I think I have learned more about myself in India than in any other place I have traveled. So far, this experience has stretched my mind, body, and soul…in lots of good ways.
Heading into the mountains to see another perspective of India seemed like a simple plan. I boarded the sleeper train in Varanasi and, as previously noted, enjoyed the company of snoring, sleeping strangers. When the train arrived at my station, I found a taxi and the driver asked if I would like to take the scenic route to Darjeeling. Scenic sounds good, right? So, we were off! I quickly learned that scenic and terrifying are synonyms in India! The two-way road was narrow and broken in a variety of places. We traveled high into the clouds as we twisted and turned and twisted some more. Landslides are typical in this area and I’m sure we passed signs of recent slippage. I have mentioned that India is a spiritual place and I would say that God and I have really bonded while I am transported through India. There are times when the “scenic route” in life will show you things you’ve never imagined and other times when it will only make you a bit queasy….either way, it seems worth the risk.
The Mayfair Hotel in Darjeeling is a former royal mountain retreat. Hotel experiences in India have been wildly successful and provided a chance to travel in a style beyond my expectations. The Mayfair grounds offered an eclectic mix of Buddhist temples, clown statues, and kitschy elements from a variety of cultural groups. The weather in Darjeeling was a cool and misty break from the heat of other parts of India. With the large number of Tibetans and Nepalese, it felt like visiting another country as I wandered in the town center and strolled through the clouds. For a brief moment, during the final hours in Darjeeling, the clouds parted and offered a glimpse of the Himalayas…a simple and appreciated gift to make the visit complete.
I’ve done a tiny bit of shopping in India, but not as much as you might imagine. I’m saving that for the last days when I have fewer stairs to climb and streets to travel. However, I went back to New Delhi for a few days of fun and spent a couple of hours in a HUGE Western-style shopping mall that screamed a message of cultural divide in India with six floors of European clothing, books, and other wares. Dawdling teens could have been from Anywhere, USA as they chatted with friends and giggled over ice cream. Shopping malls are a great way to see every day lives of locals and okay…I will admit I bought a few dresses, but they are VERY light ones!
The children that I’ve encountered on this trip have been remarkable….so cute…so curious… so independent. Along the streets of Agra, I watched a big (maybe age 7) brother lead his trailing sister to school with a gentle guiding hand on her back. I met 11 year old Twinkles (her stage name as a future actress) as she sat at the airport reading a Goosebumps book wearing a bright pink dress and holding a pair of pink jeweled sunglasses. She carried her end of the conversation seamlessly asking and answering questions without hesitation. She asked about my home and told me that the best thing about India is the feeling of unity shown by the people, especially when bad things happen. I learned as much about India from Twinkles as I have from full-day tour guides and fully expect to see her in Bollywood someday. I’ve watched as uniformed students walked to school with swagger, confidence and a bit of bounce in their steps. I’ve seen countless stares from kids, but even better, an endless supply of wide-eyed bright smiles. It’s always fun to see the commonalities between children around the world and the ways they openly express what they’re wondering without apprehension, fear, or judgment of the unknown.
At the same time, there is the pain of watching children on another spectrum….those who are begging, selling, and wandering near cars on dangerous streets. At almost every red light, you are faced with a sad-faced child asking for help. Everything you read says that giving money only reinforces the cycle of begging, but it is heartbreaking every time. I hope I return to India in 20 years to find that poverty has been eliminated and that all the smiling faces are heading to school.
Haven’t done much yoga yet…just one class, but I hope to find a place for a bit more body stretching. The yogi came to the hotel to teach a session that was less about physical exercise and more about being still, breathing, and meditating…a far bigger challenge for me. I also went to a nightclub for a bit of dancing – as I see it, that counts as exercise. Plus, I am still avoiding sugar…just a few grams each day – but who’s counting? Maybe with a bit of encouragement, I’ll break my addiction…you can all stop snickering and rolling those eyes, please.
Transitioning to a new leg of the trip…on a plane flying to the beaches of Goa for a few days. Then, not sure…maybe Calcutta to step in Mother Theresa’s footsteps or to Nepal for more mountain air. If you’re reading this, thanks for “joining me” in India. I enjoy having my favorite people along for the ride. xoxo