Udaipur: that time I got kicked by a horse and rageslept for 6 hours

ImageA quick weekend trips roundup. I am too proud of my weekend exploits and the pictures I took to simply spare my audience. So sorry.

First up is Udaipur- the “Venice of India.” I went with my friend and WHO colleague Adriane. It was easily one of my favorite trips that I took. The high and low lights are as follows:
The overnight train and ragesleeping. This was a cool experience. Amazing on the way there and quite restful. But on the way back we were in 3 tier AC (3 bunkbeds on each side) and 3 men got on at 11pm even though there were only 2 available seats/beds. One was a “local politician” (hint: corruption gets you anything) of the gold chain/track pants variety and the others were his minions I guess. I was on the bottom bunk and one corpulent minion just set up shop on the ground about six inches from my ear and proceeded to talk/snore/stare at me for the whole night. I had an eye mask and ear plugs but I couldn’t sleep because I was enraged. Have you ever tried to rage-sleep? I don’t recommended it. The next morning I came out of the toilet (read: hole) between train cars and the three of them were smoking there. In very broken English I ascertained that they were asking me for my “contact details.”  This provided a small opportunity to unleash my rage and snarl that I didn’t even have a phone (a lie). I think my anger was lost in translation but it felt oh so good.
Visiting a mountain fort. We ended up meeting a young Indian family and spent the day with them and their adorable 2 year old.

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Horseback riding and being oh so wrong. Adriane chickened out on this activity despite my assurances that “it won’t be scary! They will be gentle trail horses!” Famous last words. I ended up on a horse that “hadn’t been ridden much due to the monsoon.” Long story short the horse was absolutely wild and was bucking and galloping off at every opportunity. She ran right up to the guide’s horse who delivered a swift back buck- kicking me square in the knee. I was in tears and the guide (who spoke about 3 words of English and looked about 14) clearly was horrified and had no idea what to do. I left with a massive bruise (on my knee and on my ego…recall that I was on the equestrian team in college) and proceeded to limp around the city like a drunk, uncoordinated pirate with a pegleg. Would I do it again? You betcha.
The view from the hotel. Our budget hotel had an amazing lake view from it’s rooftop restaurant.

ImagePlaying tag outside a Jain Temple. Asked two girls where the bathroom was and ended up playing an elaborate game of tag with her whole extended family. Welcome to India.

IMG_5183Visit to the spice market: color explosion in my brain. Ended up having chai with one of the spice vendors and then wandered around for a bit.IMG_4629

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I like myself better when I travel

ImageI like myself better when I am living in a different country. ButImage I don’t think it’s due to some neurochemical reaction to foreign soil. Rather, it has to do with how I approach life when I travel. I thought that by dissecting it, perhaps I could import some of these attitudes. I can think of no finer souvenir.

I accept minor setbacks:  Somehow when I am traveling I find it easier to understand that the journey is the destination. When I am abroad, minor (and major) inconveniences of life become hilarious- part of the experience! But when I am home, they grate on me and try my patience. I want to remember that patience and a go with the flow attitude should not be exclusive to international travel. And while a delayed train from Penn Station isn’t as exotic as a lost rickshaw driver or a cow-related roadblock, it would behoove me to remember that life is not about rushing from point A to point B.

I am more accepting: I am also more inclined to be accepting of others when I Imageam a guest in another culture. Certainly I don’t believe in cultural relativism when it comes to “big” things like child abuse or domestic violence. But for the small tensions of daily life I endeavor to understand others instead of judge them. But a quote I once read said something wise: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (attributed, most thing wrongly, to Plato). And that is no less Imagetrue of what I consider boorish behavior in the US.

I am kind to myself: I am also more accepting of myself. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because travel brings out what I feel is my best self? Or maybe I am too involved with immersion to be preoccupied with the narcissism of daily life? Or conversely, I am more introspective? ImageImageWhatever the reason, I find that negative self talk is minimized when I get off of the plane.

I am a “yes woman.” I am more open to new experiences. I am the consummate “yes woman” when I travel. Eat this homemade food? Read this book? Wear this dress? Meet your friend? Dance in front of a crowd? Try to cook this? Explore an unknown street? Have a cup of tea with you/your brother/cousin/wife/cow? Don’t mind if I do. This led to me playing an elaborate game of tag with a huge extended family outside a Jain temple, eating as the guest of honor with a Gujarati group at an ashram, dancing in front of a large group of Indian women during a holiday celebration and countless other memories.

I would do well to import this adventurous spirit and open myself up to new things even if they make me anxious.

I push myself. Similarly, this “yes” attitude leads to a commitment to squeeze the marrow out of my experience. I push myself to plan weekend trips, savor moments, take photographs, make new friends. Something about the experience being finite leads increased motivation to Imagemake the most of my time. But my time in any place is finite and there is no reason not to expend the same energy and create memories on US soil.

Letters

Dear girls on the metro,

I am aware that I’m white. And that there are no other white people on this metro. And I know I’m pretty darn good looking. But seriously, this is New Delhi- I’m sure you’ve seen other white people. Do I really merit a sneaky cell phone video? I mean, staring and/or smiling/giggling- not an issue. A picture…sure. “Look at this white girl on the metro! She is really tall! And pale like a sickly ghost!” But a video? I wasn’t even doing anything except reading. And did you really think that I couldn’t see? This is 2013 ladies- everyone knows a sneaky cell phone pic when they see one. And the lady behind you was watching your footage over your shoulder and grinning up at me. A budding Ken Burns I suppose.

Hope you liked my purposeful wink at the end. And I really hope that in India a wink isn’t construed as some kind of insulting gesture implying that I wanted to defile your mother or something. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t have winked?

See you next time girls. We both know I’m not mad. I already signed over my privacy when I opened a facebook account. So thanks for making me feel like Brangelina for the day.

Best,

Tired white girl on the metro

Unhealthy eating

I published another article in The Hindu and it’s not even about leprosy. It’s about the unhealthy eating habits of Delhi University students. Which is not something I (or my college friends) know anything about. I have never even heard of soft serve mixed with peanut butter and Cracklin’ Oat Bran. That must be another Brown U alum you’re thinking of.

Check it out!

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/nutrition-takes-a-backseat/article5076029.ece

In honor of this occasion: here are some food/eating related pictures for your viewing displeasure (I’m pretty much the world’s worst food photographer):

A very big lake indeed

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ImageWhilst in Pokhara (Nepal), I hired a wooden boat for an hour on the stunning Phewa Tal lake. I went for the peace and the mountain views. What I got was a very chatty boatsman in a pink spray painted trucker hat. His English was remedial at best but that certainly didn’t stop him. “The lake, it is very big?” he queried me as soon as soon as we hit the water. “Yes, it certainly is,” I acquiesced.

After asking where I was from, he then proceeded to launch in a litany of geographic stereotypes. He informed me that the Chinese were “scowl-ish and angry,” that he didn’t care for the Indians but that the Japanese were to his liking and of course “USA is a very, most great, most excellent country.” (he was no idiot and knew that we come from a tipping culture).  Every few minutes he would also stop to check in: “the lake, it is very big?” Each time I would assure him that yes, Imagethe lake continued to be very big. Placated, he would return to his running commentary which had expanded from stereotypes to “jungle music,” which involved asking me to listen to the loud buzzing from the adjacent jungle- a sound he augmented with his own, slightly off-key, melody.  Halfway through the ride, I announced that perhaps now was the time for some silence to “better enjoy the jungle Imagemusic”. 5 minutes later he loudly asked if I were sleeping (I sort of was) which I answered with a non-committal grunt. He lapsed into silence….for 2 more minutes. And then… “the lake, it is very big, yes?”

I’d say he earned his tip due to sheer tenacity. We Americans appreciate that sort of thing. And the lake was, after all, very big. Image

iLost it: My encounter with the Nepali police

ImageiPhone: gone. It was bound to happen I suppose. I decided on Tuesday that I was going to fly to Nepal on Wednesday and my spontaneity was rewarded with an unforgettable trip. But on my first (and only) day in Kathmandu (Nepal’s crowded main city) I was “liberated” of my brand new iPhone that I had saved up for and bought as a treat for getting my fellowship.  I was in Durbar Sq at the time when the phone “fell” out of my purse (I stupidly had it in an outside-ish pocket). It was Janmashtami, a celebration of Krishna’s birthday and the place was packed even though it was 8pm. The tourist police station was closed and I was directed to the district police station.

It was like a horrible Monty Python skit: I truly couldn’t communicate that I wanted to file a police report, nor could I really explain that I thought my phone was stolen: Image“snatched, grabbed, pickpocket, thief, they take, bad man,” I tried in vain. Mostly they filed in, uniform-less and just stared at me. “What country are you from?” (standard conversation opener), each one asked in term. And nodding, they each suggested I find the “tourist police.” I tried to explain that the tourist police were closed and I practically begged to file a report- a concept that seemed largely lost on everyone I talked to. What’s more, no one seemed to be in charge and without badges I had no idea who to target my inquiry to. And every five minutes a new guy would come in, gape at me and finally sidle over…”what country are you from?” I was at my wits end.

The next round of questioning involved asking about the serial Imagenumber of the phone. Everyone seemed astonished that I couldn’t simply rattle it off the top of my head.

Finally someone took pity on me and somehow persuaded 2 tourist police officers to come from the main station. They showed up, also uniform-less, and proceeded to take my “report” on a piece of computer paper. Then they ushered me into a rusty old van. “This is how I die,” I thought to myself. But no, they took me to a police station and had me fill out a slightly more official piece of computer paper which I’m pretty sure was basically a tourism survey. Or maybe an entry form for Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Or a deed to a new motorcycle. Who could tell? “OK what is the serial number of the phone?” asked one of the officers. I explained that I didn’t have it memorized but could probably find it in my electronic receipt. But no…power was out in the station and there was no internet.  O-K. By this time it was late and I was exhausted. I filled out the form as best I could, answered which country I was from for a few stragglers and allowed the head officer to help me find a taxi who, of course, couldn’t find my hostel and basically dropped me off somewhere random. Luckily a kind shopkeeper walked me there and I went to sleep a former iPhone owner.

I am not proud to say how much this incident upset me. I really did love that phone. It was my first iPhone and I had spent a long time deliberating whether to splurge and purchase it. It had allowed me to easily keep in contact with friends and family and share my new passion for photojournalism. I know that I can’t afford a new one at this time and I felt like an idiot for letting it get stolen. But I also hated myself for being upset over a stupid hunk of metal and plastic. There were literally children begging in the streets and I was sad over my iPhone. Pathetic. I was finally able to talk myself out of my funk. I decided to consider it an offering to the travel gods- a reminder that my possessions are really and truly unimportant  when compared to this fantastic experience. I’d sell my iPhone a thousand times over for these past few months. iPhone or not I know that I am the luckiest girl in the world. Plus, these things have a way of working out. And my birthday is in 3 days, after all. Maybe the iPhone fairy will take pity on me  😉

Below are some photos of Durbar square before the iPhone debacle: