*CAUTION* -its a long one, possibly my last one since Im back in the States now. Over view at the beginning of the places I went in India, a story about one night in Ladakh in the middle, and hippy-dippy advice at the end. Read it all or take your pick, up to you. Enjoy!***
Well, here I am again on a bus in New England, this time from
New York to Vermont, off to to start my final semester of undergrad. The trip’s coming full circle, well, figure 8 really, if you make Kathmandu the pinch point that ties two circles, one in Asia and one in the United States. Goddard College
After I left Lumbini and my one zillion hours of meditation, I skirted across the Northern half of the Indian subcontinent, from Varanasi, the ancient city on the Ganges river, to Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and finally to Ladakh, a rocky region near Kashmir that shares the features of the Tibetan plateau with its icy moonscape and rugged, snow streaked mountains. Travelling through
, alone as a woman, was just as hard and adventurous as you can imagine. Despite countless episodes of warding off naive Indian men from sexual advances [culturally, looking a man in the eye means you more or less want to have sex with him--this posed quite a problem when walking down the street in some cities], and the unavoidable loneliness, traveling alone does have its advantages. After Anna, my best friend from home, was stranded in India South Africa without an Indian visa (don’t worry, she spent two weeks in instead) my plans and responsibilities were left to the wind. After wandering the narrow maze of streets in Spain for a few days, trying to avoid the almost overwhelming crowds and heat, I took a 17 hour train ride to Jaipur, Rajasthan, an oasis in the desert surrounded by old fortresses and palaces. There I met up with Becca Cooper, a friend from Occidental, and spent two luxurious days in an AC car (it was well over 100 deg every day on the plains) visiting the sites, feeding peanuts to monkeys, and even riding an elephant! Varanasi
**pause for pictures...*
, I bused overnight to Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. I spent two fine weeks there, volunteering and relaxing, and met up with a fellow musician from Delhi Nepal, a dijeridoo player and carver from , who showed me around and organized jam sessions with the hundred other musicians in the area. Dharamsala, or really Upper Bhagsu was where I was staying, is a town of travelers, mostly Israelis actually, journeying on the “hummus trail” in South Africa Northern India after their two years of mandatory military service. It took a while for me to get used to the place, and land of healing and no responsibility, where people spend their days crocheting in cafes or taking a variety of courses from Indian cooking to astrology. I spent my time doing yoga, hiking, and hanging out with my flat mates making macramé and speaking Spanish. Surprisingly, though I spent four weeks studying Tibetan and picked up whatever local language I could, my Spanish really made the most improvement on this trip, due to the high volume of travelers who, like me, prefer Spanish over English. I also learned, however, how definite English has become the international language of the world. Everyone speaks it, at least a little, to converse about trade, food, transportation, and instructions across cultural barriers. Pity, since the language it quite difficult, but great for me, since I was hardly ever worried about being stranded without being able to communicate. After two lovely weeks which included hiking to the snow line and staying over night in a cave, I took the 12 hour bus to Manali, a small town in the foothills, to rest up before my twenty hour jeep ride over the Himalayas to Ladakh. In Manali I made my first appearance as a professional singer, being paid for my concert by admiring fans in the form of waffles and tomato soup from the café at which I was singing. This little trick came in handy a few weeks down the line, when I nearly ran out of money and sang for dinner almost nightly.
**pause for pictures...*
young muslim boys posing outside a mosque in Varanasi
sunrise on the ganges
milking water buffalo for my morning curd
a giant puja on the ganges
preparing for the elephant ride
a friend fire dancing with poi on my last night in Dharamsala-- full moon + lunar eclipse!
the women with whom I weeded fields in Nubra Valley
the grandmother milking her cows for breakfast
the tent settlement i stayed at near Dok
After a pit stop in
The trip to Ladakh, over the second highest pass in the world on a bumpy set behind the back axle with a surface area slightly larger than the area of a laptop computer was long and arduous. It’s a trip to be made once, as the scenery is unforgettable, but I was happy to purchase a flight out of Leh and back to
Kathmandu as soon as I got there. Besides, for a reasonable price, it would save me almost a week in bus transportation back over the Nepali border.
In Ladakh, the final leg of my trip, I was content to enjoy the moment, knowing that the end was near and happy to be headed home. It was just enough time; I got to go on a small trek to
The next morning after a breakfast of flatbread tea, and eggs, I set out back down the gorge toward Diskit to meet up with the other travelers with whom I’d taken the bus. Despite all my internal complaints of loneliness and feeling ungrounded, I know that experiences like that, the will and ability to follow wherever your heart tells you to go and finding unexpected kindness in a place far from home could only come about if I’d done it alone. Responsibility to yourself only and not external forces, the ability to listen to that voice inside that tells you to go down this path or stop under that tree, is the gift Ive gained on this journey. I don’t know if I believe in something that has plans, in a path that’s cut out for me and only me, but when I do it, when I listen to what’s happening inside me and how I fit with the forces around me, things just work out for the best, they do. Maybe it’s a sign that god exists. Maybe its sheer luck. But I hope I can keep listening even when life is structured and planned out and I don’t get to make the decisions all the time. Because that little voice that tells you to bring a rubber band to work today even though you can hardly fathom why on earth you would need a rubber band, and then it comes in handy so unexpectedly, that little voice gets louder the more you listen to it, and discernible from other little voices like your sex drive or the little devil who always thinks that chocolate is a good idea. I don’t know, Im just on the precipice of this really, but maybe if we all just listened to ourselves a little more instead of advertising, or subliminal messaging, or our parents or our lovers or our friends, we might just be a little more content with our lives, a little more adventurous. Its not always clear cut, but next time you have to make a decision, whether a big one or just deciding which street to walk down to get to the other end of town, stop for a second and see if you can feel a pull in one direction or the other. Its usually right.
As for me, my next big decision is whether to take the train 28 hours from
Santa Fe, New Mexico, back to or fly for $40 more and the chance to see my parents for one more day before I move to the big city. My travels are almost up, and I’m settling down in San Francisco San Francisco for my finally semester of college and a dream life living in an ashram in the , single and 21. Next spring I’m headed back to Asia for my first job out of college doing research in Mission for the Ministry of Education, not far from the lines of my independent research project while I was there this semester. Then its off to Central America again with a job with Amigos and perhaps I’ll hit Bhutan South America after that, who knows.
I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read and respond to my blog posts, it’s nice to know I have an audience- it keeps my writing up to higher standards so I’ll have something solid to look back on years from now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journeys and got something from my little notes of young adult wisdom I threw in there every now and then. I might keep posting, or I might not, but regardless I’ll take the time to say thank you for your support. May your journeys in life be as fruitful as this one was for me. Carpe diem and bon voyage,