Life is hard and sometimes it feels unfair and people will inevitably suck (huge hairy monkey balls) on a regular basis. That’s just the way it is – but it’s not all it is.
It’s a chance to let the world be a mirror reflecting how you choose to live. A chance to adjust an assumption. To straighten out an insecurity or pull back a judgement. Or maybe just relax and admire what you see, in which case, good for you.
It’s a constant balance of navigating between other’s projections and your own blind spots, learning to decipher what your heart is telling you and accept that sometimes there’s no easy solution.
And it’s a wonderful mystery where everything you need is provided with perfect synchronicity and all you have to do is find the courage to accept it and be you.
Easy breezy monkey balls..
challenging the limits
pushing back the horizon
standing on my toes
deepening my understanding
expanding the world
persistently creating more space
dismissing ridiculed insecurity
drowning inconvenient contact
in ignorant cheerful pep talk
Chandigarh gave me just the break I really really needed and nourished me back to my balanced self – some had to do with the non-touristy feel to the city and a lot had to do with my wonderful host. I ended up staying there for 4 days, got some good nights sleeps and some long talks about life and love (what else is there to talk about).
It was a couple of strange days, very conscious about being fragile but on a deeper level very clear and in touch with my heart and I gained some profound insights.
Just one day was very difficult – I was pretty much crying the whole day and of course that was the day I had chosen for sightseeing. Others might have postponed playing tourist but I was pretty damn determined that I was going to see the damn sights. So I went to the Rose Garden – it’s a park and there’s a lot of roses.
And I went to the Rock Garden – it’s a big park build like a fantasy out of rocks, very surreal and kind of cool. At the Rock Garden I almost broke down though – it’s hard enough to feel like shit but when you have an audience at all times, it really does add to the challenge. At one point an entire family is following me and I just know that they want a picture. Earlier that day I had said no for the first time when someone asked me if they could take my picture, I really wasn’t up for it. So this family follows me while talking loudly together and one of the men then starts calling me. I should just have kept walking but I turn around and he asks if they can take my picture and I apologize and says no. As soon as I have said that, several of them takes out their cameras and goes paparazzi on me. It was very uncomfortable. I get so angry and shout at them, which doesn’t impress them at all and then I walk off, immediately starts crying but keeps walking and misses out of quite a bit of the fantasy due to very blurry vision.
After that experience I was pretty exhausted but also wanted to see the lake. It’s an artificial lake and for some reason I thought it would be tranquil and with some beautiful nature relaxation. It was not. Maybe because it was Valentines Day or maybe because it was India, there was loud music, boat rides and a million people. I tried to just stay in my own quiet zone but honestly, it’s hard when people are giving you so much attention and photographing you when they think you don’t notice. I felt like the loneliest person in the world – or the loneliest animal in the zoo.
Well, I did survive and went to the university to meet with Soniya. Waiting for her, I spent some time in the university rose garden. I was walking around smelling all the different kinds of roses and at one point I took just one step out into the dirt to reach a really beautiful one. It turned out that they had just watered that section and so my left foot got completely drowned in mud – it looked great :)
I found Soniya and we got into her car and started driving – and I started crying – again. What a day. We had decided to go watch a Bollywood movie – you can’t go to India without having a Bollywood experience and it really turned out to be a perfect way to escape reality for a while. The movie was in hindi of course but the plot is so simple and they use a lot of English words so I had no trouble following. Bollywood is so cheesy and pretty cool!
I guess that day was another turning point, cleaning out some old to make room for some new. The next day I had clarity and balance and connection with my heart and was ready to move forward.
On Thursday the 16th I had decided to leave for the mountains and so after a day at home being cozy and taking care of some practical stuff I went to the bus terminal to catch the bus to Dharamsala. It’s an 8 hour ride in an old Volvo bus. Not really luxury but the seats does recline – mine was a little broken so that was actually the only thing it could do, be reclined. I had brought snacks and my iPod was charged but I hadn’t realized the falling temperature. Some of the windows were a little broke and as we ascended, the temperature descended and I kept pulling stuff out of my backpack to wrap and cover myself with. We arrived around 3am and thank god I happened to know someone who was there for the weekend so I got picked up at the bus terminal and had a place to crash and didn’t have to be bothered with finding a place until next day.
So the day had come where I was gonna leave Delhi – I had wanted to leave yesterday already but I guess I needed that extra day to adjust and re-energize.
Afterwards I hopped on the hoho bus (hop on hop off) soo touristy and I’ve never before did one of those tours even though they’re all over. It was actually okay and besides I only went for a few hours and it was a lot more private and relaxed than the metro..
But then again, most would be.
Then another turist area and shopped a little bit – I must have been home around 7pm and then stayed home the rest of the night, planning my journey.
Cutting through a whole lot of less interesting stuff, I finally decided on taking
the train up to Rishikesh. Getting the actual ticket was a circus and took me close to three hours, in which I got even more in touch with my rather cold and demanding self, barking commandos and questions and NO’s – it works but I wouldn’t want to live in a place where that is the person I would have to be, in order to get through the day semi-intact.
I got the ticket but was on the waitlist. The Indian railway system is a little tricky when it comes to waitlist tickets and something else called RAC tickets. I’m not even going to try to explain it, the point is I was on the waitlist and would have to keep checking my status online and then also go to the station and check the final charts and hope to move enough up the list to get an actual berth.
For irrelevant reasons, I called the cap too late and then it was taking a long time to show up and then finally he parked on the other side of the house so that also took some time to figure out.
I get in and ask how long for the train station.. He say’s about 45 minutes and I go nooooo..! My train was scheduled to depart in 40 minutes and getting through security and finding the right platform would take time as well.
Well, the cap driver embraced his inner race driver and I fastened my seatbelt and then we went all the way through Delhi. It was like one of those video games where you swoosh in and out, avoiding other cars, pedestrians and cows showing up out of nowhere – and all without slowing down. Not even a little.
I was in constant prayer but honestly had a really good feeling, not seriously worried.
The traffic in Delhi is crazy at best and it seems there’s no rules whatsoever. But still it works or at least it seems that everybody are able to navigate the chaos. Now take that chaos and insert a cap driver on a mission. What a thrill!
Sadly, every time I checked the time, it seemed more and more unrealistic that I would ever catch that train. I think my driver felt the same way because he increased the speed for an incredible finale and we flew up at the front of the station.
It was 10.16 pm – 4 minutes before my train would depart. And now it got exciting. All happening at the same time, we hop out of the cap, I pay my driver with extra tips and tells him he is a taxi driver superstar (he appreciated that), immediately a coolie is there, the driver throws him my backpack and he throws it up on his head, they both shout to me to follow him and so we run.
Earlier that day when I was getting my ticket, the security line had been very long – now there was only about a hundred people in it but my coolie ran straight for the scanner while he shouted and pushed everyone. And I just tried to keep up. Through the scanner, throwing the bags on the next scanner, grapping them again and all of it while violently pushing and squeezing and throwing ourselves forward and onwards. In less than a minute we were through the crowd and the coolie quickly checked if I was still with him before he bolted towards the tracks, up the stairs and over the bridge.
I was purple in the face, tasted metal and could easily have collapsed without further notice – but I just kept running. Finally at the platform the train is still there and my first reaction is relief. We are still running though and in the middle of the chaos and near-death exhaustion I wonder why I’m still picking up on that feel of urgency from the coolie as he is frantically trying to push open every door we passes.
Then I realize, the train is moving! Fuck, the train is moving and I’m not on it!!
Since we’re still running I figure there’s still a chance and so I run faster. We reach an open door and as it were in some movie, we jump in – coolie first and then me after. My god, I was dying and laughing and choking all at the same time and hurried and paid my superstar coolie so he could jump off again before we picked up too much speed.
I was joined by the train personnel, they checked their lists to find out which berth I had been assigned and oh horror, I was still on waitlist! All this risking my life and other people’s lives and the lives of roadcows and my coolies health – and then I had no berth! I wasn’t even allowed to be on this train… Poop.
They talked and looked very serious and told me to wait there and then they left and I was standing there, not really sure if they meant that I could stand there for the rest of the journey. And I realized that would suck – I was standing next to the toilets and they were already stinky and it was an 8 hour ride. It took a while and then I got impatient so I went and found them and they checked the list again and talked again and looked serious again. The dilli, the top boss kind of guy was a man around 60, a head shorter than me and with one of his teeth sticking straight out of his mouth. It gave him a funny and very authentic look but no doubt was he a man to take seriously and he looked at me seriously and told me that “you are on waitlist, you have not ticket and there is nothing that can be done”.
If I hadn’t made the train I would have had to take a cap back to the apartment and then figure out something the day after. I hadn’t calculated with making the train and then being kicked off at the next station in the middle of the night.
While we are standing there a man comes out from one of the compartments and realize that something is going on. He offers his assistance and English skills so we at least can understand each other and he sort of takes over. He and dilli decide that I can go sit down while someone figures out something. So I go and sit with the guy and his wife, Deepak and Pudva. Within 20 minutes they’re my friends. They just got married three months ago and now every once in a while they try to take a long weekend and go somewhere. Mini honeymoons :) They tell me to not worry and that in India something can always be done – even when dilli says that nothing can be done.
A guy comes through the train with a sort of metal bucket and we all get chai in small plastic cups while we continue talking. Dilli comes in again and talks to Deepak and Pudva – I guess by then they have all agreed to take care of it without burdening me with the details. They discuss and look serious again, dilli says something, Deepak nods and respond something, Pudva suggests something and both dilli and Deepak talk again, they all nod and then dilli leaves.
I thought that was bad news, that nothing could be done and that I would be spending the night at the next station.
I was wrong. It was all going to be okay, dilli had found me a berth and in a minute he would come back and tell me the number. “But first we drink tea”, Deepak said.
When we had finished the chai and I had managed as a final tribute to my good luck to spill chai on my pants, the seat and the floor, we exchanged contact info and I got Deepaks private+work email and his phone number and was told to call anytime if I ever needed help – he even made sure to tell me his office hours. Then Pudva took me to my berth and made sure I was settled in before she went back.
I’m so grateful for Deepak and Pudva and for those magical moments when everything just falls apart and then reassemble in the most fortunate way.
My berth was in class 3AC, which means that there are three layers of berths (bunks) – on one side of the train divided into six and six and with curtains for privacy and on the other side of the train a single three layer row all the way down. I was in a six’er and in the bottom berth – normally it’s better to be on the top because that ensures more privacy and safety and normally I guess, I would have preferred 2AC with only 2 layers – but I was just happy to not spend the entire trip sitting on the floor next to the toilets or even worse, sitting in some cold station all night.
Yay for dilli and Deepak and Pudva :)
Most of my fellow travellers were already sleeping and I put the sheet on and got situated. I’ve heard a lot of stories about rape and other sexual assaults in these trains so I was staying alert and feeling out the atmosphere around me, trying to determine if I had any reason to be worried. I found no reason to be paranoid and so I read for a while before closing my eyes. Our six’er was right next to the door and so every time someone went in or out, the curtain would get caught in the door and open a little and let in very bright light from the hallway – but in between I managed to get some sleep.
We arrived in Haridwar around 6am and even though it was early, there was plenty of people. I found the bus terminal, which is just a big parking lot area and then you have to walk around and ask the individual drivers where they’re going. The Rishikesh bus had apparently just left 5 minutes ago I was told by a guy, a second lieutenant in the Indian army. He asked the usual questions, where I’m from and so on and then he wanted to know if the women really drink alcohol in Denmark as he had heard. I could see that it troubled him that I confirmed and it also troubled him that I was travelling alone, that I wasn’t married and that Denmark in general seemed to be such a different country. With a deep wrinkle in his forehead he kept repeating “it’s not right”.
Then he asked for my email. And then I lied. For some reason I didn’t want to give him my email address and probably for the same reason, I didn’t want to tell him that. So I lied and gave him some bogus address, embarrassed of my dishonesty and hoping for some universal understanding. He wanted to email me right away and took out his phone and I thought “shit, he’s got internet connection and now he’s going to find out that I lied and then he’s going to get pissed and I don’t even know in which direction to run”.
But he didn’t find out and I lived to tell the story.
Finally the Rishikesh bus arrived and 40 relaxed and uneventful minutes later I was dropped off and hopped straight on a rickshaw to find a hotel.
So I’m in India.. My first impression is that I love it. Or I did love it. Or hopefully I still love it..
It’s dirty, noisy, dusty, smelly and most of all chaotic beyond anything I’ve experienced before. And that’s all good, that’s the part I love. I’ve been soaking up all the millions of impressions that hit me every minute, trying to keep up with this hurricane of life here.
I’ve already met a lot of people, done some sightseeing, shopped a little and went to a movie screening about Varanasi, another place I want to visit here. And it’s just been 3 days.
The thing is, the attention I get is overwhelming. Walking down the street, everybody will stop what they’re doing to look at me instead. Some will join me and ask questions and even change their own direction in order to follow me and on the metro I’m being studied head to toe. I’ve tried to be fair to everyone, placing myself in the middle so no-one was cheated from the sight of me :P The metro is so fortunately planned here that the two front cars are for women only – we can see all the way down through the train though and thus the men can see us as well, and the mens section is crowded.
With this being the center of attention, I haven’t met any real hostility and no bad things has happened but I’ve come to notice the difference in how I’m being looked at, how I’m being met.
The majority I’m pretty sure don’t even see me. They see a tourist, a wealthy European, a white person, a blonde woman, a person they want something from. My money, my time, my love, they just want what I have maybe without knowing what that is, if there even is something to have.
On the opposite side there’s the people who demonstratively are letting me know that they don’t want anything from me. They will look at me and when I notice, they will hold my look for just a couple of seconds and then dismiss my presence with a kind of arrogant attitude. I don’t meet as many of them but when I do the impact is equally challenging to digest.
And then there’s the few who meet me as who I am. Just another human being who happens to cross their path, not yet determined, not yet labeled. They meet my eyes with openness, with curiosity, sometimes with a slight indifference but as soon as we look at each other, I’m being recognized as being me. Nothing more, nothing less. A person who holds all the potential of being either a friend or an enemy or of simply continuing to be a complete stranger. But right in that moment, neither of us know and we simply recognize each other as part of the same family, just human beings who happens to share a brief moment. Whenever it happens, it makes me feel incredibly grateful.
We all do this all the time. We label each other. We put a limit to the truth about the people we meet and by that we limit our world, the potential of our lives.
Even though this is something I’ve been aware about for a long time, experiencing it so intensely here in India has really put it into perspective.
Yesterday it made me sick, literally. I got the worst headache (still have it) and nausea and I was so exhausted and drained that I went home around 4.30pm and then hid out in the safety of my room for the rest of the day,
feeling so alone and sad. All I wanted to do was escape, get out of the city and go somewhere secluded and safe from all the people.
I still want to escape but today I’m going to meet the world again and try to see if I can somehow turn it around. I need to find a way to protect myself without running away. To not let the attention drain me. To allow myself to continue being me.
Wish me luck!
PS – Here’s my neighborhood in Delhi