983 76 41
11:45a, platform 2
^ life suddenly becomes filled with tiny numbers that can make or break my reality for the next hour– or, next few days. Gate 37. Platform 9. Section A. Airline X. Remembering the date, time, country you’re in (and subsequently timezone), and what month it is all prove to be important as well.
Trip begins with a drive from Spokane Washington to the airport in Vancouver British Columbia.
Check in was totally problematic (centered around the fact that A) I was flying China Eastern Airlines and customer service isn’t exactly their main draw and B) I hadn’t yet booked my return trip from India, and depending on how one read the Visa requirements it could be said that was necessary) but I was like 4 hours early (bc the flight took off at an odd time late late night/early in the morning), so it was ultimately mostly ok since I had tons of extra time, but it reminded me how fraught with issues travel can be (& often is!).
I finally convinced them I would book a return flight on my really really super extra long layover in Shanghai, before I even arrived in India. An overly tired manager got sick of my persistence and reluctantly gave me an “ok, fine I guess that’s ok” and I was given the first of 2 boarding passes and they withheld the one I needed to get on the plane to India– and for now that was that.
Slept some. Eastern China airlines is a budget-y airline and last time I traveled overseas it was first class with Cathay, so, this feels *especially* no-frills. Still, since it’s an international flight, the food was interesting and almost edible and it’s fun to interact with airline employees who speak limited English- it expresses itself in cute ways (like the stewardess saying “please” when she put any drink or food down). And “open sunshine, thank you” when they wanted us to open the window shades during landing. Gah. So cute 🙂
Had a row of 2 to myself bc someone wanted my seat to sit with his travel partner, so that helped me get maybe 6 hours of sleep? Woke up before sunrise and got to see it peek over the horizon, somewhere past Russia and near North Korea.
I’m watching what I’m pretty sure is a Tanya Harding biopic via the person sitting to the right in front of me. With Chinese subtitles, of course. I still think I get the drift. It’s darker and funnier than I expected.
Long long long layover in Shanghai. 20 hours. Leaving the airport was quite the ordeal and I literally had to say to an airport employee “um, you can’t not let me leave this airport Sir” (& I held my tongue when I wanted to add “even tho this *is* China…). I finally got out. I didn’t explore much further than an amazing hotel with a 1970s inspired round bed. And a life changing shower.
Now getting ready to board to India. An Indian man is taking up most of an entire row if seats sleeping in the waiting terminal. He’s laying across many seats and has his shoes off. Doesn’t give AF! Maybe this is my first taste of international travel al la India?
Another thing I love about international travel:: FASHION!
Young Asian woman: Red plaid scarf, Leopard shirt, Black and white vertically striped pants.
Men in turbans *and* hoodies.
I see lots of red lipstick.
Fashion! In ways that are new to me. It’s a slice of heaven.
Now a long flight.
Finally I arrive.
Airport is only somewhat insane and my friend meets me in an Uber.
Now it’s 3 days Delhi. So much happens. It’s hot hot hot, and just as crowded. I met up with an old friend who I met traveling when I was in New Zealand. He shows us around. He speaks the language so that helps a lot. We do so many sites in one day and eventually I feel heatstroke-y and call it a day. I quickly realize I can’t do full days and nights out here and I’m ok with it. Days seem to be the choice, dictated by the direction of my jetlag and the amount of things to see during the day.
We saw temples big and small and old forts and city walls and everything feels somewhat ancient except for the intermixed surprisingly modern cafes but then we turn the current and find steep steep steps into wells where they kept the water for the town. We see monkeys and cows and motorbikes and absolutely endless crowds of humans. We see very, very few white people and learn that it’s the absolute hottest time of the year and that is why. Ha! We eat better food than we can find most places in the States and it costs $3. Gah! We walk over ten miles most days and I fall asleep suddenly when I get home and wake at weird hours and forget where I am. I wander into the living room and in my jetlag I ask my friends if “someone put on a wildlife soundtrack?” bc I hear exotic birds and monkey calls and they say “you’re in India, honey”.
It feels much later in the journey, but it’s only a few days later. We head to Agra, to the Taj Mahal. Missed two trains but easily find a taxi then we have a homestay with Col Sharma’s and his wife, an intriguing and loving older couple who began Airbnbing bc they missed having a full house after their kids moved out. Aw. He was high up in the army, had tens of thousands of people reporting to him. She has 4 masters degrees and a PhD in psychology.
Her take on manifestation:
Be so precise in your desire that all the other energies in the world joins forces with your desire and supports your vision 💗
Agra was the first intense poverty I saw. Streams of trash, overwhelming smells, people everywhere, even more than parts of Delhi if that’s even possible. We saw 6 boys on one motorcycle!!
And then, just outside of this, we arrive at the Taj Mahal. It’s glorious and it’s just before 6 a.m. So it’s serene and majestic. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before.
The next day we wake early and take a quick $12 flight to Rajasthan.
The capital of Jaipur amazes me- it’s gorgeous old organized civilized. Felt regal so many millennia later, this royal desert city. We stayed at an Airbnb of someone who was really genuinely kind and ambitious in the right directions. His villa apt completely blew our minds. He then invited us his farm house venue an hour outside of the city to have dinner with his extended family. It was a truly beautiful night.
Awake at 4 a.m. again. More small airports. Now onto–
Dharamsala, McCloud Ganj, Darmkot, Dalai Lama’s hometown!
Monks everywhere. Himalayas. Giant trees. Clean air. Too many cars for the endlessly winding roads but even those are full of grace. One town up in this mountain village called Darmkot feel like a misplaced Venice Beach California, between the reiki and the sound healing and the green smoothie bowls and the yoga gals Skyping loudly about missing their connecting flight from Delhi. I see earrings for sale for 150 rupees that I’ve seen for sale in San Francisco for $60 USD. Orders of magnitude of mark-up. And, then, the next town over is full of monks and absent of yoga chakra healers in training and it’s like a little Tibet and there are literally signs all over town proclaiming “KINDNESS” as the secular ethic to aim for. And and and… It kind of just keeps rabbitholing into these beautiful dimensions falling into one another, where it’s hard to tell where one ends and one begins and how I got here in the first place. Via love, I guess? I suppose that’s the every only answer at this point.
A cute kind couple both from places I’ve lived (Atlanta, London) ask if they can share my table as I’m eating Momos and watching the sunset in Naddi and I find out the Dalia Lama is giving a teaching in 2 days and we can register tomorrow and I’m so excited and tell Alex as soon as I get home and we register first thing the next day and adjust our plans to stay within walking distance of the His Holiness’ temple the night before and we get the radio we need to hear the translator and and and… After so many days of heat and pollution and being on anyone else’s schedule for the first time in a great great while, I get ill all night the night before the lecture.
😦 Food poisoning? My psyche not allowing me to hear a living Saint teach? Wahhhh. Who knows. But I retch all night, into the day. Alex rushes to find a pharmacy before the teaching but nothing opens at regular hours here. I sleep fitfully and get the scoop when Alex returns. In short: H.H.D.L. is extremely philosophical and still somewhat irrelevant. Funny and inclusive and smart. Pushes for all religions to be accepted and stresses that Buddhism is a lifestyle and way of thinking, not a dogmatic theology. So, that’s nice, even though I couldn’t make it. A cosmic lesson on non attachment, it is.
And then we get a glimpse of monsoon season to the point where electricity goes out and umbrellas are breaking and then it starts actually freaking *hailing* and
Now that I can keep water down, a few hours later, it’s an overnight bus (through insane roads and a thunderstorm complete with lightening) to…
We’re checked into Osho Vision Ashram. Im still not fully well and they kindly let me sleep on a mat somewhere or other until our room is ready.
Hours later- after getting to the room, I am still a bit ill. I need water from the common area and I opted out of the group mediation so I figure I won’t run into anyone and I go down many flights of stairs, sweaty in my harem pants/pjs/what’s passing as my outfit these days. I feel as if I’m in a fever dream as I go down marble staircase after staircase, hearing chanting from certain floors and children crying on others- the only constants, like in much of India, are that it’s oppressively hot, I’m disoriented yet somewhat bemused for some reason, and I feel safe even tho I’m on the verge of collapse. Now if I could just remember which giant poster of Osho or some Baba signifies the correct floor to my room…
The next day we go for a long walk to explore and it feels like we’re living on the surface of Mars as it nears noon. A guru gave us the best chai I’ve had here and we compared some yoga tricks and he put an orange streak on our foreheads and showed me sacred signs crafted out of cow dung stuck to the wall. Blessed us with “happy life, happy work, happy, love”. And later, near the Ganges River, there were hundreds of people in a hall of sorts singing to a specific God I think maybe, and a few brave Indian children stared at us for awhile then sat near us and one grandmother type gleefully shook my hand. Did I mention that being a white tourist entails being asked to be in selfies with excited teenager girls, while their parents shake your hand with somewhat more stoicism, until they learn you’re from CA, USA, and then they can’t withhold their enthusiasm and they tell you about their brother who lives in Austin and he was in LA once, and and and…
We later stuck our feet in the Ganges and it was frigid compared to the day and it was holy compared to everyday life and it was also just a place where kids played and gurus without homes bathed and drank. It’s a sacred holy ancient totally here and now portal of limitless everything and it’s also just a river. I know in my heart of hearts I love it here, and the whole of India, and will return.
Oh, after the Ganges we found ice cold coconut water at my new favorite Ayurvedic shop. And A.C. – blessings abound. Jah!
Wanna play a game?
Burning Man or India?
It’s a huge achievement to wash my hair. It immediately gets filled with dust, yet, it’s a project I spend a decent amount of time attempting to accomplish once a week or so.
Dust masks. Serious necessity.
Proper footwear makes or breaks your days.
Finding reliable A.C. is both heavenly, and somehow feels like cheating.
Watch out for bikes and strange small cars.
Having someone’s unexpected kindness ultra change your mental state.
Coconut water may have just saved me from heatstroke.
There’s a parade for no reason. There’s a parade for a reason. Wait, is this a parade or Church?
Travel across town to a thing that’s supposed to happen at a certain time and it’s ultimately not open but you find something more magical just past that.
A Blinky lighted car has large amounts of pop corn to offer you.
Survive by sleeping during the hottest hours.
Peeing by squatting in the dark with your foot against the door bc the lock doesn’t work and realizing halfway through there’s no toliet paper.
Yoga, chanting, reiki, weird wonderful fashion.
Eating one meal a day seems legit. As does the occasional Red Bull for breakfast.
Remembering to refill water bottles in the common area will save your day.
Everything’s rerouted yet everything’s ultimately right on time.
Spotty internet but it’s more telecom connected than it used to be.
On a ride during another storm, we laugh at our driver recounting the Things an Indian cab driver Needs:
Giant hail storm, again (!???)
It miraculously ends as soon as we need to go outside.
Train station is full, chock full, of everyone in all corners. The holy men here in Rishikesh aren’t in white. They are sunset sherbet colors. Dreamy hazy creamsicle orange. Blushes of pink. Not the shouting yellow of Delhi but instead a first morning ray of shy just awoken sunshine kiss.
From this train station followed maybe 4 days of overland travel to Nepal. The bumpiest overnight bus I could ever imagine, followed by a very very very delayed train that caused me to make the call to just jump on one going in the direction we needed like hobos. That was fun. More trains, more buses, more bumps, so many twisting roads. And, we make it, with a few days to spare, in Kathmandu.
Border crossing, Nepal & India
Walking “100 meters” (which is 900 of course) in the hot hot sun for exit stamps, entrance paperwork, eating lychees with new friends, & making small talk like old friends for quite a while with friendly govt officials while the parade of big trucks small rickshaws large families and a rainbow of entrepreneurs sell their wares.
Finally in Nepal.
It’s a safe, sweet, Buddhist country. It feels peaceful and it’s a bit tidier and far quieter than India. Shrines and temples are abundant here, in densely urban areas suddenly things slow for people to relight the incense. To ring the bell. To say the entire prayer.
It certainly makes me wonder how different Western culture would be if instead of church in a sanctioned place one morning a week, it instead was interwoven into the daily fabric of our lives. The fruit vendor sitting at the entrance to the one Temple. You buy your mangos, you say your mantras, you keep liberation of all sentient beings at the forefront of your mind- all at once now. The great dance.
Prayer wheels are spun, monkeys are seen, stuppas are explored, our time here draws to a close.
Armed security guards at the airport in Katmandu greet me with a genuine “Namaste”. It’s surreal. As is the fact that the majority of the pilots are in the smoking lounge. I guess it’s still 1972ish give or take? They seem happy with it.
And, now. Now I’m in Dubai. The store clerks call me “Madame”. It makes me feel old, famous, privileged, confused, and giggley all at once. They say it like they mean it. It makes me want to turn around to see the person standing behind me that they must actually be addressing. But, no, it’s me. “Madame, please sign here” is in fact referring to the receipt for *my* banana and flat white. Ok. I’ll play along.
Peeing in holes in the ground a few hours prior in rustic Nepal to suddenly being awash in Dubai’s sticky glitzy glamour was head spinning culture shock.
The feeling of the city is something like Vegas on a mega dose of Ayahuasca with David Bowie as the shaman guide. In the year 2080.
After an Uber tour around part of the city, we ended up at the massive mall, a place to see and be scene. Catwalk Run is literally a street there. It’s teeming with beautiful people, many women so unreal looking it almost hurt my brain until I remembered plastic surgery was definitely a thing and this was doubtlessly the fitting demographic. Little and littler black dresses, and taller stilletos than I recalled from NYC, London, Toyko, Paris. It’s eye candy central, my Dutch layover travel friend remarked even the men were so precisely manicured, and, me, well, I’m wearing harem pants, flats, and the shirt that *was* my last clean shirt when I began wearing it 2 days ago. Ha. I’m tempted to apply the brightest red lipstick I can find in Sephora, but instead I decide I’m content to fade into the background of this opulence.
I see more Mazarattis and Bentley’s than I can fit into my peripheral vision. A helicopter ride pops up as an option when requesting an Uber. There’s an actual fossil of a complete dinosaur next to the jewelry souk. I’m in a whirlwind that reaches a different part of my psyche than even anything in India ever did.
And just like that my very long layover nears it’s end and I crash out in the hotel room I’m sharing with my transient Dutch traveler gal pals, catch my shuttle back, make it through the many rounds of security, and… Catch up on films until I’m in NYC again. Home sweet homeland. I stay in Flushing Queens near LaGuardia for the night, a crowded Asian neighborhood. It’s a good transition point to ease me back in.