Leaving Kathmandu, we woke up at an ungodly early hour for Erica to catch her flight back to the states and for Niki and I to catch a bus to the Indian border. Our bus ride took the majority of the day, but we passed over to India without incident. We met some other travelers who had hired a jeep, so we hopped in the back and made it to the Gorkaphur train station. Once again, we didn’t have reserved beds, as all beds were booked on all trains from Nov. 27th ‘til Dec. 7th. So, we went ahead and bought unreserved tickets ($3) and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor like we did on our way to Nepal. Our train was supposed to depart shortly before midnight, but was late, so we didn’t depart until 2-something in the morning.
So, we sat for hours waiting for our train. Indians are used to these train delays as they bring an assortment of blankets and plop down on the platform to catch a few zzz’s until their train arrives. Niki and I just huddled on top of our backpacks and staved off the cold and tiredness. Once the train rolled in, we hopped on and found two empty beds, which we quickly claimed. Who knows if they were meant for someone else or not, but we got to sleep peacefully throughout the night. Our train finally arrived in Delhi around 7:30pm the next day.
We made our way to the backpacker area, ate a delicious dinner and feel asleep watching “Friends.” It’s one of the few places that had a TV in the room, which is a nice luxury. The next day, we ran some errands and made our way to the Sagat neighborhood, where we stayed with a friend of Niki’s, an American ex-pat who is working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His home was such an oasis from the madness that is Delhi – it was clean, comfortable, he had a huge collection of DVD’s, it was heaven. We ordered Dominos and did laundry, and spent a massive amount of time on the internet. It was just the recuperation that we needed.
The next day, I said my goodbyes to Niki – it’s crazy to think that we traveled for 2.5 months together. Never would I have thought that I’d find such a great travel partner, and for so long at that! I already miss her, but headed north to check out Rishikesh, the “yoga capital of the world.” Now, my view of yoga can basically be summed up by that Jimmy Buffet song, Pina Colada, in which he says “if you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain.” I just don’t have the patience for it. But, I figured it’d be a good challenge for me, and I’ll admit, all the massages that are also advertised lured me.
On the 9 hour bus ride to Rishikesh, I was treated to a near constant cacophony of horns as buses and trucks blast their horns to signal that they’re passing. A motorbike hit a pedestrian who then (maybe) was hit by a truck. I can’t say for certain, but as we passed the scene of the accident, I saw an old man, literally just a sack of bones being lifted off the road. The only indication that he was still alive (barely) was that I saw his eyes roll around his head once. Also on the way, they were repaving a section of the road, so rather than close the road and re-route traffic, we just waited while they laid asphalt and rolled it smooth. Once that was done, we drove on.
People come to Rishikesh for months on end to stay at ashrams, much like Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. There are definitely a lot of dread-locked, linen-clothed, patchouli types here, which I wouldn’t say describes me per se… The first day I just walked around and ended up spending the majority of the day in bed. I got a cold at the start of the Annapurna Circuit and I think the altitude just never let me heal properly, because it’s still lingering. Finally, I got all feverish, so just needed to sleep it off. I momentarily thought I had Dengue Fever (also known as bone-breaking fever) because my body ached all over and I have a few other symptoms, but I think it’s just a culmination of over-exertion and my lingering cold or maybe just a flu.
The next day, I treated myself to a massage. I got the deep tissue massage, which is supposed to be a combination of ayervedic and Swedish, but basically the woman just slaps tons of oil all over you and rubs vigorously for an hour. I can’t say it’s the most pleasant massage I’ve ever gotten, but it sure beats a Thai massage.
Alright, so now I’ve done yoga. I took one class and it was ok. I’d done yoga only once before – in Chicago and I can’t say I was exactly enamored with it. I did it with my sister and a friend and my favorite part was the end where you lie down. I enjoyed it so much that my sister told me that I was even snoring! Well, this 2 hour class focused on breathing (which was a bit of a struggle as I’m still coughing from my cold) and had bits of meditation interspersed. It was enjoyable enough for me to do again, but I can’t say that I’ll start doing yoga at home. I just don’t get it. Maybe I said my chants incorrectly, held my poses in the wrong manner, but I really just don’t get why yoga is all the rage. Moreover, people stay in places like Rishikesh for months on end. My problem is that I just don’t understand what they do all day. I’m was here for 3 full days and at the end of it, I was ready to move on. I asked a girl I met in my yoga class what she does when she stays at an ashram and she told me she spent a lot of time meditating and reading spiritual books. I guess at the end of the day, for me, while it’s fun to attempt dabbling in yoga/meditation, but it’s not my cup of tea – and certainly not for months on end. I’d rather do “nothing” all day on a beach in Indonesia than in an ashram in India. But hey, that’s just me.
After Rishikesh, I headed back to Delhi. On my final day in Delhi, I did some shopping (bought a TON of spices) and went to check out the Ba’hai House of Worship, more commonly known as the Lotus Temple. I’m currently reading Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead about the modernist architect Howard Roark, so checking out the Lotus Temple, which doesn’t fit in with the rest of Delhi definitely made me think of the book and how his designs don’t fit in with what the rest of the world deems as acceptable. I had dinner with the guy I bought my spices from and a girl from the Czech Republic. She was interesting – she had fallen in love with a baba, her guru. Babas are religious men – perhaps self-anointed as such; I’m not quite sure. And hers basically looked like an Indian version of Brian David Mitchell – remember him? Elizabeth Smart’s captor. Anyway, she wanted to marry him, but didn’t have the funds. I’ve heard enough horror stories about cross-country marriages (not saying they can’t work), and I hate to say it, but hers seems (if they ever actually get married) destined for ruin. Her guru was currently living in a cave and wanted to build a house for her before they married. Not quite what I’m looking for in a future partner, but hey, different strokes for different folks, right? It was a weird dinner conversation, but interesting.
I caught a few winks and then headed off to the airport. I landed in Bangkok and after some time in India and Nepal, this place feels like home – almost. I can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a white person, the city is clean (relatively) and the cuisine varied. I can walk down the street without getting stared out; it’s a welcomed change.
In sum, India is amazing and difficult. It’s most definitely a land of contradictions. For some reason, I found it really exhausting to travel there this time, whereas I adored my first trip to the sub-continent. Perhaps it’s the 3+ months of travel that are starting to wear me out. For instance, waiting in line to use the bathroom in the Kolkata airport, I queued by the door for the next available stall. Well, an Indian woman pushes past me and goes and stands directly in front of a stall door. OK, so we don’t form an orderly queue – we pick our stall and hope our line is the fastest. I can adapt to that, for sure, but come on lady, it’s pretty obvious I was waiting for a stall!
Next update will be about the last leg of my trip – Thailand!