This is my 16th day in India…forgive me for not writing before, but between blog issues and the unpredictability of internet in rural India, here’s the best I can do! I’ll break my story so far into a few more manageable chunks.
First, some background: I received a fellowship from the India China Institute to conduct research on social innovations for sustainability. After very extensive Googling, I found an organization to work with that amazingly combined my three biggest passions: sustainability, yoga, and the outdoors. The Dharmalaya Institute is in its first stages of development in the hills above the village of Bir in the Himalayas. In its completed form, it will be part a sustainable living school, which teaches organic farming and green building, part a sustainable community development center, which provides green jobs and training to local residences, and part an ashram that teaches yoga and meditation. I planned to study how yoga bridges the gap between personal transformation and global sustainability, using Dharmalaya as a case study. As I research, I am also volunteering at the Institute.
The general theme of my trip so far is that each and every plan I have made has been broken inevitably for the better. I arrived in Mumbai on Friday, May 13, and decided to visit the Elephant Caves on an island off the coast. However, the taxi driver I hired to take me to the ferry had very different plans for what to do with me. He somehow persuaded me into going on a full-day private tour his idea of the highlights of Mumbai. Why not?
With my new pal Sunil the Driver, I saw the beautiful, the ugly, the smelly, the embarrassing, the modern, the ancient, the Western, and the very, very, very non-Western of Mumbai. I was not so fond of many of the tourist-y spots, but some of the things that he showed me were real gems. He took me to the lush hanging gardens and this amazing little temple, where I wandered around a bit, and found this incredible banyan tree behind it. And he brought me to the sea and convinced me to go in. However, it got really interesting when he carried me along to pick up his cousin and drop her off at her mother’s house, which was way out of the way of where any tourists would go. His sister was lovely and invited me to come into her mom’s house, where her two little daughters were roller-skating around indoors. It was interesting to note that my driver found nothing unusual about taking his client to run his errands and to his family’s home.
Then I was off to Delhi, slowly making my way up north to Dharmalaya. In Delhi, I stayed at the residence/office of my tour guide/friend from my first trip to India. He was not using it while I was there, but his caretaker’s family was around a lot, so I got to spend some time with them, and enjoy his caretaker’s wife’s amazing dal!
That evening, my plans failed in a big way, when I missed my train to Pathankot because the caretaker of the apartment I was staying at accidentally padlocked me out with my bag inside, because for some reason he thought I had left that afternoon. So, I had another day to spend in Delhi. The most interesting event of that day was deciding to go for reiki treatment, since its something I have been curious about for over a year, but is way too expensive in the US. The reiki place was quite the experience- I was picturing some sort of spa, but the room where they did the reiki was underground with just a few desks (the kinds with chairs attached) and a LOT of flies. I had a really good conversation with the reiki master about the power of energy. When I reached for my wallet to pay the price listed on the website, he said that everyone only had to pay if they wanted to, and giving him a glass of water would be enough. I thought this was wonderful.
I finally managed to get on the sleeper train up north, and landed in a compartment with a guy who had brought at least 12 large pieces of luggage (there is no luggage area). He thought he had reserved 2 berths for the bags, but the train line had mistaken his reservation. Had this happened in the US, the customer and the other people who had to sit on, under, and squeezed between his luggage, would probably have been furious. However, on this train, everyone is the compartment was quite understanding and accommodating. Several people even offered to share their bunk with this stranger. It was cool to see.
From Pathankot, I decided to take a “toy train” to Bir, which I had heard was slow, but had incredible views to make up for it. What I didn’t realize was that ‘slow’ meant a journey that would take 4 hours by taxi takes 11 hours by train…the people at the station said it would take 5…hmm…Still, I’m glad I sat through this mess, since I got to benefit from more wonderful people’s kindness. I was directed to the female carriage at the back of the train, which turned out to be a very cool woman experience. When I got on, all the seats were full, but several women squeezed together and insisted that I share a 2 person seat with them. When I gave this seat to an older woman, several other women squished together and demanded that I join THEM. Though they didn’t speak any English, they were adamant that I did not give up my seat to anyone else, and even shared their food with me. I made friends with the only person who spoke English, a 9-year old girl, who’s family invited me to come to their home. Sadly, I had to refuse, but I was touched to find that many Indians are as welcoming as I’ve heard from other travelers.
After six and a half hours on this incredibly sweaty train with no water and way too much sticky soda and mango juice, I decided to jump off and find a bus. I really had no idea what I was doing, but finally I found some guys who worked in car repair shop and spoke a little English. They offered me tea and got me on the right bus. I really appreciate how being confused while traveling has allowed me to see the best in people.