Location: Manchester, CT, USA
A lot of thoughts go through one's head during and after a trip like this. I read that traveling to India is not about discovering India - it's about discovering oneself. I think that's true of any independent travel, but perhaps more so in a place like India, that makes one rethink one's values, capabilities, and world view.
Where to start? Maybe I should start with the Guru's assessment of my energy level; "You have a low energy level" (Well, I've been traveling...) "No, I mean your mental energy" (I'm in the midst of making a decision, and decision-making always takes a lot out of me...) "You need to please yourself instead of trying to please everyone else" (That's why I'm traveling in India, to please myself...)
Then there's the assessment of a new Indian acquaintance, Ganesh (also the name of a God). He's in his mid to upper twenties and exactly the same height as I am - short! I had briefly met him with Maria and Vicent when we returned from our camel safari. He is one of these young guys who has mastered enough of a few languages, enabling him to start conversations and make connections with a variety of people. (I can do that to an extent with French and Hebrew.). He spoke with ease to them in Spanish. (That's going to be my next language. I have several new Spanish friends who made the effort to speak with me in English. I would like to return the favor!) Back to Ganesh... When I returned from the train station in Jaisalmer, where I bought my ticket for the following day from what was to be my second-to-last very brief stop in Jhodpur to my last stop in Mumbai, he saw me get out of my rickshaw and fell into step with me. Asked me the usual questions, "Where are you from, where are you going?". At this point, my Guru-suggested low energy level was in full effect - and along with my low energy level came my low threshold for tolerance. I entered my jaded mode, in which I doubted the sincerity of anyone trying to make a connection with me. Are you seeing me as a traveler who wants to have genuine interactions with people, or as a tourist with rupees available for you to pick off? So, when Ganesh started in on the routine questions, I had some questions of my own: Do you have a rickshaw? (No) Do you have a boat? (No) Do you have a store? (No) Does your uncle have a store? (No) Are you a guide? (No) Do you have a guest house? (No) ...At this point he was seeing that I had been through the tourist scams and that I was not feeling particularly trusting. So, we ended up spending an afternoon together, and I did get some insights into what life was like growing up poor in India...what it was like to be a beggar as a child, and how a person from outside of the country could make a difference. He did actually end up guiding me around parts of Jaisalmer - to see a historic "haveli"(courtyard house/mansion), a distribution center for a women's handicraft cooperative (where I bought a door hanging), a couple of shops that had things I needed (like tea and spices for David), and a hilltop that had a lovely sunset view of the fort. I needed to get back to my hotel to clean up and grab my things to get to the bus station on time for my night trip to Jodhpur. But we agreed that I had time for a quick beer in the rooftop restaurant at the Artist's Hotel nearby. There was a small ensemble playing harmonium (an Indian instrument played on the floor that resembles an accordion, tabla (hand-drums), and a percussion instrument consisting of pieces of wood that are played like castanets. The man who played that played with such emphasis and style!! The harmonium player also sang. The custom when giving a tip, is to make a circle around each musician's head with money prior to depositing it on the harmonium. It was lovely up there, but unfortunately, I was in a rush to catch the bus. Ganesh was quite popular with the young tourist crowd there, so he found it difficult to break away. I, on the other hand, with my impeccably inaccurate sense of direction, needed some guidance on how to get back to the hotel. When we started back, I didn't recognize the way at all (very typical for me!), and I expressed doubt that we were going the right way. At which point, my new acquaintance Ganesh expressed his own low threshold of tolerance for my doubting attitude! It wasn't just me he had a problem with - it was Americans in general - we're apparently not as easy to get to know as Italians and others! (Hard to explain to others how I reconcile my own experience growing up Canadian and having a bit of an anti-American attitude with my ultimate destiny of being an American and raising an American family!). So, despite a pleasant afternoon together (and even talk of forming a camel-safari business partnership in my retirement), we parted ways with a bit of a bitter taste. Ganesh was a bit mean when tipsy, but being completely honest with myself, my own presentation was not completely open and trusting. So this is where I tend to over-think things - Is it because I'm American? Maybe because I was tired? How about a 54-year old woman going through menopause? Jaded because of prior interactions with people popping up looking for something from me on the pretense of being friendly? Or am I just a witch?...Probably a combination of all these things, but certainly as pertinent and valid an experience as all the positive interactions I had with so many people on this trip. There were some other negative interactions as well - actually, the hotel owner in Jaisalmer who was quite popular with the young travelers gave me a feeling of his being less than genuine. I didn't like him and it was clear that he didn't like me. Same as my Guru. I did not dislike him - he just seemed very curt and dismissive, but I had the distinct impression that he did not like me. Still, I maintain that he knew me like a book - that's probably why he didn't like me!
Do I sound confused? You bet! And that's perhaps the value of a trip like this. This was not a vacation. I did not sit by the sea and relax. I did not ski down a mountain. I moved around. I saw things I had never seen before (people sitting amidst garbage near train tracks; others exploiting children in order to get money; others willing to extend themselves to help a traveler find a bathroom, get out of a fix on a train, or begin to understand the intricacies of their country; cows in train stations, on highways, and anywhere else they darned well feel like being!; a variety of animals coexisting peacefully; people expressing their spirituality in and along the Ganges River, one of the most polluted yet holy places in the world; and on and on and on). I interacted with people from all over the world, enjoying the positive interactions and questioning the negative ones. What was my role in the negative ones?
Basically, it all comes down to one thing - something said so well on so many t-shirts I saw, with the name of a clothing company - "Being human".
There is more, and I may add to this blog as different memories or thoughts come to me. In the meantime, I'll end on a positive note. When I returned home, I found that I earned the respect of some pretty important people in my life. Both my father and daughter shared that they admired my ability to easily make friends wherever I went. Two of the people I admire most in the world admire me. That's something...
Then, I've had perhaps the highest compliment a mother of an eighteen-year-old young man could have. He invited me to accompany him, several of his buddies, and the father of one to go parachute-jumping this weekend! They all agreed that I would be someone who would be up for such an adventure! (Oh, if they only knew!) To me, this is an immense compliment. My answer is that each must find and be true to their own adventures. Parachute-jumping may not be mine (but now that I think of it, why not?).
I've recently grown very fond of quotes. One of my favorites is from Helen Keller, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!". And on this note, I will close, at least for now. Photos will be coming within the next day or two. My photography skills with my basic point-and-shoot camera are wanting, but I'll try to choose photos that illustrate some of the life as I observed it in northern India.
Thanks again for traveling with me! I loved having you all as my companions!
Location: Manchester, CT, USA
Not everything goes smoothly when traveling. Some things happen because of others (e.g., when I almost got run over by a rickshaw driver in Varanasi). Other things just happen (e.g., when weather or vehicle malfunction lead to delays). And other things happen because of traveler error. I forgot to include perhaps one of the best stories of the latter.
My flight home was at 4:50am on Monday, India time (10 1/2 hours ahead of our time here in the Eastern USA and Canada). I wanted to be in Mumbai (Bombay) on Friday. So at the end, I had a short amount of time in which to fit my last quick stop in Rajasthan, to see the fort in Jodhpur. So, in Jaisalmer after finishing my camel safari, I bought a bus ticket to Jodhpur through my hotel for that evening. I then went by auto-rickshaw to the train station to purchase a train ticket for the next day from Jodhpur to Mumbai (LONG trip!). When purchasing train tickets, you have to fill out a little form with your date, destination, and personal information. So I did that, and bought my ticket. Then I questioned someone at the station about what the ticket said, because it was all in Hindi. I couldn't even make out the destination. I verified the time and destination of the ticket and left.
I then spent the afternoon and early evening with a new acquaintance (see my next entry), and caught the bus for a five-hour night trip to Jodhpur. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and took a rickshaw to the guest house that my new friends from my Jaisalmer guest house and camel safari were going to be arriving at by train a bit after me. (They had already bought their train ticket. I ended up traveling by bus because there were no more train tickets. I ended up saving a bit of money by traveling by bus on that trip). I was only going to be staying in Jodhpur until early afternoon, as my train to Mumbai was scheduled for 2:15pm. So instead of booking a room, I went up to the restaurant and stretched out on the marble floor for a nap! (One of the ladies who ran the place said it was okay). Other people were sleeping on the next floor up, on the roof. A few hours later, I met up with my Spanish friends, had a shower (the lady who runs the guest house allows people to use a room just for freshening up) and breakfast, and went exploring the fort with Maria and Vincent. Freshened up again in the early afternoon, and then made it to the train station with time to spare.
So, I climbed up into my upper berth and settled in. There was an older gentleman who had a lower berth opposite me and he motioned to me an invitation to come down and sit where I would have a view out the window. (The upper berths don't have windows). He didn't speak English, but was friendly. After awhile, the conductor came by and checked tickets. He paused a long time, examining my ticket. Finally he said that I was traveling on the wrong day! I looked at the ticket, which indeed had August 5th on it, when it was only August 4th. I realized that it was my mistake - that on the little paper at the train station, I wrote August 5th as my day of travel. I simply had the wrong day - very easy mistake to make when traveling and you lose track of dates! (Well, I do, anyway!) This would have been very difficult to explain with the language barrier, so all I managed to convey was that the ticket was wrong, and that I was traveling on the right day! The conductor went away and returned with two other men. He sat down beside me and harshly demanded 600 plus rupees as penalty for using an incorrect ticket - "This ticket is not allowed on this train. You can contest this fine". (I don't want to contest it). "You don't? You want to pay it?" (I just want to travel today to Mumbai. The ticket is a mistake). The three men started to talk animatedly amongst themselves. My new acquaintance who invited me to sit near the window entered the conversation, apparently speaking up for me. I just shut my mouth and observed. These men just talked in a heated manner for several minutes and then it was resolved. The conductor said, "Okay, go back to your seat". I did, and that was that! It reminded me a bit of Israel, where everyone got into the discussion, and "rules" were suddenly dismantled! I was grateful to the gentleman for speaking up on my behalf. After things quieted down, he again invited me to sit by the window (nobody else was in the lower berths at the time), so I did.
I was amused at the process of a disciplinary measure evaporating due to discussion. I wonder what they all said - maybe, "How do we know that the clerk at the station didn't make a mistake?"; or, "She's a guest in our country, and needs a bit of understanding"; or, "Big deal, let it pass!"; or, "She has a dishonest look! She should be punished!"; or, "She's old and doesn't know what she's doing"! Wish I could have understood!
My own error reminded me of an adolescent boy I work with in school who gets in trouble for handing things in late. Then, one time, when he tried to hand in something early, his teacher wouldn't accept it. He told me, "I can't win. I can do late, or I can do early, but I suck at on time!". I'm afraid that I'm like that at times!
Location: Flight Home
I'm on the second flight of my trip home. I was so exhausted last night that on the first flight, immediately after watching the lift-off, I fell asleep, missing any night view I would have had of Mumbai! Then, in the airport in Abu Dhabi, I found a reclining chair and continued to sleep!
Yesterday in Mumbai, I started my day at the famed Victoria Terminus (called CST, short for the Hindi name that was adopted after the end of the British rule in1947). This, the busiest train station in Asia, is an architectural marvel, especially from the outside. I also took some pictures inside, including some of stained glass windows and people. This led to a kindly older gentleman approaching me and telling me that photography inside is not allowed, and the police are not doing their job in enforcing this regulation. He spoke a bit about corruption, which Indians seem to feel is the main problem in their country. Baksheesh, or bribing, is used at all levels to get things done, or other things overlooked. I didn't need to use bakhsheesh in the train station as nobody other than this gentleman seemed to care!
After that, I went to Dhobi Ghat, as I wrote yesterday. I then went to a temple in the same area, where the god of wealth is honored. I think that David will hope that it will bring us wealth; however, I feel like we've got it in droves compared to what I've seen.
Then I went back to the area of the city where I'm staying and where the CST is. There are other examples of gorgeous British architecture at the University of Mumbai and the High Court. Both were closed because it was Sunday, but I was able to see them from outside the gates.
Throughout this trip, I've been carefully keeping track of my possessions and hadn't lost anything until Friday evening. But yesterday, I was a bit bummed out when I discovered that I had lost a scarf that I only paid 50 rupees for (a bit more than a dollar). I just really liked the style and color! So, in the evening I went in search of a similar one - and succeeded! Not exactly the color of the one I lost, but similar. I even found a perfect match for a salwah or Punjabi suit I bought for Ilana. Usually these suits come in 3 pieces: a kurtah or long shirt, baggy pants that the kurtah fits over, and a matching scarf or dupatta. This one, however, didn't have a dupatta, so I was amazed to find one that is such a perfect match. I'm actually wearing this suit now, as I ran out of clean clothes, and I wanted to try wearing an authentic Indian outfit before I left. It's very comfortable!
Location: Mumbai (Bombay), India
It is 2:30 am and I am in the airport waiting for my 4:50 flight to Abu Dhabi, and then my connecting flight to New York. Had a very pleasant two days in Mumbai which I'll write more about. One of the highlights was seeing Dhobi Ghat - the area where most commercial laundry is done (e.g., for hotels, etc.). This is in a slum with people of all ages getting into the clothes washing. I swear that I will never complain of doing laundry again. People are barely dressed, scrubbing jeans, etc. on concrete surfaces. Somebody else slams them down over and over to get the water out. There are some machines, but much is done by hand. There are huge piles of clothes everywhere! And clothes on lines, rooves, railings - anywhere that there's a surface, there are clothes! I couldn't get anybody to answer how they keep track of which clothes go where - which hotel, which customer, etc.! It is a vast operation done by all the people in this bare bones community that looks like it's right out of Dickens. AND there was somebody slaughtering goats right nearby, with a throng of little children looking on. It was quite a sight. I am so very lucky to live the life I do.
Going to do a bit of last minute shopping here. See you all soon!