sister. And the other was a wonderful and brilliant 14 year-old and super smart and taught me a lot about India. I had heaps of fun with both of them. They made Jaipur waaaaay better and less overwhelming. Arun's sister was so warm and welcoming and the best host; and her husband was also wonderful and hospitable.

They fed me tons of local food. So much amazing Indian food that I could not often finish it. My favorite were here “milk teas” - her version of chai had tulsi, or holy basil. It was so good I would drink two cups in a row.

We went to visit historical sites; the Pink Palace, an astronomical site, and Gel Mehel, the floating palace. Then we went to rest (more tea!) and I talked to the girls. We looked at photos of our families and friends, talked about animals (their dog is named Cutie and a super energetic black lab puppy), life. I learned about the caste system, marriage, dating, schools. It was really interesting.



They took me to an awesome restaurant for dinner with such amazing food. On our way there, when we stopped, they insisted on having me try the local snacks - these fried things stuffed with mashed potatoes with a hole and sauce dipped over. It’s hard to explain but they were great.

After, we hung out until we went to sleep.

I fell asleep and woke up an hour later, bladder bursting. (All that spicy food makes me drink lots of water...which makes me pee.) I went to the bathroom - and couldn’t fall back asleep. Jetlag.

I tossed and turned. Then I started thinking…..I shouldn’t have quit my job - how could I? I messed up my life. I DESTROYED it. I left my boyfriend; will he ever forgive me? And my cats….how could I leave them?

Turn on the tears.

With the time difference, Wayne was home from work already. I called him bawling. He calmed me down, “No, you needed to quit. You were unhappy. This will be good for you. Enjoy India. Have fun. I’m not mad.” etc.

Then I’d calm down, try to sleep, and start crying. And call him again.

In the morning, I felt wrecked. I had been up for three hours, crying and stressing.

Arun and I headed to the Amber Fort. Unfortunately, my bags came with us and my back was KILLING me. Aching with out of control pain. It was beautiful, but after a while….I just sat down.

And then we got on the bus to Delhi.

Special note - this entire trip was possible because of Arun. Yuri, an ultrarunning friend in NYC, saw I was going to India and introduced me to Arun on FB. Arun graciously helped me out, invited me into his family's home, acted as interpreter, and was an awesome friend besides. He also hooked me up with Meenal in Delhi, and was wonderful host. I'm grateful I met him!