Life is too brief and too rich to tiptoe through half-heartedly, rather than galloping at it with whooping excitement and ambition. And so I explode in rage just in time. It’s time to go prowling through the wilderness. It is time to live violently again.
– Alastair Humphreys, There are Other Rivers
Though we’re scheduled to arrive at our destination in approximately 15 hours, at this rate that seems highly optimistic. As we leave Rishikesh, the road turns to patches of concrete, nature taking back what man forced upon it. We crawl through the countryside, slowly edging our way along roads as wide as the bus. It’s like walking on a log over a river- doable, but you still need your focus and balance to avoid falling. Music provides a soothing soundtrack to this film about an Indian road trip.
The smoky, orange sun is slowly sitting down as it approaches the end of its shift. As it slogs through the smog and clouds, one might be tempted to judge it as lazy- but I remind myself that this flaming gas ball is truly the model of work ethic, consistently showing up for its 12-hour shift 365 days a year (including holidays!). Plodding through Dehradun, a city seemingly the size of LA and with the air quality of…well, India, unfortunately…I notice the shit-eating grin on my face. I’m four hours into a 15-hour bus ride, chewing air I can see and throwing my lungs into a fit as I replace CO2 with CO2, and on a bus thats blending it’s ingredients on the highest setting. But I am moving, I am free. I am joyous, I am alive.
I woke up this morning to the sound of the underworld opening up to some terrifying realm I don’t want to know about. Indian thunder is a lot like the harassment that women face here- strong and oppressive. I cautiously avoid painting with such broad strokes as to indict the many based on the actions of the few; however, I’ve seen it firsthand, it is a serious problem, and one that should be discussed loud enough for everyone to hear. Behavior does not change over night, but it can, and must, change. Until then, I sadly worry for the safety of women who travel alone here. That said, there are many who do it and have a beautiful experience and who did not ask me to speak on their behalf. I also do not wish to contribute to the hegemonic patriarchy with these comments by taking away this badass lady travelers’ agency- if you feel like I am doing so, I would love to hear from you. I only hope to bring attention to what I find to be a highly problematic and unfortunate situation that I, as a man, do not at all have to deal with.
This also does not detract from the fact that Dharamsala is an incredible place, so many pieces fitting together to create a magical puzzle. The environment is spectacular- massive green trees blanket the mountains that host and guard over the town. A cold fog rolls in, slowly swallowing everything in sight, usually predicting rain. The deep red of the monks’ robes creates a striking contrast to the surrounding greenery. Tibetan prayer flags (or as they call them here, prayer flags) hang over doors and between rooftops, melding the spiritual with the political. A displaced population finds a home away from home. Nevertheless, away from home. This is a popular destination for Israelis- I wonder how many of them make the connection between the plight of the Tibetans and the similar plight of the Palestinians? I visited the Dalai Lama’s Temple and the Tibet Museum which features the faces of the hundreds who have lit themselves on fire protesting the Chinese occupation of their ancient homeland. It is a sobering reminder of my privilege.
I have begun every morning here with a one kilometer walk to a waterfall where I sit on a rock in the middle of the water and practice meditation. There is so much to reflect on (not during mediation, of course, as I am the model meditation student and have unwavering focus…squirrel!)- the people mostly, as they make any experience. I think about Sagar, Alander, and the teachers and staff of Shiva Tattva Yoga. Their warmth, graciousness, and constant guidance will always be remembered fondly and truly appreciated. The more I learned about other yoga schools, the more I realized how lucky I was to find this place. I think of Merrianne and Sanjana, wondering about the intricacies of their days that I became so familiar with during our month together. I think of Nalini, a fast friend, and of Stephanie, a beautiful, wandering soul who I shared meals, laughs, and stories with my last few days in Rishikesh. I think of the family pictured below who fed me and shared their culture with me. These people all carry a piece of me, and I them.
In a couple hours I take another overnight bus, this time to New Delhi. Tuesday I see the Taj Mahal, and Wednesday I head to the Vipassana meditation retreat for ten days. After that, Richard and Catherine Frazier of Peace Corps Sierra Leone have kindly offered to put me up my last night in India. I believe they will provide the perfect company as I transition from the inner world to the outer world, and from India back to the U.S. As the retreat forbids electronics, this will be my last post until I return home.
Thank you for reading and letting me share and reflect on my experience.