WHAT TO PACK FOR INDIA (AND OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION)

If you are a budget traveler and have been Googling a number of “what to pack for India” articles, this might be for you.

The author of this article did the same thing six months ago, and while many of those packing articles were useful, a lot of what she read was total crap.

So here it is—WHAT TO PACK FOR INDIA—for the low-budget, penny pinching, cheapskate traveler (some prices are included, so you know you won’t break your budget), intent never to spend more than 600rps per day ($10/day).

*Notes for how to make a good purchase.

If you already have some of these items, bring them. But read the list before you decide what you want to buy and bring from the west, and what you can wait to buy.

Get ready!

Get ready!

CLOTHING

  • Flip flops or sandals: buy ’em there (50-300 rps) *Unless you wear a shoe larger than a 12 mens USA (46 EU). Slim pickings for large feet.

  • Lightweight cotton clothing: but it there (100-300 rps per item, anywhere in India)

  • Lightweight jacket or fleece: buy it there (100-400 rps per item, from any of the street carts and car boot sales in bigger cities. Trains are effing cold at night, and so are some regions in general, despite it being a tropical country.)

  • Socks, undergarments: buy ’em there (30-50 rps per item, buy them on the street)

  • Bras (under wire or sports): BRING YOUR OWN (selection is poor)

  • Scarf, pashmina, etc: buy it there (150-6,000 rps, from a pretty cheap cotton number, to mid-range silk/bamboo hybrids, to the highest quality 100% cashmere wrap) *Sit down for over one hour and make the warehouse/exporter (not some small-time local shop) explain everything you could ever want to know about scarves, including burn tests, water tests, ply count, weave, pattern, color, and more. Do this with several people. Scarves are sold everywhere. You won’t miss your opportunity, despite what they might tell you in Rajastan.

  • High quality performance clothing: BRING YOUR OWN (if you are a Smartwool snob, or are looking for Gortex, bring it from home. India isn’t on the quality bandwagon yet, and while you can find some performance gear near the mountains at well-below western prices, you run the risk of buying fakes (fairly easy to spot, though). Theoretically you could find these items in shopping malls for western prices, but honestly, you didn’t come to India to hang out in the mall.)

  • Bikini – bring your own (1,500-2,500rps) The locals don’t wear them. You will find them for sale in beachy areas and they are only there for tourists. They often cost as much as they do at home.

TOILETRIES

  • Shampoo/conditioner: buy it there (125-150 rps)

  • Soap: buy it there (10rps a bar)

  • Laundry soap: buy it there (6-10rps a bar)

  • Toothpaste: buy it there (10rps for little travel-sized tubes, available everywhere)

  • Tampons/pads: buy ’em there (150-300 rps for a twenty-pack of OBs–significantly cheaper than in the west, though sometimes tampons are difficult to find.) *When in doubt, ask the first woman you see wearing jeans or western clothing and she’ll tell you where to go.

  • Razors: BRING YOUR OWN (if you are a Gilette Mach 10,000 snob, or totally attached to your electric hair removal system [yours truly uses an epilator], bring your own. Otherwise, buy disposables for pennies)

  • Face wash, body wash, and other bullshit: but it there (60-150 rps)

  • Insect/mosquito repellent: but it there (70-150rps for Odomos, the cheapest and very effective local choice)

  • Medicines: buy ’em there. Cheap, cheap, cheap! And a lot of it doesn’t require a prescription.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Luggage locks/chains/padlocks: buy it there (50-150 rps, depending on what you want). Domestically made padlocks are available everywhere, but look far less secure than what you will find in the west. Chains are easy to find at train stations. Little baby luggage locks are useful, but not necessary if you aren’t a negligent fool.

  • Mosquito net: don’t bother. You don’t recall ever seeing these for sale, and though you had your own, you used it only once. In mosquito heavy areas, you will find nets pre-hung over the beds of even the cheapest, most rock-bottom rooms.

  • Malaria pills: don’t bother. Call yourself crazy, but mosquitoes can be avoided with insect repellent, long sleeves and pants, ceiling fans, sheets, on beaches, and by avoiding stagnant water. You WILL get bitten, and malaria does exist, but so does Dengue (far more dangerous), Japaneses encephalitis, and more. So try not to be paranoid.

  • Flashlight: buy it there, or bring your own favorite. This is a necessity. Power cuts happen all the time. You will need it to see what the hell you’re doing while trying to unlock your bag on a bus or train in the middle of the night. You might also like to blast some guy in the face if you catch him masturbating at you on a train.

  • Phone: not necessary. Really, it’s not. Mankind did without mobile phones for all of human history, barring the last twenty years. If you can’t live without it, then go ahead and bring it. Mobile phone charges will change state to state. If you don’t have one, you will save yourself the trouble of charging it and paying to reload it, and can easily avoid amorous Indians trying to get your digits.

  • Makeup: bring your own. There’s no replacing something as personal as a little makeup, and even though you may not feel many occasions to wear it, from time to time, a little mascara makes you feel human again (and, if you happen to be a tall woman heavily bundled, also helps locals know you’re not a man). Several girls asked to borrow your makeup.

  • Clothing line: not necessary. Everyone in India hangs their clothes on lines, and lines are everywhere. And if you have so much clothing that you need to hang a new line… well… shame on you.

  • Water purification tablets, filters, etc: not necessary. Bottled water is available everywhere, and heavily frequented restaurants often provide clean drinking water, which will be totally safe once your tummy gets adjusted. *However, there is one item you strongly recommend and wish you had: a lightweight, electric immersion coil to boil a cup of water in your room. This would have enabled you to enjoy cups and cups of amazing tea for sale everywhere. Alas, you did not have this, and the only potential substitutes you found were large immersion rods (250rps) for sale (in electric districts of big cities) that can boil a bucket of cold water in ten minutes (not a bad investment, as more than half of all guest houses do not provide hot water for showers and laundry).

  • Sleep sheets, bags, etc.: not necessary. Don’t be a princess. India is dirty. Get over it. Wear pajamas if you are afraid of dirt or bugs. Wrap your head in a pashmina if you’re terrified of head lice. Sleep sheets are not a multi-purpose item and they aren’t particularly useful on cold trains and in the winter. You’re better of buying a lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight blanket when the time comes (100-500rps, depending on quality).

  • Yoga mat: buy it there. (250-400rps). No question. Leave your $20 mat at home.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR INDIA TRAVEL (WHAT THE GUIDE BOOKS WON’T TELL YOU)

  • M.R.P. – “max rupee price” When buying manufactured items, imported goods, bottled water, toiletries, packaged foods like candy bars, ice creams, chips, and more, look on the package for “M.R.P.” The number next to it is the maximum price for which the vendor may legally sell that item. If they try to overcharge you, shove it in their face. They have to comply. And if they don’t, just walk away and find the same thing 20 feet down the road.

  • Directions/“Which way.” – Indians are everywhere and all of them know what “Which way (e.g., railway station)?” means. But they would rather tell you something bogus than admit they don’t know. Always ask at least three people which way before going in that direction. Ask, ask, ask the entire way there, block after block. Also, Indians don’t point in straight lines. They wave their hands in an arc, which can be as confusing as a head bobble for “yes.”

  • Always ask an impartial local before you buy something – If they are selling leather notebooks, don’t ask them how much they would pay for a leather notebook. Always ask someone in a different industry—or better yet, someone who doesn’t sell things for a living. Same thing goes for learning what the local price of a rickshaw should be. If you are on a train, for example, ask your neighbors how to get from the station to wherever you want to go, ask them how much is a rickshaw, whether a local bus is available, etc. Ask, ask, ask. Mine information from everyone.

  • Rickshaw drivers are assholes and liars – Really, they will lie to your face smiling, without the slightest bit of guilt. Know the cost beforehand by asking locals. Most rickshaws are not metered. Know your distances as well by consulting maps, guidebooks, and locals. To a rickshaw driver, a 6km distance is really only 2km. Rickshaw drivers also stick together, so asking several drivers for the real price may not get you anywhere. Same thing goes for bicycle and scooter renters. Everyone will tell you something is much farther away than it really is.

  • Public/governmental buses – By far the cheapest and most readily available for your willy nilly departure. They are very crowded (so keep your backpack small so you can fit it under the seat [no more than 14”], but tourists are favored for seats (especially women). Sometimes tickets are sold at the station, sometimes on the bus.

  • Sleeper trains – Need to be booked in advance from hard-to-find windows or online with an account you won’t have (unless you have a local indian friend who can book it for you, and then you can hand him cash). Hence, the need for travel agents who will take a commission. You don’t need a paper ticket (a photo of your computer screen will do just fine). 3AC, 2AC, and 1AC are entirely unnecessary. If you don’t want to pre-book your sleeper, General Population tickets are always available last-minute, and then you can try your luck sneaking onto a sleeper car and finding a vacant bed. When the ticket guy comes around, show him your Gen Pop ticket and ask if it is available for an upgrade (you will pay him then and there, the difference). You will often get lucky.

  • Travel with another person – Simple logic: it halves the cost of rickshaws and rooms.

  • Bananas, yogurt (curd), and rice – Eat a lot of this in the beginning of your trip. Yogurt is a probiotic (friendly gut bacteria); bananas are a prebiotic (food for your friendly gut bacteria); rice is gentle, easy to digest, and never full of baddies. If you do get a dodgy belly, go back to these foods. If you have the runs, eat heaps (10+) of bananas (contrary to what you might think, it makes your poo sticky again).

  • Eat in crowded, local (non-tourist) restaurants – In addition to feeling more like you’re in India, crowded means that the food is fresher (higher turnover), good, and probably pretty safe. Also significantly cheaper than any place else you will find.

  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch (only free chai) – If you think you’re about to get an authentic, local, Indian experience for free, think again. Nothing is for free in India. If you aren’t paying in rupees, you will pay dearly in energy or sexual harassment. The only thing for free will be a chai, and even then, you will have to listen to a sales pitch and tolerate flirting.

  • Small cash is king – Indians hate making change. They also hate ugly, old, torn notes. Hoard the small 10 and 20 rupee notes (very useful for street food, train food, and at bus stations). If you get stuck with an old, ugly, torn note, consume your item first, then explain it’s the only money you have left and they will feel obliged to accept it. Coinage is also precious. You might think it worthless, but coins are collected and melted in Pakistan (melt value is higher than the rupee value). This makes small money hard to find and it sells on the black market for a high premium (this only concerns business that are legally obliged to give you exact change).

  • Public toilets – Usually 2 or 3 rupees (seldom 5). Always guarded by some jerk that will try to charge you too much. Point to the wall, where the price is written, and raise hell until they give you your change back. They have to. Another reason small change is king.

  • Amorous guest house owners – If you are an attractive girl, be prepared. Your guest house owner may likely offer you a lot of free chai, food, music, massage, motorcycle rides, and anything else. He wants into your pants. He will tell you how he doesn’t care about money, only about human connections (See: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” above.). He will tell you about his ex-European girlfriend, or friend. He will never leave you alone, burn holes into you with his eyes, and never give you a moment’s peace.

  • You have Facebook?” – Don’t give your Facebook information out to everyone. Seriously. It’s a bit like having a mobile phone, and the local boys will abuse it.

  • Expensive essential oils – If it’s pure, you can rest assured that no vendor would liberally dab it on your forearm for a whiff. Pure oil (barring things like Tea Tree) is expensive. You will never get a whiff of pure sandalwood oil. It’s that expensive.

  • Laundry – Every bathroom comes with a bucket. Do it there, with your ten rupee bar of laundry detergent. Don’t be a princess. Half the time, if you pay for laundry, they’re beating it against a rock in a dirty river anyway.

  • Ayurveda, massage, “healing” in general – There are very few trustworthy professionals. There are very few laws regulating these activities and massage has no legal regulation at all. Everyone thinks he’s a massage therapist, and if you’re a lady, don’t bother—it’s not worth the creepy.

  • Yoga Teacher Training programs – Truth be told, while yoga was invented in India, the majority of the best programs and teachers are now in The United States. If you want a quality education, research your ass off and don’t do an intensive course (too much to learn in too little time). The Yoga Alliance is a joke as far as certifying institutions go. If, however, you are looking for a month-long yoga holiday and think you’re so smart and/or experienced to teach yoga after just one month, then go ahead and be a jackass (you will learn a thing or two and you will improve your practice to some extent). Of course, there are some amazing schools and legit people in India, but you’re going to have to research your ass off beforehand.

  • Tour packages – Don’t buy them. You can do everything yourself much, much cheaper. And you will meet a lot of other travelers who regret having purchased these things. They either paid too much, or wished they could have stopped their itineraries because they met really amazing people along the way.

  • If he doesn’t answer your question immediately, don’t waste your time – “Excuse me, which way to the bus station?” is your question. The local will pull you aside and say, “Where do you want to go?” You say, “The bus station.” He says, “Ok. And where do you want to go from there?” Most likely, he’s an agent for a tour company and will try to pull you off course. Don’t waste your time.

  • Excuse me? One picture?” – Many locals will ask to take pictures of you, or with you. Sometimes they are families and want you to pose with their children; other times, they are single men who want pictures with white women. Depending on how you feel, you can indulge them, or firmly say no. If you say yes, know that it’s almost never just “one picture.” It turns into ten, and then all the other locals jump in and try to get your picture as well. If you want to have a laugh, demand that they pay ten, twenty, or even one hundred rupees for a picture with you (because some Indians will do this to you as well). You might actually make some money.

So there you have it. This is just the author’s opinion, man. She wrote this after more than five months in India, averaging 450 rupees per day, because she is a rugged, cheap bastard.

Categories: Budget Travel, India | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Crazy Guy, Groped On A Subway, Stalkers, & Occupy Rickshaw

Okay, okay, you admit it. Lately, everything is about transit. When you look back at your time in India, is that what you’re going to remember? Probably.

Consider the amount of time, energy, and patience that is taken to travel to every new destination:

Darjeeling to Lucknow – 34+ hours
3 hours by jeep, 30 minute rickshaw, 5 hours at train station, 26 hours on train
2 hours for hotel, after being rejected by 4 others; final room price, 400 rps (talked down from 800), one night only

Lucknow to Agra – 10 hours
6 hours on train, 1 hour at train station, 2 hours on train, 1 cycle rickshaw
1 hour for hotel, rejected by 3 guest houses; final room price, 450 rps (talked down from 800), one night only

Agra to Delhi to Chandigar – 15 hours
1 hour walking, 1 hour at train station, 2 hours on train to Delhi, 2 hours by foot and metro, 7 hours on bus
2 hours for hotel, rejected by 7 hotels; final room price, 800 rps (talked down from 1200-1500) for 10 hours of use

Chandigar to Rishikesh – 9 hours
7 hours by bus, 2 hours to obtain rickshaw
direct to guest house, first offer accepted for 300 rps

If India has taught you one thing, it’s patience. “Hurry up and wait,” as Angus always said. You remember when just two to four hours of transit time felt long. Euro-travel changed that, and you found yourself frequently doing 10-24 hour stretches of hitch hiking, but the circumstances were more comfortable: you weren’t smashed into a jeep with eight other bodies, or made to stand for hours in a packed train, or displaced from your seat/sleeping place seven times!

Your previous entry on stealing sleepers was probably published immaturely, for you thought you had experienced all that transit had to offer. Oh no… just when you think you’ve seen it all, India throws you a new surprise.

* * *

But Darjeeling was nice.

But Darjeeling was nice.

While stealing a sleeper from Darjeeling to Lucknow, you are made to move seven times from your seat (Maeva, only once). You are completely frayed from the 26 hours on the train, and feeling so low that you entertain wild fantasies of saying “FUCK YOU, TRIP! WE ARE OVER!” and calling it quits. When energy is down, when sleep is scarce, you can’t derive any enjoyment from your experience anymore. Everything sucks. Your life sucks.

Your book sucks. And then, some crazy guy in a green beanie comes over for a look, asks to see your book, and then walks back to his seat with it. He flips through the pages and pretends to read and gives no indication that he will give it back. The other lads in the compartment draw little round circles with fingertips, signifying “crazy guy.” After five minutes, you call over to him sternly, make him return your book, and he makes a fuss. Then he steals some kid’s chew tobacco and offers you some. You refuse. He goes away. Then he comes back, looks at your face, your leg, your face again, and then strikes you on the leg and goes away. Peace at last.

Nope. You get displaced to a new car, where a local guy takes a shine to Maeva. He offers you both sugar-drenched sweets and asks for Maeva’s facebook information, all the while inching closer and closer to her until no space on the bench remains. You tell Maeva you want to get up for a sneaky cigarette, in order to give her an escape, which she takes.

Finally off the train after god-knows-how-long, you fend off the rickshaw drivers—the locusts, the vultures, the vermin. They never leave you alone. First you are angry, and you scare two of them away at once by straightening up and threatening to push them, one angry palm on each chest; they scamper away, probably thinking you are a man because you are totally bundled, leaving only your eyes exposed. On the street, you are so tired and confused you cannot read a map, and still they come. You start gobbling at them like a turkey, imitating to them what their own language sounds like to you.

One young man tails you for a block. He seems interested in trying to figure out if you are male of female. You finally reach out with one arm and shove him into a pile of trash.

“No rooms!” one hotel says.

“No more place,” says another.

“1,200 rupees. No? Okay, 800. No.” says another.

And then another, “No place.”

And you scream, “No place? Or no place for us?” It seems that many hotels are not allowed to house tourists. You nearly convince him to let you stay, but he changes his mind.

“600 rupees,” a final hotel owner says. You tell him it’s too much. 500? Nope. 450? Sorry, but you’d rather keep looking. Ok, fine! 400.

Lucknow's lovely architecture.

Lucknow’s lovely architecture.

* * *

From Lucknow to Agra, you see how mean the locals can be to each other, not just shoving their way onto general population cars, but locking the doors so other people can’t get inside. You and Maeva watch this scene twice on the end of the platform, next to a family of rats rummaging through trash under a cattle grate, popping up and down like targets in Whack-A-Mole. The crowds on the platform are dense—and tense. As the train approaches, they start running. They yell and shove and bitch each other out, and some people are left on the platform, having been unable to squeeze onto a car.

DSC_0144

Good luck boys.

You and Maeva, with your baggage, wonder if it will be possible to get into Gen Pop at all, or if you will have to steal sleeper class again. You are unenthusiastic about this, feeling bitter about your seven displacements from your last train journey.

No. Dammit. You are going to get on your train. It comes. You leave Maeva in the dust and smash past a herd of skinny young dudes trying to jump into the first car available. Once inside, you learn that it is a car for the “disabled” (how the disabled are meant to climb the ladder of the car remains a mystery). The benches and luggage racks are all full, but the floor wide and inviting. You and Maeva stake out your territory and don’t protest one bit when the some of the guys lock the door and ignore the frantic knocking and yelling of other would-be passengers desperate for a seat on the train. Maeva quietly makes a comment about being two women locked in a train car with 12 men, but you aren’t bothered. What bothers you, on the other hand, is your grave mistake of taking a car directly behind the blaring engine horn. You can forget about sleeping.

By the way, don't let anyone talk you out of seeing this. Totally worth it.

By the way, don’t let anyone talk you out of seeing this. Totally worth it.

* * *

The train from Agra to Delhi is crowded. You nearly leave Maeva behind on the platform, but she figures out your whereabouts last-minute. You feel relieved, but realize that losing her in a crowd is a very easy thing to do—the consequences will be worse on a platform, you learn, because she claims she would have stayed in Agra, assuming you were still on the platform.

In the car, you make no apologies for slamming people with your bag, your ass, your elbows. You rearrange everyone’s shit and manage to squeeze your luggage onto a rack. Then you stand for two hours. Two stupid little kids serpentine through your legs at least 14 times, to the irritation of many.

The rickshaw drivers in Delhi are assholes. So is everyone else. Everyone has some kind of scam. It’s difficult to get reliable information. You finally decide on a bus, the station for which is located across down, via the metro.

The Delhi metro is a brand new experience. After buying a token, you wait in a long security line, get frisked by an attractive lady, and then warned not to take photos inside the station! Oh, if only you could!

“What’s up with everyone standing behind the yellow line?” you mutter, waiting for the subway. “No one does that where I’m from.” You eye a number of security guards on the platform, who admonish the locals with sharp whistle-blows. “Guess I’ll stay behind the yellow line. That guy has a whistle.” You joke.

Then the subway pulls up, and you suddenly see why. Faces, hands, bodies are smashed against the glass of the windows. The subway stops. The door opens. The guards hold back the crowds trying to get on as a few poor riders struggle mightily to get off.

Then the shoving match begins. You and Maeva fail to get onto the train. It leaves you behind.

“Holy shit…” you mutter, thinking back to a YouTube video of Japanese people getting on a train, and how the security guards were in charge of shoving people inside, tucking in their clothes so they didn’t get trapped between the sliding doors. “I totally get it now.”

You discuss your plans for the next attempt. If only one of you gets on, she must ride and wait patiently at the appropriate destination. But you are determined to get on. You walk further down the platform, talk loudly about how you are getting on that fucking train, and eye your neighbors. You position Maeva on the left, yourself on the right, and are ready to control the doors.

Scramble! Smash! You’re on. And you cannot move an inch. Your bag is too large for you to turn. Locals negotiate politely in advance, explaining that you must somehow trade places with them so that they can escape the car at the next stop. Maeva asks how you are going to get off the train yourself, since you are the only person facing backwards. You tell her you’ll just back out like a lorrie and crush whoever gets under you. You notice an Indian guy suppressing his laughter at your comment.

Your stop arrives. Get ready.

“Whee!” you cry out delightedly, riding a human avalanche. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life. Your escape it effortless. You merely ride the tide of group will.

“I felt someone in my ass,” Maeva said. Someone had apparently taken liberties in the chaos.

“Inside, or on the cheek?” you ask.

“Like… deep. Like he was searching for something.” She isn’t terrible bothered. You tell her she should have faced backwards as you had.

The bus the Chandigar is ready to leave the moment you arrive. It’s an uneventful seven-hour bus ride.

But when you arrive in Chandigar, it’s a totally different story from the rest of India.

“How much is a room?” 1500!

Between the last two 400+ hotels (in four months, you have never paid more than 350 for a room), the 750 rupee Taj Mahal, and your many hours of transit, you were both feeling pretty broke. 1500 rupees for 10 hours of use of a room? Unacceptable.

You go down the block like door-to-door salesmen, and are turned away over and over again.

“800?” they ask. “Not possible. 1200 minimum.”

“I’m not going to pay 1200 for a room and then check out in ten hours,” you declare. “I’ll pay your 400 rupees to sleep next to that guy in reception,” you say. No dice.

You and Maeva sit on a curb. Two men approach. “Looking for a hotel?” one of them asks. You state your price. He says it’s not possible. “How about a floor? In every hotel there’s always one or two guys seeping on the floor of reception.” He says a floor is possible. You tell him you will pay 400 rupees. He says, “No, I’m just kidding.” Well, thanks for nothing.

He makes small talk, asks for a cigarette, asks how you like India, et caetera. You joke about being bums. You tell him you are still looking for a floor. He says you can crash at his place for free. He says his friend here is a police man… that they are off-duty, and kind of on vacation or something.. “Show ID!” he orders. The friend—whom you like to think of as Silent Bob—does so.

In your hands, you hold what looks like the fakest piece-of-shit ID ever. “I used to make these!” you exclaim. With printed photo paper from a Microsoft Paint image, a head shot taken with iZod Polaroid camera, and a laminator. “But I used to do a better job than this,” you say, handing it back to him.

The man repeats his offer. “We have spare room. Three rooms in the apartment. Free of charge. You can come in our car.” Maeva looks hopeful. You refuse. It is, after all, 2 o’clock in the morning, and while you are happy to accept hospitality from strangers, you do not feel good about doing so from two young, possibly drunk men on the street at two in the morning, who at first approached you with an offer for a hotel, then claimed to be policemen, then claimed to have an apartment together, and yet also claimed to be on some kind of vacation.

Hell no.

He says okay, no problem. He nearly walks away with his silent “policeman friend,” but changes his mind. He offers again. You refuse. He makes small talk. Tries to explain life lessons to you. Tells you that you should trust him. He offers again. You refuse. “Three times I’ve said no thank you,” you declare. You get up and leave. Maeva follows.

“I’m sorry, but that just seems like the shittiest idea ever,” you tell her. She admits she would have accepted. You call her crazy.

As the two of you head back towards the bus station, intent on sleeping there, you hear the sound of a fan belt. You look over your shoulder and lo and behold, the two guys are stalking you in their car. The car not-so-stealthily parks.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” you say. “They’re following us.”

You walk on. The car pulls out of its place and follows. Screech-screech-screech, goes the fan belt. You look over your shoulder again, and the car attempts to hide in another parking place.

“Still following us,” you say.

You hurdle over some rocks and pass into a different parking area, where their car cannot follow. “Try and get us now, bitches!” you say. You don’t look back again.

Just before getting to the bus terminal, another man approaches. He claims he can get you a room for 800. You wonder if it’s worth the trouble. The room is on the other side of town. You demand to know if he is a taxi driver. He says he is. You asks is you have to pay for the taxi, too. He says you don’t.

So what does he have to gain?

He leads you to his car. It’s marked as a taxi. You think, Here goes nothing.

“Oh man, those two guys are standing right there behind us,” Maeva says.

You look out the window, and yes indeed, your stalkers stand just behind your taxi, watching you. For whatever reason, you do not feel scared of them. You begin to mistrust your driver, but he does nothing out of the ordinary. He drives you several kilometers away from the station, into a cheaper district, where you are still rejected from two hotels. Before trying a third, you pull him aside.

“Listen, you said you can get us a room for 800. And no taxi charge. So your plan didn’t work out. So how do you benefit from this?” You are expecting the bottom to fall out at any moment. You are expecting him to ask for money, a commission, a tip—anything.

But he simply said, “I made a promise.”

He escorts you to another hotel. You bargain hard for 800 rupees and succeed. The taxi driver wishes you a goodnight and leaves. Probably the first real favor ever.

The highlight of Chandigar, the rock garden.

The highlight of Chandigar, the rock garden.

* * *

8 hours on the bus from Chandigar to Rishikesh, in pretty decent seats directly behind the driver. Only one problem. Fog.

Dense fog. Oh man, fog so dense that you had maybe 20 feet of visibility. You look out all of the windows. You can see nothing. Out the front, nothing. Just fog reflected by the high beams of your bus. Don’t these guys know that high beams make it worse?

Your driver seems completely unconcerned. He is an amiable old Sikh in a red turban, and he plays his favorite old tunes, sings along, blares his horn, and barrels on ahead into the fog.

You’re going to die tonight.

You look around yourself, trying to imagine what part of the bus will kill you first. You will probably be okay if it rolls, but a head-on collision will launch you against the gate in front of you, but not before breaking both your legs.

The roads, not only engulfed in fog, are in poor repair. The bus bounces, shifts, skids, and performs every feat of large-vehicle acrobatics. The Indian passengers bounce with the bus. They sit in little rows, wrapped in shawls and winter hats, and their heads go a bouncing.

This is the epitome of bobble heading. 50 heads all bobbing in unison. Like 50 dashboard bobblers.

Sleep evades you for the most part. You’re too damn big for the bus seats. Maeva has the window, and some guy to your left sleeps against your shoulder. You, stuck in the middle, are at least warm. But not the most comfortable (though you must admit, circumstances could have been much worse). And you don’t dare close your eyes for hours, too absorbed in the scene ahead: the driver talking on his cell phone—into the wrong side (not wrong end, wrong side!)—clicking the dome lights on and off to find his peanuts, playing with the volume of his stereo, vigorously wiping the inner windshield with a rag for better visibility, and calling out affectionately to other bus drivers through the window. At one point, he shrieks and brakes dramatically when he suddenly becomes aware of something: a man who’s been riding on the roof of the bus for some distance, possibly rummaging through baggage. You turn around just in time to see the silhouette of a man rapidly descending the latter affixed to the back the vehicle. He takes off into the night. Eight men or so on the bus are on their feet in moment, ready to give chase. But the perp is long gone into the fog.

You do arrive in one piece at just past 3:30 in the morning. The vultures—err, the rickshaw drivers—try to get you to come with them.

“How much?” Maeva demands.

“200 rupees!” Or 150. Or 250. It is different every time.

“You can shove that offer in your ass!” she yells. Maeva can be mad sometimes. But this evening, really, she’s in a different sort of mood.

You and Maeva walk together, apart, together again. You buy a chai. She sits down for a smoke. You ask locals. They tell you the real price: 20 rupees for a shared rickshaw. 70-80 if not shared. Unfortunately, there are no other tourists going in your direction.

The drivers lie to you, defending 150. Where do you want to go? It’s 7 kilometers, or 12 even, away up steep mountain roads. Blah, blah, blah. You demand a shared rickshaw. Not possible. Ok, then, how about 80. No, 150, is the minimum “night time” price. Maeva’s right: they can shove that offer in…

You wait a little while and study your map, idle in front of bus station junk food you wish someone would buy for you. You finally amble back alone to the drivers, looking for a fight. But you are disappointed. At this point, none of them are interested in talking to you. One guy finally approaches. “Listen,” you say to him. “I’m tired of this. Every time I get off a bus, I get attacked by liars. I’m tired of getting fed bullshit and you guys trying to rip me off because of the color of my skin. You understand?”

“I’m no lying!”

Lies!

Twenty minutes later, you and Maeva stroll up and down the street, kicking at pebbles and looking for signs of hot food (there is none). A driver offers Maeva a lift into town. “How much? Fifty rupees?”

“No,” he says. “Twenty.”

She says, “That’s for a shared rickshaw. Great. We will just wait here until we can share a rickshaw. As long as it takes.”

Another driver cuts in, “Not possible to share! Luggage.” Blah blah blah.

“Bullshit!” she says. “This is India.”

“Eight people in a rickshaw!” you exclaim. “Everyone on bus has luggage.”

Maeva puts her stuff in one of the rickshaws parked in a line and climbs in. “I’m going to sit here and wait for more people.” No one stops her. You climb in after her.

Maeva makes herself at home.

Maeva makes herself at home.

There, for over an hour, you squat in a rickshaw, out of the cold, in an act of disobedience: Occupy Rickshaw. You eat some snacks, smoke, take pictures, amuse yourselves. You just hurry up and wait. You’re good at waiting at this point. You’re experts at it. And you don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

Occupy Rickshaw.

Occupy Rickshaw.

They offer 150 rupees again and again. You decline and decline. Then they start talking and smiling at you, and it feels a bit more like a party than an act of disobedience. All is well and good until a bus honks in the distance. Like horses out of the gate, they forget completely about the two stubborn white people and sprint after the bus, grabbing at each other’s coat sleeves to get there first. Chomping at the bit.

Party time.

Party time.

“Well… that was interesting.”

One driver, who seems to have some kind of authority over the group, comes back defeated. “Okay, get out. Fifty rupees waiting charge.” For sitting in his rickshaw. You tell him to fuck himself. You dare him to try and get your money. But you leave his vehicle and park your butt on the curb next to their small street fire. You explain again and again why they’re being unfair to you.

“What are you, some kind of union?” you demand.

The union.

The union.

The “leader” nods and smiles. It’s true. Rickshaw drivers have a code. Rules. Gotta follow them. Drivers that break the rules end up in fights very quickly.

“We’re just going to wait here until we can share a rickshaw, or until the public buses start running again,” Maeva declares.

You sit and joke with her. Say that you’ll race the guys to the next arriving bus, just for giggles. You joke about how tired and crazy you feel, and how you will never get up until justice is served. “Viva la resistance!” you cry with a fist in the air.

The “leader” comes back. He speaks gently to Maeva. He makes an offer of 80 rupees (your original non-shared asking price).

Maeva rejects the offer, and in the flash the man leaps to his feet, curses, and storms off. He squats back down next to the group fire and bitches. The other guys laugh. You laugh. Maeva laughs. Everyone is laughing.

Five minutes later, the “leader” returns. “Okay, he says. Thirty-thirty.”

You and Maeva accept. 60 rupees for the ride, talked down from as high as 250. It only took two hours.

The “leader” makes another guy drive you. Your driver asks where you want to go. “To a 300-rupee guest house.” He makes no complaint. He takes you directly to a guest house near the center of town.

Before leaving, he says, “How many time you in India?”

You said, “Me, once. Maeva, twice. Together, we’re here five months.”

He smiles, looks over at Maeva, and says, “You are very smart.” And walks away.

Categories: Budget Travel, India | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

STEALING SLEEPERS: LOW-BUDGET TRANSIT, PERSERVERANCE, AND A PINCH OF LUCK

“Life is too easy,” you wrote to Angus on Facebook. “You know…” Yeah, he may not like it, but he gets you.

Another friend commented that she didn’t understand the appeal of your India travel—the struggle, the fighting, the austerity. Didn’t sound like fun to her.

“What’s the appeal? I dunno,” you responded. “I’m a heavy person. I like a challenge. I like a struggle. Keeps me interested.” Otherwise you get bored. What if you had a huge budget? What if someone paid all of your expenses?

What then?

It would suck the fun out of travel. It would turn travel into “vacation.”

You and Maeva have been bombing across India at a pace much more agreeable to your 48-hour attention span. Two to three nights per city, tops, followed by 24-hour stretches of transit. By now, you are so familiar with Indian train stations that even they have gotten a bit boring.

But even though the train stations are all the same, the how of your train travel is always up in the air.

In the beginning, you’d scrupulously reserved sleeper-class tickets before boarding the train. This required either a booking agent, or a friend’s online railway reservation account. Even using these means, a sleeper is never guaranteed the day you want to leave. So you and Maeva learned how to tough it out in Gen Pop. Eventually, with enough practice, you learned that with a Gen Pop ticket, you could slip onto a sleeper car, and if a bed was vacant, you could occupy it until the rightful occupant arrived, or until a ticket guy came along and offered you an upgrade, at which point you would pay the difference.

This worked only half the time. Often, you found yourselves crammed into Gen Pop cars, and you learned to fight tooth and nail for a space. This wasn’t a problem if your train was on the beginning of its course. If, however, the train was mid-line, or near the end-line, there wouldn’t be a snowflake’s chance in hell that you could travel horizontally through the night.

You were lucky the last time; on the platform, waiting for your delayed train, Maeva not-so-surreptitiously smoked a cigarette—something prohibited. A man approached her, told her it was prohibited.

“Yes but,” you began, “When we get caught, we never actually get in trouble. Usually the policeman uses the admonishment as a way to start a conversation and start flirting.”

The man laughed, and then five seconds later you learned that he was railway security, or really, train police. He brought out his very large rifle, plunked it into your lap. You held it in your hands, wondering why, for whatever reason, this was not the first time an armed official had handed you a loaded firearm so willy nilly.

This very responsible official.

This very responsible official.

The man spoke with you for some time, and you joked with him about being cheap. He didn’t believe you were going to ride Gen Pop. You showed him pictures of your previous journeys. Then he insisted, “You will ride in my car.”

No kidding? Sweet upgrade!

You felt slightly guilty when, once on that particular train, the guard uprooted a sleeping Indian—kicked him right out of his bed so that you and Maeva could ride more comfortably. It was a mere four hours, but considering how crowded Gen Pop was likely to have been, you weren’t sorry.

So that was luck. But you can’t be lucky every time, right?

Wrong.

You were in transit from Varanasi to Darjeeling—a feat that would take 28 hours in total. It was no picnic, either. Escaping Varanasi on the cheap isn’t easy. The two of you realized that going four kilometers out of town to the bus stand on foot would be faster than riding in a rickshaw (traffic was so bad), and it would save you 150 rupees. Busted a move in heavy traffic, dodging cars, cyclists, jeeps, loaded trucks and everything else, inhaling exhaust the entire way. But you were winning. So you did, until the last confusing kilometer. Not wanting to marinate in sweaty clothing, you paid a cycle rickshaw guy 20 rupees for the home stretch.

This pic absolutely does not do the traffic justice.

This pic absolutely does not do the traffic justice.

At the bus stand, you’d planned to grab a governmental bus for pennies—something to take you the 16 kilometers to the main railway station. India, unfortunately, was being uncooperative.

“Buses finish.”

“All of them?” you asked, incredulously. What about everyone else who had trains to catch?

Other option: a rickshaw for 450 rupees.

Hell no.

You hemmed and hawed about the injustice for 45 minutes before one good-natured rickshaw driver, clearly aware that you wouldn’t consider shelling out more than pocket change for transit, walked you some distance down the highway. There you waited perilously close to traffic until a random private bus bounced to a stop. Eight Indians or so scrambled to the doors to smash themselves into an already over-crowded situation. Your rickshaw driver yelled and garbled at the driver, who kicked everyone off and let you and your bags on board.

One hour of elbows, butts, and shoulders. Bumps and lurches. Coughing, hacking, spitting beetle pan. But you made it out of town for the low cost of 20 rupees (or 33 cents).

Your train, of course, was late. About three hours late. But not bad, considering its average lateness of four hours and forty-five minutes.

“I have a feeling this is going to be a very crowded, very dirty, very uncomfortable situation,” you said. The train, after all, was coming from Delhi, probably 10-13 hours away.

And when you boarded… oh yes, you saw it with your own eyes. Gen Pop was smashed. And the sleepers were 100% occupied. You shoved and slid your way through the narrow aisles, car by car, and sank lower and lower into your melancholy. Your train ride was going to be 16 hours, and you really didn’t want to spend them next to the toilets.

But leave it to Maeva. She’s fiery and determined. Even though you were comfortably nestled on the urine-and-mud-sticky steel floor by the doors, scrutinized by five men taking turns spitting pan out the side door, you could not persuade her to wait a couple hours to see if anything freed up (as had happened in the past).

Smelly toilets, by the door.

Smelly toilets, by the door.

“We can sleep there,” she said. “On the floor, between the two low berths. I don’t think it will bother anyone.”

This is where you and Maeva differ: you wouldn’t dream of just occupying the floor of a compartment shared by eight paying people already. What right did you have?

She whined. She talked to the guys. She sulked. And then, miracle of miracles, a gentleman invited you to do exactly that: occupy the floor of his car.

Granted, you didn’t get the permission of the seven other occupants, but you didn’t care. It was 11:30pm, and you were ready to crash out after a previously not-so-good night of sleep.

You shuffled to the compartment, stared at the teeny slice of floor and thought, How the fuck are you gonna do this?

Down went the bag, out went your mats, your wool blanket, your puffy coat, your bag of clothing you used as a pillow, your bag lock, your torch, you baby wipes. Everyone stared at you (as they do) but said nothing.

Squish! Oh man, it was a tight fit. Your hips, you dare say, are a bit too broad for India. A rickshaw driver thinks a bench is made for four butts—but really, only three of yours. You couldn’t lie on your side, not without crowding out Maeva. You lie down on your back, squirmed halfway under the seat, and then cursed silently about needing to pee—not once, but three times.

Every time you needed to pee, it was an effort. You had to extricate yourself out from under Maeva (who used your puffy coat arm as a pillow, and as a means of compromising with your broad shoulders). Then you had to squirm. Inch your way down, down, down your yoga mat until you could sit up and not strike your head on the mini table. You bumped and kicked your neighbor’s bed in the process. Off to pee!

Damn! Pissed on your trousers again. Ugh!

Then you repeated the process in reverse. Maeva moaned, shifted, tossed, wished she could turn. You got fed up and slipped a Valium under your tongue. Ten minutes later, you were out.

But Maeva’s back pain and your cramping hips were too much. She sniffed. You coughed. She moaned. You both squirmed. It wasn’t easy.

And in the morning, you woke to a sore throat.

Sonofa…

That’s not good. You hailed the chai guy, got some hot liquid on it. Wrapped your head and neck better. Applied Tiger Balm. Went back to sleep. Maeva gave up and let you have the space. You tried to disappear. Curled into the tightest ball of your life. Folded yourself neatly in half and tried to slide as much of yourself under your neighbor’s seat as possible.

Hey! Down here!

Hey! Down here!

Until train security found you. Woke you up. Demanded to see your face. Then mentioned a fine. No jumping sleeper cars without a sleeper ticket. You’re not sure what happened. Maybe the look of your puffy eyes. Maybe Maeva’s adorable curls. Maybe your white skin. Or maybe some of your good-natured neighbors. Whatever it was, they said it was okay, and you could stay where you were.

The face of someone who slept like crap.

The face of someone who slept like crap.

Bam! Back to sleep. A few more hours.

And your throat was still sore when you woke.

You got another chai, was pleased to score some sprouted chickpea salad, ten bananas, and five slices of pineapple for 30 rupees.

“Gotta load up on vitamin C today,” you said to one of your neighbors. “Can’t be sick.”

You passed out sitting up. One of the men offered Maeva his sleeper bed. She took it. Later, he offered you another guy’s bed. You didn’t look for the owner’s approval. You climbed up without another word and passed out again.

How you managed to sleep 14 out of 16 hours, you’ll never know. But what would otherwise have been extremely tedious and uncomfortable turned into another free sleeper ride. One of your neighbors got off the train at the same stop, personally escorted you to a 20-rupee rickshaw, and then explained how to get to Darjeeling from there.

Total cost of six vehicles comprising 28 hours of transit from the old town of Varanasi to Darjeeling: 380 rupees ($6.25). Total cost of food from departure to arrival: 130 rupees (just over two bucks).

Categories: Budget Travel, India | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Dead Bodies Everywhere

“I feel something,” you say flatly. You stand next to Maeva on a stone wall and stared into the flames.

“What do you feel?” she asks.

Dunno. I guess what one might expect to feel watching human bodies burn.” There are four funeral pyres. Shortish, around two feet high. Neatly stacked logs of whatever wood the family can afford. Feet sticking out the end. Little toes blackened and curled like burnt sausages.

“Go on,” Maeva says.

“That’s it. Well, I guess it makes me think about my father’s funeral.” He didn’t burn. He was put into the ground on another misty day. His face was pink and rosy—clownish, almost. Vaudeville makeup. Didn’t look a thing like himself.

The faces before you are black. Features impossible to distinguish. Just charred, caked flesh that cracks below the seared crowns of heads. Partly bald. Some of the hair has not yet recoiled from the heat. The skin around it looks wet, blistered.

Before the fire, the bodies are immersed in the Ganges. Splashed by each member of the family five times, for the five elements. And before that, they’re been smeared with ghee. And some have sandalwood powder poured over them. The bodies have been lovingly adorned with golden, red, or white shining material. Golden for the elderly, red for women, white for men.

From a respectful distance.

From a respectful distance.

You can always hear them coming. The shouting of mantras in the streets. The pallbearers—or really, four family members each shouldering a corner of the bamboo stretcher—came upon you quickly. They rush by and a fast clip, and the body goes a bouncing.

The family of deceased.

The family of deceased.

There goes another one.

There goes another one.

“Do you think it’s heavy?” Maeva asks.

“Nah. It’s not a coffin. Just a couple bamboo poles and a 90-pound corpse.”

It isn’t eerie. You don’t feel anything like deep reverence or respect for the dead. The bodies are as common as fruit carts. The pallbearers bomb down the road, competing for space with the cycle rickshaws, the motorcycles, the dogs, the pedestrians, beggars, and guys dumping trash outside chai shops.

There on the street, you see a family preparing a woman’s body. She is fat. And young. You wonder what killed her.

There above the pyres, there are groups of men standing shoulder to shoulder, watching the flames. “No ladies allowed here,” says one of them.

There are two reasons for “no women.” First, women are too emotional; if she cries, she will obstruct the soul’s path. The soul, presumably, will be too burdened by her feelings. Second, it is a way of controlling against sati, a since-abolished tradition of widows throwing themselves live upon the flames of the deceased.

There, above the men, are more pyres. The Brahmins burn high. The Untouchables, down low. Near the Brahmin pyres, a chai shop.

Here, there, everywhere, some goats. Some cows and water buffalo. Hordes of dogs. The dogs are looking to nibble the charred remains of some unlucky fellow too poor to afford enough wood to burn his body completely.

Your new friend explains to you, “On men, it is the chest that fails to burn. On women, the hips. What is left is put into the Ganga, where the fish will eat him. It is the life cycle. Reincarnation.”

“But the dogs sometimes get a piece?”

The man smiles and nods. Sometimes, yes. But better the fishes.

“And there are six types of people who do not get burned,” he continues. Pregnant women, lepers, smallpox victims, little children less than ten years old, Saddhus, and people who die from snakebites. These people, it is believed, are already pure—or suffering enough. One or the other.

“So what happens to them?”

A rock gets tied to the neck, and the body is floated on the Ganges until it sinks. Then the fish eat. You learn this man has lost two infants already—recently.

I am a sad man. But I am okay. This is why my hair is short. When person in the family dies, a man will shave his hair away.” All but the rat-tail in the center of the back of the head—a tribute to Krishna. Weird, that little rat tail.

Maeva asks, “Is it true that after the burning, a man from the family must take a bamboo stick and smash open the skull—to release the soul?”

He nods.

There, around the animals, are children running, playing, flying kites. Some of them sell candles, flowers, postcards. Some of them sell nothing. They just jump into your lap without asking and cough in your face, upper lips covered in crystallized snot. Maeva takes a photo of them, since pictures of the pyres are prohibited.

Around you, piles of shit, beetle pan stains, plastic chai cups, mosquitoes, and endless kite strings that have a way of tripping everyone. You wouldn’t think it a place for funerals. It is as noisy as any urban street.

Not 50 meters away, a family bathes or washes its laundry. Men stand in old, brown underwear and soap their bodies vigorously. Skin and bones. Prodigious bellies. Everyone. This river, after all, is holy.

Scrub a dub dub.

Scrub a dub dub.

In the holy river.

In the holy river.

“I never have knee pain,” one man tells you later. “Because every morning I walk next to the Ganga. Ganga purifies, makes healthy my knees.”

Bottle that up and sell it.

Oh wait, they already do. There, on corners, are vendors selling clear plastic containers in various sizes, so Indians can fill them with holy water and take it back home.

Hindus are a crazy bunch. No madder than Christians or Muslims or any other religious group, in your opinion. Certainly a pious bunch. They block the streets every morning, carrying candles and sweets and flowers and ten rupee notes for donation. Foreheads are smeared in orange, red, white bindis. They waddle like cattle to a feeding, feet slipping in dung and mud puddles. The queue for a mile for Ganesh’s birthday “party.” They wear their best saris in every color of the rainbow. And they stare deliberately—sometimes proudly—into the lens of your camera.

The line for Ganesh's birthday party... a fraction of it.

The line for Ganesh’s birthday party… a fraction of it.

Smash.

Smash.

Varanasi is the best place to die. It’s one of the seven holy Hindu cities in India. It is believed that if you die in Varanasi and have a proper burial, you will have better karma for the next life—or perhaps, even, escape the cycle of reincarnation. Every day, there are somewhere between 60 and 80 funerals per day on the south ghat alone. Another burning fruit cart.

You wonder what the other tourists think. You wonder if they are as callus about death as you are. Then you see one of them kneel down before Shiva’s fire—one which has been kept burning for Shiva-knows-how-many-centuries—and say a prayer. Guess not.

“Excuse me. Good place to watch up there,” a man points at the top of the old electric crematorium, no longer active. “Not for women here.”

Alright, alright. You get it. You’re clearly too emotional.

Categories: India | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Remembering The Cold

You’ve been freezing your tits off. You admit, you didn’t exactly anticipate the cold while lazing about in Goa. Even a handful of days ago in Mumbai, when Gustaf’s roommate exclaimed, “Oh! Cold! It was just snowing in Delhi,” you didn’t quite make the connection: that you would soon be playing the cold survival game again.

5 degrees Celcius on a train doesn’t sound as bad as -7, snow-camping in Italy in 2009. In both cases, you were under-prepared. In Italy, you had a pair of blue jeans over a pair of hiking shorts, two pairs of Smartwool medium hiking socks, non-weatherproof hiking boots, several T-shits, a blue cap, pashmina, and a coat you found on the side of the highway. Alexis, roughly the same.

And the two of you braved the weather in your little blue tent, sharing a thin foam pad, stacking your feet on top of your backpacks so that the condensation wouldn’t soak your socks by morning, and sharing your paper-thin sleeping bag and her much better zero-degree bag like two quilts: one under you, the other over. Each of you were wearing so many layers that it made maneuvering difficult, so she was responsible for making sure your shirts were tucked in the back, and you did the same for her as you forked each other in matrimonial travel partnership. Under the sleeping bags, faces wrapped in pashminas, you had tried to warm your necks with hot breath. In the morning, a thin sheet of ice had always formed on the tops of your heads.

It’s no surprise you caught pneumonia. Ugh. Thankfully, the illness befell you after you had already safely arrived back in Ireland, but you remember the feeling of a knife in your chest every time you tried to take a breath—then the panic and the plea for the hospital. You were delirious on the way, blood pressure so low you couldn’t even lift your head.

So naturally, having learned a valuable lesson, you thought you would surely be better prepared for the cold the next time you traveled in the winter. Wrong. The next winter by yourself, you were still woefully under-equipped, but at least had the common sense not to be camping in it in the rain and snow. The next travel winter with Katie, you were slightly better off, but there’s just no getting around the fact that cold-weather gear is cumbersome and expensive. In the end, you’d rather freeze than carry all that shit.

So what about winter in India? Well, it’s marginally warmer, for sure, but you have seen no improvement in your preparedness. In fact, piles of paper-thin hot-sticky-weather clothing are downright useless in 5 degrees.

True, you’re not camping. But traveling by rail in a steel box; residing in guest houses with no heat, no warm water, and cold tile floors, not to mention the mere suggestion of a blanket they provide; and sleeping in train stations have sent you down Memory Lane of Cold.

Cold... steel boxes.

Cold… steel boxes.

Luckily enough, cold doesn’t depress you. Makes you feel alive. Makes you want to move. You would trade cold for heat any day. But heat doesn’t come with the threat of illness and/or hospitalization. If you get wet when it’s warm, no big deal. If it’s cold, you’re in deep shit.

But before you get into that, you’d like to visit a wondrous little town called Orccha, where the locals were fabulously, naïvely friendly—not so accustomed to tourists. It might very well be your favorite place in India thus far. You rolled into town via a 25-minute rickshaw ride at 11pm. The driver drove bundled in a heavy coat, a head scarf, and gloves, and he exhaled long steamy streams of cigarette smoke along the way. Just past the last open restaurant in town, at which a group of Indians gathered around a fire to keep warm, your guest house was a solid deal, complete with strong wifi, but not exactly providing much in the way of blankets. You and Maeva wore most of the clothing you had and shivered the night away.

“I really need to buy some shoes,” Maeva said, feet camel-toeing a pair of your wool socks.

You’d recently lost your flip flops on a train and felt that the timing couldn’t have been better and thank god you had a spare pair of lightweight, breathable shoes. They were not warm, but it was certainly an improvement.

“And I need new underwear,” you added. God, yes you did. You needed new everything. You needed warmer layers, a coat, some boots, a new backpack. Everything. This is what travel has done to your clothing…

These are your undies... to be fair, you have had them since 2005.

These are your undies… to be fair, you have had them since 2005.

Stole this bra from Katie. Lost so much weight that you had to take in the straps.

Stole this bra from Katie. Lost so much weight that you had to take in the straps.

You ugly black Smartwool shirt, full of holes from vigorous attempts to tuck it into your pants.

Your ugly black Smartwool shirt, full of holes from vigorous attempts to tuck it into your pants.

You flip flop (lost on the train).  You've done some walking.

You flip flop (lost on the train). You’ve done some walking.

Who’s bright idea was it to plan to go to Nepal in February?

The cold weather was just preparation for what lie ahead.

By your next destination, Khajuraho, which was slightly warmer, you were still struggling. Not just with the cold, but suddenly with the people. Your guest house owner was an egocentric misogynist, though not intolerable—you’d simply gotten off on the wrong foot because his hound-dog rickshaw drivers had over-zealously agreed to your bargaining price, and you later found that the selling points, like hot water, did not in fact come with the room.

The rickshaw driver and his friend, furthermore, made good sport of following you and Maeva around the city, popping up in your face every time you rounded a corner, scheming for a double date.

This charming dude wouldn't take no for an answer.

This charming dude wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I have motorbike. I can take you to the waterfalls. Very beautiful. No tourists there.”

Just horny men.

They bought you a shitty noodle dinner and forced you to take a romantic walk to the lake, where they then attempted to split you and Maeva apart in order to spit better game, and said things like, “Good feeling, good energy in a man. There’s good feeling and good energy in womens. And then man and womens meet and share warm energy together,” blah blah blah! One of them said something about womens-womens energy and man-man energy not being as good, or as possible as man-womens energy.

You beg to differ.

I don’t want to go with them on their motorbike,” Maeva said to you privately in French. Because, reasonably, it showed potential for isolation and rape. Not that you were particularly worried about a pair of skinny Indians. But when you didn’t give them a decisive answer, they suggested everything from alcohol to a belated birthday celebration for Maeva, for whom they could arrange a cake—“Which will probably be stuffed with drugs,” you added.

If it wasn’t them, it was some other pair of horny guys, and then at last a very cheeky 13-year-old boy who boasted about his “big banana,” and how he’d already had sex with a Western woman and she was very impressed with his size and skill.

You suspect the hordes of horny men might have something to do with all that porn all over the sides of Khajuraho’s temples.

Uh huh...

Uh huh…

The horny men were not nearly as annoying as the predatory salesmen. If you thought tourist hotspots in Rajasthan were full of aggressive salesmen, then you probably thought that Goa was a good representation of India. Khajuraho, to date, has the most oppressive, annoying, aggressive, and entitled salesmen you’ve ever encountered. So put off were the two of you by the atmosphere that you hightailed it out of town a day later.

But not first without buying a giant wool blanket for the hard-bargained price of 500 rupees. Then, as you were waiting for the bus to depart, you saw it: a big, beautiful (eerrrr, no, take that back), hideous, white, marshmallowy, down jacket.

“One piece, 100 rupees,” said the street vendor. He had seized upon a truckload of second-hand clothes from all corners of the world, and didn’t seem to know his right hand from his left. You couldn’t believe that a down jacket—even one as ugly as this—could possibly be the same price as a Champion hoodie.

You snagged it, along with a you-sized black zippy, and scuttled away before the man could realize his error.

Later that evening, after an arduous and patient day of buses and hawkers, you stood on a railway platform in Satna, like the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man. Jesus god, that coat was ugly, but oh-so-deliciously-warm.

Mashmallow coat!

Mashmallow coat!

It was also on this day that the number of Indian’s mistaking you for a man increased about 10,000 fold. You have been accustomed to receiving one “sir” per month in this country—not five per day. You were not expecting that little woman in the ladies room to round the corner with wide, shocked eyes, and then turn on a heel and flee when she thought a man was emerging from the ladies toilet. A half-dozen pairs of curious, deep brown eyes drilled into you as you exited, trying to discern your gender.

Oh well…

And Maeva's solution.

And Maeva’s solution.

Your next destination, Allahabad, the holiest of Hindu destinations, was covered in flea-ridden dogs, vulture-like bicycle rickshaw drivers, and no one who could understand English or read a map. At 3 o’clock in the morning, you and Maeva had had enough of wandering in search of an affordable guest house. You walked past three sleeping guards and directly into front door of one of them, sat for a while in their semi-warm lobby, and considered camping out on their couches since no one was manning the desk—but your conscious was to heavy and you dragged Maeva back to the train station. There you unrolled your mats and your new blanket, chained your bags to a railing, and lie down among a couple hundred other sleeping Indians. By morning, Maeva’s greedy ass had shoved you off your mat, having crept nearer and nearer your warm downy belly, desperate for a spoon.

Train station camping.

Train station camping.

Come on. Everyone is doing it.

Come on. Everyone is doing it.

No, REALLY. Everyone.

No, REALLY. Everyone.

You finally did land a decent guest house in the morning, and after a quick breakfast, you went to Sangam—the confluence of the two holiest rivers, the Ganga and the Yamuna—where hordes of Hindus were boarding poorly-rowed boats and eagerly ditching their clothes in 5 degree weather to bathe at two rivers’ joint. You tried to avoid getting scammed, getting bindi-ed, getting too wet while dumping some special holy milky water into the river; you had already spent hours dodging hundreds of beggars, pilgrims, handicaps, and photo-bombers, not to mention fighting with a crooked rickshaw driver and a man with unclear intentions.

On the way!

On the way!

In a poorly rowed boat.

In a poorly rowed boat.

To take a holy bath.

To take a holy bath.

Then it began to rain. It thundered and lightninged. Then started dumping buckets. Maeva’s camel-toe-flip-flopping and your barely-there sneakers were just the beginning of the end. Your only-remaining dry clothes (read: dry, not clean) were soaked. Your future of in India, much less Nepal, in terms of enduring the winter, remains an amusing mystery.

Rain!

Rain!

Categories: Budget Travel, Camping, India | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bone Rattling, Teeth Chattering: Happy To Be Back In Action

The beach: hot, sunny, salty, sandy. Booze and smoke. Hangovers and lethargy.

That about sums it up. It’s no secret. You were not made for beaches. Your beloved Katie, having grown up in San Diego, might have had the time of her life sun-bathing, sipping cocktails, and absorbing as many UV rays as possible—you could have used her there, for sure. Someone to wrap yourself up in, obviously, but also someone who deeply understands your difficulties in oppressively hot, happy weather.

Make no mistake. Your month of beaches was time well spent. You saw and experienced new things and, most importantly, learned some very critical lessons about yourself—how you relate with others when you’re feeling needy, how you handle a lack of privacy in said state, and how you handle your compounding stress in social situations (read: a couple people you know were diagnosed with stage 4 cancer; your mother’s face suffered second degree burns in a grease fire and your kid sister was hospitalized for smoke inhalation; had to do your taxes; had several bad back days; had a few too many hangovers; and your girlfriend reported a what-would-have-been-an-extremely-serious-medical-condition, had she not had the foresight to seek medical attention immediately).

Had a ton of bad news and emotional baggage not been dumped right on your chest, you might have been more pleasant and you dimly regret your frequently-less-than-enthusiastic demeanor or, as Angus likes to call it, your “allergy to fun.”

Swimming? Too salty, too seasick.

Sun bathing? Too hot, to destructive to the skin.

Paragliding? Much like para-sailing, except you were woefully sick and retching in the sand upon landing.

Wanna get high? Makes you too sleepy.

Wanna get drunk? Wrecks your sleep.

And so on and so on.

Jesus, Maria. Get it together.

It was a struggle. By the last week, you started to turn your shit around after unloading some compounding feelings, and after taking the time to Skype your girlfriend and—what the heck—even your family.

“Maria! You called!” your aunt Lorelei exclaimed, brother in the background.

“Yeah… so?”

“It’s been a long time.

“What are you talking about?” Head scratch. “I called you guys a couple months ago when I was in Portugal.”

“That was in May.”

What month is it? Hell, what year is it? Oops. Ok. Guilty.

You got your shit together in time for the Indian wedding and literally had a blast. Good clean fun. Then punctuated your time on the beach with a couple shots of Jameson and a series of thank yous and goodbyes.

It was time to get back on the road. Or really, the railway.

You’ve decided that riding on Indian trains, in General Population, is just about your favorite travel past time.

Hurry up and wait.

Hurry up and wait.

“Two tickets to Jhansi,” Maeva said at the LTT ticket counter, after the two of you parted ways with a Mumbai-based new friend, Gustaf, who kindly lent you his flat for an evening. Goa to Mumbai: 13 hours, after all. You were trying to bust a move across the country in two days.

The first 13 hour train ride.

The first 13 hour train ride.

“Sleeper?” said the ticket man.

“No. Gen Pop.”

“Gen pop?” incredulously.

“Yes, Gen Pop. Normal Indian ticket.”

What can you say? You and Maeva are proud of your India legs: the bargaining skills, the no-bullshit no-excuses with rickshaw drivers, the beetle pan, your rock steady bowels due to super-powered gut bacteria.

In a previous entry, 24 Hours In Gen Pop, you detailed two back-to-back train rides—what was probably your toughest travel challenge. That was then. This is now.

Mumbai to Jhansi: 21 hours non-stop.

It was 11:45pm. You hopped into your first Gen Pop Ladies Only car (somewhat smaller than the other cars) and found yourselves among half a dozen women and a couple of little children. Large luggage racks above the benches were all occupied, but the high-hanging narrow luggage rack remained completely vacant.

Them ladies took the prime real estate.

Them ladies took the prime real estate.

Bam, down went your bag. Clip, clip, and out went your mats: Maeva’s, a foam hand-me-down from Federico; yours, a blue yoga mat purchased for actual independent yoga practice in Goa. You laid them out on the narrow rack, owned your space like you’d done it a hundred times, and then proceeded to do the rest. Shuffle, ruffle into just about every article of clothing you own—Indian trains get fairly cold at night. Stuff your pants into a pair of wool socks you’d requested Angus dig out of his closet in Ireland. Pop went your head through the hole of your wool buff—a useful gift from a generous stranger in Norway. Click, snap and your deflated backpack was cable-locked under the train seat. Then… hoist! You braced your arms and legs against seats and flung your legs into the air, squirmed into the tight space between the luggage rack and the ceiling.

Hoist!

Hoist!

You smiled back at the Indian ladies who watched with admiration and amusement. It’s a rare thing to see a person sleep on the high luggage rack, much less a couple white foreigners, one of which was rather over-sized for the space.

You wrapped yourself in your pashmina and were asleep within the hour—not without minor chills and goosebumps. Every time the train stopped, you listened carefully for “Pani! Pani!” You didn’t have any water and the notion of going the entire night without it made you uneasy. When you did hear it, you frantically flung yourself off the rack, landed on the train floor with surprising grace, and then lost all of it while clamoring to the train door and failing to open it. The train started moving and you hastily stuffed 40 rupees through the bars of the window and then tugged at the cold, condensation-splattered liter bottles smashed back through them.

“Varapao!” Maeva whined from around the corner.

“What?”

“Varapao! I’m huuungry!” Whaa whaa.

An Indian lady pointed to another vendor running alongside the train.

“Varapao!” you barked, waving a 20 rupee note out the window in exchange for some fried croquettes, a bread roll, and two chili peppers on a classy square of grease-stained newspaper. You slammed the window shut and delivered Maeva her midnight snack.

Now you can sleep in peace.

False.

Rattle, rattle, rattle, thud, thud, screech, shift, bump, and slam. All night long. You wondered idly if the train might derail. Thought about the catastrophic train accident outside Santiago de Compostella earlier that year in Spain. When you’re half asleep, your mind plays tricks on you. When you’re half asleep, ass looming ominously over the heads of very small, fragile ladies, you fear that the pull of gravity might send you sailing off your narrow rack and bombing to the ground. Maybe some child dies. And so it goes.

And so it goes. The Slaughterhouse Five, read beautifully by Ethan Hawk, lulls you to sleep. You dream of alien locations, time travel, and meaningless death.

The chills run down your spine. Your toes, stuffed into two pairs of socks, feel numb and icy. You breathe hotly, heavily into your woof buff—marinate your face in exhaled steam—and your silly nose perches just above the material like the top of a cherry snow cone.

Fuck, fuck, it’s getting pretty cold.

No worries. Whatever. You’re tough, and you asked for it. You didn’t want sunny, warm beaches. 5 degree temperatures were the trade off.

The car remains brightly lit the entire night. You squeeze your eyes shut against its harsh light. Only to have them snap open at—what time is it?—4 am.

You are shivering uncontrollably. Oh dear god, it’s so fucking cold. The chilled metal wall of the train mercilessly leeches your body heat. Your body is wrapped in a tight little ball and you squirm incessantly to generate more heat. It doesn’t work. So you sit up, defeated, and dare to glance at Maeva, whom you suspect is sleeping.

Well, she WAS sleeping...

Well, she WAS sleeping…

But she is not. Oh no. She’s staring right back at you with wide and pathetic eyes. “Mariiiia! I’m so coooold!”

Down on the benches, the lower luggage racks, and on the floor is a mosaic of women under blankets—lying, crouched, curled, contracted. Everyone is cold. Except for the children. They sleep like the dead, bundled lovingly, enshrouded protectively, embraced by their freezing mothers.

You tell Maeva stories of the cold. Of your previous winter in Europe with Katie, wandering the streets of Ghent in -7 degrees. Of your travels with Alexis in Italy in 2009, during a December snowstorm, camping in equally cold weather. Of the pneumonia you caught.

“We used to wake up around this time every night—around four o’clock in the morning. It was so cold, we couldn’t sleep. We would light the camping stove just for the fire, boil water, and then dump cayenne pepper and cinnamon in it—drink it like tea, hoping it might warm us up.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. But it never worked. Just gave me a haneous case of the hiccups.”

The train stops and the familiar nasal sound of “Chai! Chai! Chai!” alights on your ears like an angel. You lurch off the rack, run to the window, and order two chais for 10 rupees. The man passes you two thimble-sized cups of milky sugary goodness.

“Maeva!” you rasp. Her face is buried in a heap of curls and fabric. “Take this. Take it! Drink this precious, teeny-weeny cup of warmth.”

So cold.

So cold.

The mini plastic cup had already begun to warp, melted by the heat of the tea. It is enough to defrost your fingertips. You and Maeva scowl jealously at one woman, who’d had the foresight to unpack a thick, plush train-travel blanket. It looks like clouds in Heaven. It looks like a warm bath. It looks like hugs and cuddles and love.

“I want that fucking blanket!” Maeva whispers harshly. The two of you fidget with your thin layers of clothing.

Three hours pass before sleep begins to overtake you. You shiver, wiggle, sigh, twist, and turn. And so on and so on.

You hear noises, shouting, shoving, the thumps of baggage. What time is it? Seven, nine, eleven o’clock? You are barely aware that the daily commuters are piling into the car. Every time you glance through your baggy, sleep-laden eyelids, you see more people. And more. And more.

And more people than you ever thought could fit into a train car.

So many people that even a dozen men have jumped into the ladies car, theoretically, because no space remains elsewhere. People sit on top of each other, bags are jammed under your head, your outstretched legs. You realize that you need to pee. You realize it is impossible. You cannot descend from the rack. There is no place for you to go. At least nine Indians are installed outside the bathroom, sitting on the urine-tracked steel floor, holding scarves over their noses to fend against the smell.

Crowding.

Crowding.

You search for a glimpse of your rucksack, praying its still there. “Green bag? Hello! You see green bag?” Head bobble. Then you peer down at the floor near the door and see no sign of your shoes. “Black shoes? Black flip flops? By your feet?” Sorry Madame, no shoes here. Sonofabitch. They’ve been kicked out the door by the stampede, lost forever.

You start to panic because you realize you would never be able to get your bag unlocked and out from under the seat, let alone your body off the train, in time, were you to arrive at your stop. Maeva’s bag, too, is buried deep in the sea of people.

Ok. Gotta make space for other people's bags.

Ok. Gotta make space for other people’s bags.

By this point, you’ve been on the luggage rack for—oh, who knows? Roughly fifteen hours—and both of you desperately need to move, stretch, shift, do something. So you devote the next three hours to an intricate series of tiger-and-ninja tactics, moving around the car via racks and bars, hovering over heads, dipping here, swapping there, until you manage to use your senior “I’ve been on this train since Mumbai, bitches!” clout to secure better seating on a mid-range luggage rack. And you perch there, like a hawk, watching the crowd, timing the tides with every train stop. A hole emerges. You dive down to sea-level. Shove and elbow your way past bodies, and then lean face first over a child and into the black depths below the seat, where you find your bag. It’s stuffed tightly into a corner, its cable lock stretched to the max. You start tossing other people’s handbags left and right, into the aisle, onto laps, dial the cable code, and start to pull. The extraction is tedious. Turns out all those nifty straps and buckles just love to snag on everything imaginable. But you are victorious. You hoist your trophy over your head like a heavyweight boxing champion and place it where your old bed used to be, then rejoin Maeva. Then it takes another god-knows-how-long to get your bag from there over to your new perch with Maeva.

9pm. Your train pulls into Jhansi, and you and Maeva cry out delightedly. After riding out a human landslide, your feet hit the concrete platform. Then you jump for joy. Dance, twist, wiggle. Freedom!

It feels really good to be back in action. You literally cannot wait to be a disagreeable bastard with the first rickshaw driver who tries to lure you into his vehicle.

Categories: Budget Travel, India | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

One Month Of Beaches

Welcome to Om beach.  You did a lot of sitting around.

Welcome to Om beach near Gokarna. You did a lot of sitting around.  But you lived in a charming (very sandy) beach hut.

It was actually quite pretty and you did a bit of walking (on a good day).

Some sand therapy.

And some sand therapy.

Eventually you exchanged Om Beach for Arambol, Goa.

Eventually you exchanged Om Beach for Arambol, Goa.

Where you connected with one of your best mates.

Where you connected with one of your best mates, Angus.

And managed to combine Hom beach friends with new Arambol friends.

You managed to combine Hom beach friends with new Arambol friends.

One day, you did this.

One day, you did this.

And you saw a lot of this.

And you saw a lot of this.

The drinking and sun made you a bit mad.

The drinking and sun made you a bit mad.

And even madder.

And even madder.

But you calmed down.

But you calmed down.

When you ended up at a party hosted by, perhaps, the richest man in Goa.

When you ended up at a party hosted by, perhaps, the richest man in Goa.

Where you drank a lot of Chivas Regal.

Where you drank a lot of Chivas Regal.

One afternoon you went in a jeep to Old Goa.

One afternoon you went in a jeep to Old Goa.

And saw this amazing bloody Jesus.

And saw this amazing bloody Jesus.

But the highlight of the month, for sure, was the wedding and the borrowed sari, in which you felt like the Statue of Liberty.

But the highlight of the month, for sure, was the wedding and the borrowed sari, in which you felt like the Statue of Liberty.

Joking aside, everyone was looking dapper.

Joking aside, everyone was looking dapper.

Selfie!

Selfie!

Your new friends also went to the wedding. Everyone was looking fab.

Your new friends also went to the wedding. Everyone was looking fab.

But not quite as fab as the wedding party.

But not quite as fab as the wedding party.

Really, it was pretty awesome. And you danced your asses off.

Really, it was pretty awesome. And you danced your asses off.

Cheers to all your friends, and Mila's family for their incredible hospitality, and the Goan experience of a lifetime!

Cheers to all your friends, and Mila’s family for their incredible hospitality, and the Goan experience of a lifetime!

Now, after a month of beaches, you're back to this.

Now, after a month of beaches, you’re back to this.

Love to Angus, Mila, Oscar, Mollie, Ollie, Pauline, Sam, Sasha, Gustaf, Tony, and the family.

Categories: India | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Full Body Ghee Massage

You were drowning in snot and tears. You tried not to sob—so you settled for sighing, and maybe a little coughing. Coughing due to the smoke in the house. You lie face down on a hard, wooden, bed—more like a cot. Behind you, the tiny little medicine man worked energetically on your back with competent hands, hot oils, and herb-infused poultices. It felt incredible, and the tears came a-running.

 

Yoga camp, you admit, was not the best choice. You’d hoped earnestly that it might show you some solution to your problems, but proved only to worsen them. Well, maybe not all of them. But your back was certainly at its worst.

 

So bad, you couldn’t sit. Couldn’t bend forward from the waist. Couldn’t stretch it. Could not walk for more than an hour at a time before the pressure took your breath away. You told yourself all you needed was rest. So you took it. But even that didn’t suffice. No amount of rolling, massage, stretching, bed rest, lack of activity, or anything else seemed to improve your condition. You took your travels day by day.

 

“I think today’s a good day for the back,” you’d say to Maeva. It wasn’t saying much. Sitting hurt. Everything hurt. You’d become lazy. Moving was simply too challenging.

 

On a bad back day, you were bending from the waist in pitiful attempts to stretch it and relieve the pressure. Indians became concerned. “We have doctor here at silk factory,” they said. “You can come and see her. She will tell you what is wrong.” The folks at the silk factory were so, so nice. All smiles, and chai, and head bobbles. And they explained to you how silk is woven. You saw first-hand the process from cocoon to silk sari, and even the weaving of gold-silver-silk thread.

 

“It’s okay,” you replied. “I know what is wrong.”

 

Too much inflammation. Too much swelling around the SI joint. No space to move. Just pressure, pressure, pressure. And as you learned from your knee illness, pressure equals pain.

 

Sucks to be injured. Sucks a lot. Everything in your day centers around pain management.

 

There, in the smokey little house, you cried. From pain, from relief, from frustration, to confusion. And the little man soaked you in blackish-green oil. Maeva, outside, explained to your friend, Mohan Kumar, that you were in a lot of pain. Five hours bouncing around in the back of a jeep, from Mahe to Wayanad, up twisting mountain roads, had been too much to bear. The ceiling of the jeep was too low, the roads too catastrophic, and the stop-and-going so jarring. The series of seven speed bumps was always the worst: bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump! And you gasped, gripped the steel frame of the jeep and tried to hold your body in the air to avoid the jarring of your spine.

 

You were nauseated. You’d had a headache for three days. You were thirsty, and yet the diuretics prescribed to you earlier by the Ayuvedic doctor to “chase the water out of the Kapha body” were just the worst for long journeys.

 

“Toilet is here!” Mohan would always exclaim. And then he’d see you rush-scurry-waddle with your tight, limpy, gimpy gait to the facilities. Pee crouching over a hole, gathering your filthy clothes about you, praying that you didn’t misfire and mottle your feet with urine—again.

 

Goddamn diuretics. And other little pills. Tasted like dirt. You spent about twenty bucks on Ayurvedic medicine, feeling obliged to do so, out of respect for Mohan’s recommendation, and out of desperation. Diuretics to chase out the water—two per day. Little pills for bone disorders—six per day. Horrible muddy magic potion for hyper-acidity, thrice daily. And a little green bottle of herbal anti-inflammatory massage oil for your back and your knee. Every day.

 

“We can cure you in fourteen days.”

 

You hate it when people tell you that.

 

“Cure” is a strong word. You doubt very much that anyone can rehydrate your multiple dessicated discs. All you wanted was symptom management. Chasing out the water sounded just fine. Get that swollen, horrible fluid out!

 

What the hell happened to you? Something in yoga camp reversed your problem. Oddly enough, the right side of your back has never felt better. The tradeoff, however, was an even worse condition on the left. Maybe took your right-oriented disc bulge and pushed it over to the left.

 

Life is full of tradeoffs.

 

Fucking headache! Go away!

 

Maybe it wasn’t physical. It could have been emotional stress. For not only were you feeling achy in all the places, you were being eaten alive by mosquitoes at Mohan’s place (always frustrating), and then you opened your Gmail to receive a very nasty email from K Yoga. They were upset that you had not yet modified your Trip Advisor review. Reminded you that during your conversation with them, you admitted that perhaps women didn’t understand the nature of a yoga adjustment. And also, that based on your dissatisfaction with the program, “reflected by your attendance,” they were prepared to redact your yoga certificate. That means to say, steal your money.

 

Dirty, dirty, dirty tactics. Not to mention, they accused you of openly asking to have sex with several women at the camp. It made you think of that time at the Ivanhoe Hostel in Rome, when one of the rapists accused you of being sleazy for talking to his girlfriend. You’re really not sure where this accusation came from. If saying, “Don’t stick your tongue out at a lesbian,” means, “Would you have sex with me,” then color yourself guilty!

 

And what about your attendance? Was this, perhaps, because you were so fucking injured by their program that you could barely participate, even though you still showed up for classes? Hard to say.

 

After receiving their email, you decided to promptly delete your review, rather than “amend it.” Truthfully, between a lack of internet access and your inability to decide how to re-write your review in a manner that would have been less insulting, you’d decided to let your thoughts marinate for a while. What would you have liked to say? That you don’t trust K at all. That he touches too much outside of yoga adjustments. That he knows fuck-all about anatomy and physiology—that he openly and proudly justifies his teaching methods with his lack of understanding. That he’s running a fantastic business, probably has a foreign bank account, and that his young female proteges are drinking the Kool-Aid?

 

You’re angry. Actually angry. Too much pain. Too much stress. Too much bullshit.

 

Cry-cry-cry. And the little man massaged you. It felt so wonderful. In the next room, you saw pots and cauldrons and open fires, smoke, herbs, linens, and more. A little magician’s magic shop.

 

You and Maeva, just days before, had been walking along a country road with your book-laden bags weighing heavily on your shoulders. You’d decided enough was enough, and hitchhiking to the next village would do you some good. That’s when the jeep stopped.

 

It was a jeep filled with oranges, men, and children. The oldest of the men, Mohan, immediately broke into French with Maeva—he’d lived in Paris for 30 years. He was a painter. A very famous painter. And a social advocate for the tribal people of Wayanad. He was in several directions at once. Taking their children out to see elephants, delivering fresh organic fruit to villagers, arranging things, and so on. He described the tribal medicine of Wayanad, the organic movement he’d started there, and your eyes lit up with interest. Wasn’t this exactly what you and Maeva had been looking for?

 

Oranges, children, and men.

Oranges, children, and men.

“Let’s agree that we do not leave Kerala until we feel that we have learned something about herbal and/or Ayurvedic medicine,” you said, smiling to reassure her. And you shook hands on it.

 

Lo and behold! Ask, and you shall receive. Mohan invited you to stay with him in his house in Mahe, 60km away from Wayanad. He said he would return to the region the very next morning, and you could visit an authentic Wayanad. herbal medicine man.

 

Pretty famous guy.

Pretty famous guy.

“He knows only two things: drinking, and herbal medicine. In Wayanad, they can cure many things. Not all. Because they don’t get all types of illness there. But they are very good with bone disorders. You know, many Indians fall out of trees, work in the fields. Everyone has a bone disorder. They can fix your back.”

 

Done. Why not?

 

One night turned into three, as Mohan’s plans changed constantly. When he was talking incessantly at you and Maeva in a schizophrenic mixture of English and French, he was on the phone, blathering in his native tongue to someone on the other line. Throughout it all, he handed you green oranges, teeny organic bananas, fruits, breads, and more. He was a conveyor belt of words, information, food, and energy. This man only slept three hours per night, and then did two hours of meditation in the morning. 70 years old, with the energy of a child.

 

Mahe fish

Mahe fish

Backache. Headache. Smorgasbord for mosquitoes. You felt slightly oppressed, mostly by the lack of real information. His plans changes so frequently that you were literally at the mercy of every minute. You never knew what to expect. And yet, it wasn’t so problematic. You had no where else to be, nowhere else to go.

 

But there were the boys to consider… They boys you’d met in Mysore days earlier, just off the train from Hampi, were texting Maeva. It seemed they were missing you, perhaps because you and Maeva were such a badass travel partnership that no Indian could price gouge you. The boys were having trouble finding accommodations, getting an authentic experience on the cheap. You admit, the region was tough. You and Maeva were so determined not to pay 500 rupees for a single night in a hotel/guest house that you ended up sweet-talking a Christian priest into letting you take a room at a convent, for which you gladly donated 300 rupees in the morning.

 

Sorry boys, for being so tough to track down. We’re still in the company of this man, taking it a day at a time, not sure where we’re going to end up next.”

 

That was that. It was just the two of you and Mohan, and he eventually returned you to Wayanad, after three days in Mahe eating wonderful curries, fresh fish, fresh fruit, and worrying about little beyond your painful back and your disappointment over the whole K Yoga debacle.

 

But the jeep was too much. And you were in tears by the end of the journey.

 

Rub, rub, rub little medicine man.

 

You were informed that you would be residing with a local tribal family. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. By law—in order to protect the very expensive tourism industry—they were required to report your presence to the police. And then there were village politics. The villagers, you see, were very superstitious. White-skinned, cigarette-smoking Western women with tattoos and piercings and dirty feet were dangerous.

 

“Very clean people here, as well. You must shower several times a day. You must wash your clothing. When a woman has her menses, she must stay all alone in that room back there for seven days. The people leave food for her at the door, but do not go near her.”

 

Jesus. That’s actually a thing!

 

Mohan gave out to you and Maeva about being dirty. Wouldn’t you have loved to wash your clothes if you’d been better informed about time of departure! How could you wash your clothes if you didn’t have time to dry them? And so on.

 

So you washed your filthy body after your oil massage. And it was chaos for a while. The man of the house took you on a walk through the plantations of bananas, coffee, cardamom, black pepper, coconuts, beetle nut, tapioca, and more. The villagers stared at you, some with smiles, others with suspicion. Then you were rushed home, and then villagers came by, one after another, to view the strange white people.

 

Plantation walk.

Plantation walk.

There was, of course, a massive language barrier, especially after Mohan left you alone with them. But together, the community did their best to assist the medicine man for his second treatment on your back. It involved more hot oil massage, more herbs, more poultices, and some staining of sheets and linens to protect your giant body from nudity.

 

“Gents here… no problem. Some gents, problem. Good gents here,” the man of the house (possessing the most English) assured you. You were not concerned about the tiny gents. Just concerned about the lack of communication, the vagueness of compensation, and so on. Maeva sat by your side, laughed at you, took pictures of your treatment process. The whole family watched the occasion, mother, grandmother, children, husband, medicine man all arguing about how to tie your linens and dress your back.

 

All you could do was manage your breasts. Keep them from flopping out from under the linen wrapped around your neck as they spun you in circles and tied your dressing and wielding a very large, curved coconut knife, joking, “Cesarian!”

 

A picture says 1,000 words.

 

Knife!

Knife!

When and how did it end?

 

You were told that the little medicine man could fix you up in three days. That it would be quick and easy. But then a day later, you were informed that not only were you expected to remain for seven days, the little man would be purchasing some special herbs for the replenishment of bone marrow.

 

“My bone marrow?” you said, incredulously. “There’s no problem with my marrow.” You have your MRI results to prove it. “And even if there were, this man could not possibly no such a thing.”

 

Mohan, unfortunately, was not the best communicator, even if he spoke English and French. He had a way of losing track of the conversation and of course, changing his mind.

 

“You must pay the family 500 rps per day. And you can pay the doctor at the end of the treatment. Each day of treatment, we think, is another 500 rps per day.”

 

Not too bad. You were dismayed to learn that you had to stay seven days. Mohan guilt tripped you about money, wondered why you were creating drama by only offering money to the woman of the house, and not the man as well. You were reprimanded for trying to ice your back in the river, for stretching, for washing, for not washing, and even for walking on the street.

 

Yes, it was a bit like being in prison. Or purgatory.

 

You woke in the mornings to the sound of a screaming two year old drama queen—a little boy who thrived on being annoying. His mother and father were far too lenient, never punished him for anything, and simply tolerated his terrible character. After waking you, the woman of the house ushered you to a washing room separate from the house, where you donned undies and a linen to cover your private areas, and then she scrubbed you with a hot, steaming rag. About an hour later, she served you and Maeva breakfast—modest dishes of rice and coconut, with black tea.

 

Laundry

Laundry

There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. You spent far too much time sitting or lying in bed, reading, watching episodes of Two and A Half Men, talking about whatever, and watching the hours slide on by. Some days, you spent more than 3 hours gingerly stretching, searching for improvements. Meal times were the only perks of the day, that is, until around 7pm, when the medicine man came by for your nightly full body ghee massage.

 

Yes, ghee. And blackish herbs. Every night, he drenched you in ghee, rubbed feverishly at you, poked and prodded all your tender spots. It was a very messy, very greasy, very appetizing routine.

 

I smell like a fucking cupcake!”

 

Delicious cupcake

Delicious cupcake

“You smell so good,” Maeva said, pawing at your greasy skin before rubbing at her own. “That feels so nice.” It did.

 

You told her she was free to lick the ghee off your body, and she responded with her usual embarrassed blushy face.

 

After the ghee massage, the medicine man wrapped your back up in linens drenched in another special herb mix. You had to sleep in this every night, until it dried and became all itchy. Then in the morning, rinse and repeat. Seven days.

 

Did it help? That’s the question.

 

You’re compelled to say yes, because the back feels much better, but you are still not without pain.

 

You have no doubt that you received immense benefit from the massage, but your not sure the ghee or herbs or anything else had much of an effect (beyond making the skin of your face and neck break out). And the bone marrow treatment? The morning steam scrubs? The prohibition to move (one you violated daily)? Not sold on this. And your knee, which he promised to cure, remained entirely unaffected by the treatment.

 

You’re pretty sure Maeva could have offered you a daily full body massage and would have achieved a similar result. But one that, you admit, would be lacking the same anecdotal quality: you’d looked over at Maeva as two people smeared ghee, twigs, berries, and hocus-pocus into your skin, “Remember that time we got trapped in the Wayanad mountains and I got drowned in delicious ghee every night by a little tribal medicine man weighing scarcely more than twenty-five kg?”

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On Yoga Teacher Training: “This Is YOUR Karma!”

Overall my experience was very positive and I am quite pleased by my selection of K Yoga for my 200 YTT. I was, however, disappointed by the lack of depth in the curriculum and the rate of injuries among the practitioners due to aggressive adjustments and pressure to go beyond physical limits. It feels much more like a well-run yoga business churning out yoga teachers with very superficial understanding. I must also add that no fewer than seven women complained to me about ambiguous and inappropriate touching from the owner–much of it under the guise of a “yoga adjustment.”

 

Man oh man… did that Trip Advisor review get you into an uncomfortable confrontation.

 

Where the hell to begin?

 

It feels almost like a chore, writing it down, because you’ve just spend the past 28 days literally abusing your body with 4+ hours of yoga per day, not including philosophy, anatomy classes, and the walks to and from your off-residence housing. Your back is brittle and tight… it feels like a credit card that has been bent in half too many times—eventually it just might break.

 

Okay, you know this isn’t true. But this year has been a tough one on your body. Your arrival in India was marked by Medical Tourism—a fruitless attempt to end the chronic pain in your body. It had snuck up on you. You realized one day that your couldn’t remember the last time moving didn’t hurt.

 

This is what it feels like to be old.

 

People tell you you’re full of shit. That you’re not old. But hey, motion is emotion. You move like an old person, you feel like an old person. Doesn’t matter how much you sing your Peter Pan mantra of “I don’t ever wanna grow up.”

 

Anyway, back to the story.

 

You arrived at K Yoga with a look on your face like someone who’d just spent the last 24 hours trying to arrive there, and that maybe you’d slept in a train station; oh wait, that’s exactly what happened!

 

“Which way to reception?” you rasped to a handsome-looking muscly fellow. It was neither polite, nor ladylike. You were a woman on a mission. Check into your yoga school, get some information on nearby accommodation, and then sleep.

 

You were pleasantly surprised. The yoga village was nothing short of a little paradise, and “reception” told you to take a load off, sit down, have some lunch.

 

“How much is lunch?”

 

Always thinking about money…

 

They told you not to worry about it. So you placed your backpack at the base of a tree and went to the outdoor buffet and smiled broadly at the array of fresh fruit and vegetable and rice salads. Beautiful vegetarian fare. You thought about how much a salad like that would cost you at Whole Foods Market: about half a day’s wages.

 

the buffet

the buffet

One by one, you met your fellow students. They were lovely people, truly. All of them. Some tired from jet lag, others animated. And even though you were shattered from lack of sleep from having missed your train stop due to an unruly public masturbator, you were excited like a puppy to meet so many friendly, common-minded people. Theses folks were not hippies. They were normal people, fitness enthusiasts, professionals from many corners of the world. You tried to rein in your zeal during conversations about health and wellness, namely nutrition. You were just so happy to be there. And at the end of a three-hour ordeal to secure cheap housing, you finally settled on a despicable box you affectionately named The Love Shack: a pink chicken-housey thing lacking electricity and plumbing, but boasting a sandy floor underfoot and the odor of mold. All for the very low price of 300 rupees per night.

 

The Love Shack

The Love Shack

Yoga school began, and you found yourself obliged to participate in a Fire Ceremony that made your blood boil. People who know you well know a few things about you: you dislike boats, water, and beaches, in general; you get extreme motion sickness from hammocks and swings; and you hate-hate-hate a bunch of hippies sitting around a campfire singing songs and banging drums.

 

Just not you thing. And this yoga school had all these things—in abundance.

 

But come on! This was yoga school! And you knew you would have to place your distaste for certain aspects of ceremony and ritual to have the full experience. So you endured it with amusement. The chanting of mantras, the pinching of salty rice slathered in ghee and making offerings to a fire, the little bracelet they tied to your wrist, the wreath of gorgeous flowers, and the coconut into which you had to place your wishes before they would be incinerated.

 

Nah, it wasn’t so bad. You took it in stride and enjoyed the ambiance and wondered if it would be the peak of your hippie experience: and for the most part, it was. Your favorite part was listening to the introductions of about 25 people: names, star sign, cities, professions, why they chose yoga school, how they discovered K Yoga, and oh! Previous injuries.

 

What did you tell the group? Something predictably Maria: “I’m 29 years old, originally from Seattle, Washington, and a Gemini. I am an Active Isolated Stretching therapist as well as a Corrective Exercise Specialist, personal trainer and group fitness instructor. I chose to come to yoga school in order to supplement my professional designations and to learn things and integrate them into what I already do. I chose Ashtanga-Vinyasa Flow because it’s highly marketable in the United States. I found K Yoga through the Yoga Alliance and found you to be the most price competitive. Also, your website was incredible: crisp, clear, concise. As for my injurious… I could go on at length, but let’s just say I used to have a dream of competing in the 2008 Olympic Games, but ended up having back surgery. I have multiple desiccated discs in my lumbar spine. I also had arthroscopic knee surgery after a septic infection inside the joint. I have a dropped right shoulder with impingement syndrome, and recently tore my rhomboid. My goals are to learn a bit more about yoga, my own movement, and begin to resolve some of my injuries so I can avoid a second surgery later in life.” You felt your voice straining against the threat of tears. You carry so much stress in that old body of yours, and even discussing your frustrations can by trying. You added a little about your current, more dominant life as a backpacker, volunteer, laborer/construction worker.

 

K smiled at you with his gleaming white teeth, wrists stacked one atop the other, atop his similarly stacked knees in Cow Head pose. “Is there anything on you that isn’t injured?”

 

“My tongue,” you said curtly.

 

“We can see that.”

 

Something about the comment stung. Not that it was inappropriate. Just that you were on the verge of tears thinking about your frustrating body, and it was received with such flippancy. Hell. You had a recent MRI and Xrays to show them if they were really interested to know about your injuries, but you understood it to be a professional formality. It was your own job, after all, to monitor your clients’ injuries. In the end, it is always up to them to communicate their pain and discomfort to you.

 

K asked more about the website, and more and more people affirmed that it was a good one. You admired, so far, everything about K Yoga—as an American, you appreciate good business and good management practices. You were under no illusions that you would leave K Yoga enlightened; that wasn’t your goal. You were there to learn, grab a certificate to add to your CV, and probably secure a future in subbing for absent, more dedicated yoga teachers at the gym.

 

The premesis was beautiful. The chalets, the yoga stages, the food, the staff, and atmosphere. It was sensational. Many times you found yourself smiling because the “package” was much more than you anticipated in terms of atmosphere. And in your first week of yoga school, you were WOWed six ways from Sunday—first from your two-hour-long Ashtanga Primary Series, and second, by the newness of it all.

 

You did not reach the end of your first day without crying. All that yoga—all that stress releasing from the body. You cried softly from the tremors of resistance from your low back after a 15-breath shoulder stand followed by Fish pose. The tightness, the anger, the memory of injury. Whoa! Holy shit.

 

And you were fucking sore from it all. You were warned in advance to practice yoga every day before coming, to prepare the body for the “boot camp.” But you are unaware of anyone who actually followed that advice.

 

You cried at least once, every day, from some emotional release, some type of pain, some type of frustration. BFD. You were secure with your feelings. Let them see you cry.

 

At the end of the yoga day, you would gather your things and walk away from the Yoga Village, to the love shack, with some bananas and some rolls. Something to munch on in the evening, since you’d also chosen not to purchase the dinner plan for the additional cost of 100 euros. Your yoga school lifestyle staved you 450 euros in total, bringing the total cost of your tuition for 200 hours to around $1,850 USD, well below the near-standard minimum $2,000 that did not include the cost of living. You were chuffed.

 

You spent your evenings alone in the muggy, dark, Love Shack, watching episodes of Glee and rubbing a few out in the newness of your privacy. Traveling alone has only that advantage, in your opinion.

 

But then Maeva appeared on Friday evening! You threw your arms around each other even though it had only been 6 days of separation. Her burning need to travel alone had been swiftly satisfied when you got a first-hand taste of how physically and emotionally exhausting being a solo female traveler in a man’s world can feel.

 

What you save in money, you eventually pay in energy,” you said to her. “Listen, you came at a really good time. It’s the end of the week. I have morning classes tomorrow on Saturday, and then the rest of the weekend free. I suggest you stay with me in the Love Shack and then tomorrow, while I’m in class, you can use your killer bargaining skills to upgrade our accommodations.”

 

Which she did, like a champ—scoring a room with ample space, shelves, plumbing, electricity, double bed, and more for a more 350 rupees per night.

 

On Saturday afternoon, in the Yoga Village, you lay together on a one of the suspended beds and talked. That’s when K camp over to you, “Hello, tough girl!”

 

The suspended beds.

The suspended beds.

He liked to call you that. Maybe because you frequently intimidate the daylights out of people. Hell, even your instructors were hesitant to talk to you, adjust you.

 

“Reall, K… I’m not that tough. I’m all soft like butter on the inside.”

 

He jumped on top of you.

 

This came as a slight surprise. You must say, in your entire life, never has a man taken such liberties without the excuse of a bar and a nigh of binge drinking. But yet he was there, the owner and operator of K yoga school, with his full body weight on top of yours, embracing you with elbows and knees, smiling those ridiculously white teeth just four inches from your face.

 

Did he want to wrestle you?

 

“Tough girl,” he repeated.

 

While you were not in the slightest bit threatened by this medium-sized Indian man and his body, it did cross your mind as weird. Weirder still, he began to maul you. Like, manhandle you. Like, jump, bounce, and jab you hard with his elbows.

 

You cried out in pain and laughter; pain from the absolute discomfort of someone elbowing into your stiff, sore, week-long-yoga-abused muscles—and laughing from the pain and the general awkwardness of the situation. You looked wide-eyed at Maeva lying just next to you, and she observed everything. She made a little face of acknowledgment that it was… well… weird.

 

“Come on, tough girl! You can stretch me?” he asked finally.

 

“Stretch you?” you asked, dumbfounded. “K, I doubt you need that. You’re a yogi. There’s probably nothing to stretch.”

 

“Come on, you find out!”

 

You decided to stretch him, if only to remove yourself from the awkwardness of his body.

 

“We have to go over there,” you said.

 

He rolled on the bed, smiled up at you, and said, “No… let’s do it here. No need to move. Stretch me here on the bed.”

 

You thought about how stiff your back was, how there was no leverage, how the swing itself would ruin everything. You thought about how utterly inappropriate it would be. You tried to stretch him there, for a hot second, but said, “No, really, I cannot work under these conditions.” So you made him get up and lie on the lunch tables. You gingerly explored his freak-of-nature range of motion and kept declaring, “K, I don’t really see the point of all of this. You’re more than sufficiently flexible.”

 

He goaded you. Dared you to find something to work on. So you switched to massage. Poked and proded him, felt the hard muscles along his spine and finally settled on abusing his pec minors, if only to get a reaction out of him. He moaned and smiled and said, “Oh, this is very good. You find something. See? I make you think!”

 

You couldn’t help your feelings. You didn’t like him very much. Something about him felt wrong, and all you could do was label it as, “Unprofessional.”

 

You said this to Maeva in private conversation after leaving the Yoga Village. “I just don’t understand him. That was weird. What kind of man thinks teasing and throwing his body on top of one of his new female students is appropriate?”

 

“This whole situation reminds me of Ba,” Maeva said.

 

You shuddered at the thought of your formerly overly-attached guest house owner from Jalsaimer. The one who used unsolicited massage to trick you into touch, and had overwhelmed you with hospitality to make you feel indebted to him.

 

“The touching. I don’t like it,” you said. You don’t like it in general. But you’d noticed K’s penchant for wrapping his arms around the girls, hugging them from the side, sliding his hands on their waists. And his too-zealous smile. You didn’t like his teasing you, calling you “tough girl,” mild antagonizing. It made you not want to engage with him.

 

* * *

 

Your “injuries,” or rather, the severe aggravation of previous injuries, began on Wednesday of the second week.

 

You were stiff and brittle. Your back was immovable, and sitting upright was painful. The lateral collateral ligaments of both your knees were so upset that you could not even remotely sit cross-legged for meditation or pranayama. Things were stuck, swollen, and your breathing labored.

 

K was leading a hip opening workshop. Up until that point, you had received very little instruction from K himself; instead, he’d left the teaching of the curriculum and asana practice to his two youngish female instructors, at least one of whom had only just finished her 500 hour teacher training half a year ago. You’d wondered mildly whether your teachers were experienced enough in yoga to teach in a yoga school, but since both of them demonstrated remarkable flexibility and led their classes well, you saw no reason to doubt them. They seldom tried to adjust you, perhaps because your entire face read: IN PAIN, DO NOT TOUCH. You felt once again at war with your body, always in deep concentration with it, always seeking a way to sit in an asana without pain. But some part of your body always protested.

 

It wasn’t until that Wednesday when your feelings about K and the school began to change. You admit that pain and frustration darkly color anyone’s mood. But as you sat in that hip opening workshop, wrestling the compression in your low back, your fucking LCLs, and acute hip impingement, K came over to you to adjust you.

 

There’s something that everyone should know about Ashtanga Yoga before they take it: it’s all about adjustments. And by adjustments, you do not mean alignment modifications, you mean someone pressing against your body to deepen your stretch, using breath and exhalations to guide you deeper and deeper. The practice, in fact, is akin to your own stretching modality; until, that is, you reach the point of discomfort from too intense a stretching threshold—and that’s when you are supposed to back off.

 

This is not what happened.

 

“Please don’t push on me,” you said to K after he’d squatted down behind you, legs and knees open, with a hands on your back,. “Please, don’t.”

 

He smiled broadly at you, bobbled his head, and said, “I’m not pushing.”

 

“Just please don’t adjust me.”

 

He went away.

 

Later, he came back. Tried again. “Please, please, please don’t push on me!” your breath was labored already. He denied pushing on you. Eventually went away.

 

During a different posture—Butterfly Pose—you paired with your handsome-muscly friend, a person with similar pain and limitations in flexibility. You had an understanding. You were both in pain. You let him loop a strap around your back and he gently pressed his feet against your legs, pulling you deeper into a forward bend. You felt zero stretch in your adductors, just mild discomfort in your glutes and outer hips. You focused on your breath and eeked out progress.

 

Another instructor snuck up behind you and gently leaned her body weight into your back. You trusted her and allowed it, and then began to groan as you deepened. And then, she continued to press, and your breath became more frantic and shallow. She continued to press, and you wondered how long she would continue to do so. K was observing her ajustment. More noise from you, but her reassuring breath in your ear, and you allowed her to push you deeper–

 

–and then felt like a tiny thread of muscle snip. It was acute and immediate.

 

“That’s enough!” you exclaimed, sitting up rapidly, nearly throwing her off your back. Something in you glute felt strained. You muttered to yourself for being stupid for having allowed such depth in your adjustment. You felt emotional, scared, realizing you’d narrowly escaped injury. You wondered whether others experienced something similar.

 

For a third time, K came over to adjust you. You cried, “Stop pushing on me! I’ve asked you twice already!” And the entire class heard it.

 

“I’m not pushing on you,” he repeated.

 

“Your hand is on my body,” you declared.

 

Just fucking go away!

 

You were furious. Furious from you fear of injury, the profound lack of trust you had in your instructors to not injure you.

 

You spend the remainder of that two-hour workshop fearful for your safety. You were emotionally worn out. The back, knees, and new glute strain were too much. You were physically exhausted. There is no other way to explain it.

 

* * *

The other students nicknamed you The Doctor. Why?

Because one student came to you and asked about a recent injury. “I was being adjusted by K. He was pushing on me, and then I felt this… like… pull… here.” She pointed to her hamstring. “And now it really hurts.” You explained that is was probably a minor tear but that she should leave it alone and stop stretching it. Stretching it would only make it worse.

Another student complained to you of shoulder pain. Too many Chattarangas—reverse pushups. You told her not to drop below 90 degrees on that shoulder, to modify her postures, and to baby it.

Another student burst into tears at an unlikely moment during a restorative yoga class. “I was being adjusted very deeply during the hip opening workshop. I felt it go then, but I continued to practice on it. This morning I left the session because it hurt so much. And just now… it went completely.” She was sobbing from the pain. You jumped onto Google and researched her issue, asked her questions about her symptoms, which she described as deep in her hip. After ruling out a few possibilities, you determined that she’s severely torn one of her adductors. K heard about it, sat by her side, and made light-hearted jokes about her achieving some kind of “emotional release.” You brought her an ice pack, put compression on her injury with a belt, and advised ibuprofen.

So-and-so complained of back pain. Another one of pain under the shoulder blade. And another one. Another one of back pain. And another one. Another one of distal hamstring pain. Every day, someone came to you with some kind of complaint or injury, and the only advice you could give them was, “Lay off it. Stop trying to stretch it. Skip this asana, focus more on that one.” You explained muscle imbalances, the reasons why they probably injured that part of their body in the first place, what causes certain types of pain, and not others.

People had begun to “book you” for body work—even the female instructors. One of them was interested to understand your stretching therapy, so you arranged workshops for her and anyone else who wanted to join—to teach them how to isolate a muscle and stretch it deeply and safely. Some donated money, some did not. K joked about how you could set up a business, work as a massage therapist in the yoga village, and make some money.

The suggestion made you glower. “It’s not about money.” Why would you want to do that? You have money. Plenty of it.

You found yourself avoiding K. You were still angry with him about having to tell him three times not to adjust you. You didn’t want to make eye-contact with him. You didn’t want to be near him at all, or speak to him. You mentioned to both his instuctors that each of them should say something to the students about being careful with their bodies and knowing how to guage the intensity of an adjsutments, because too many people were getting hurt. They said nothing for two days.

And when you showed up one morning, completely unable to bend your back, the speech came. Because The Doctor was officially too injured to do anything but watch others practice yoga—too injured to sit up, too injured to bend forward from the waist to make a bed. You were a train wreck.

Your back problems followed you for the entire remainder of the course. And you’re not talking about minor irritation. You’re talking about pill cocktails of pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatories. Topical burning creams to stimulate blood flow to the area. More topical creams for on-site anti-inflammation.

You took a lot of Valium. To the point of of passing out in the middle of the afternoon on the yoga platform, drooling incoherently into a bolster. You were injured, but you managed to keep your spirits high. Your yoga practice evolved into something very personal and specific, and you struggled in the back of the classes in the “non-adjustments line,” working on whatever small part of your body you could manage without exacerbating your current issues.

You joked about working on your Valium addiction, but in fact, you were chronically on muscle relaxers to manage the spasms. Many times you lost the ability to lift even your own leg off the floor, or to sit up. “Babies cannot sit up,” you’ve said in the past to your clients. Your back was so angry at you that you could not support the weight of your own trunk.

Call it hyperbole if you want. Say Maria is just complaining about her body again. You do that. Yes. But the sack of drugs in your back pack is testimony to how many pills you swallowed to survive Yoga boot camp.

* * *

By the end of the third week, Maeva was a regular addition to the Yoga Village, even though she wasn’t a student there. Everyone knew her as your little French friend who was there to pick you up in the evenings and accompanied you everywhere. On the weekends, when the students went out for drinks and parties, you hobbled back to your room and popped a Valium and lay on your back.

You got to know many of your fellow students well, and you were generally friendly and pleasant. But when people spoke to you about their injuries and their concerns, you responded with grave tones of caution. You knew too well what it was to have a coach push you hard without regard to the damage that was occurring.

You decided by the fourth week, after about ten days of total K avoidance, to begin offering him pleasantries. He was, after all, the owner and operator of the school, into whom you’d invested nearly two thousand dollars, and who had, until that point, been very generous by allowing Maeva to hang out with you in the Yoga Village.

“This French girl,” he said, “Your friend. She is nice person. I like her a lot. She takes good care of you. She is welcome her any time. She look good in bikini.”

She look good in bikini.

You could never shake your suspicious feelings about him. He reminded you too much of the aggregate of your prior guest house owners. Single. Friendly. And always touching. You’d noticed his physical proximity to not only his instructors, but the students. The hands that lingered on waists and butts. And unsolicited hugs and arms that wrapped around shoulders.

“Did you notice that when K cracked so-and-so’s back,” Maeva said, “she he put her down, he touched her ass with both hands.”

“What?” you asked.

“I saw it. He just… put both his hands right on her ass.”

You approached so-and-so, curiously. Asked her if he had in fact done so. She responded with a bit of a distant look, “No… I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”

You shrugged. “Oh, okay. Never mind. It’s just that Maeva thought she saw something and it surprised me, so I thought I would ask you.”

“No, I don’t think he did.”

“No worries,” you said, turning to leave.

“–But he has before,” she added.

What?

* * *

You could write another ten pages about the curriculum. On your feedback sheets, you stated that the philosophy sessions were disorganized. You were not sure what you were supposed to know, cover, discuss, remember. And you were never sure how to make it relevant to your implied future as a yoga teacher.

“I’m being given information about yoga philosophy in such a manner that I have no idea how I could possibly transmit this information to people in the future.”

That didn’t matter to you that much. You aren’t a yogi. You don’t want to be one. Much of what people describe from yoga, you feel you have already experienced through other means, other forms of “meditation.” In sessions, you asked a multitude of questions about the Good, Real Knowledge as opposed to Inaccurate Knowledge, whether yoga philosophy was meant to be objective or subjective. You received no adequate answers. To you, it wasn’t so important to know the philosophy—you supposed you could figure it out on your own with extra-curricular reading; you just felt that the instruction was in deep need of improvement. Hell, you couldn’t even get a question answered adequately.

You’d spent four years in university studying philosophy, and your yoga instructor’s disclaimers that yoga philosophy was too broad to be taught with structure sounded like a joke to you. There is no reason why philosophy cannot be taught in an organized manner. In your hyper-critical mind, you could think of a half a dozen ways to better deliver the information.

The anatomy classes came late. You’d graciously overlooked the fact that you knew more about anatomy than your instructor did, and when her worksheets (much of it sourced from “The Internet”) were inaccurate, you called it to her attention and she would announce to the class that, “There is a mistake here, on the function of the gastrocnemius.” When a student asked a question for which she had an insufficient answer, she often deferred to you, or one of the other fitness professionals for clarification. You apologized many times to your instructor, explained you had no intention of undermining her at all, and that you were simply very interested in alignment and anatomy and felt it was of the utmost importance when it came to such an aggressive asana practice. She undertood and the two of you had an excellent rapport.

Alignment class basically taught, "Make it look like this."

Alignment class basically taught, “Make it look like this.”

But even so, while you “learned” the anatomy, three weeks too late, you began to feel newly upset. You’d been watching too many students practice for over three weeks with incorrect alignment, and none of the instructors—not even K—had taken the time to explain to the students what they were doing wrong. K gave a lecture about how “anatomy doesn’t matter,” and how “every body is different” and so “don’t worry about anatomy. I practice yoga 20 years. I don’t know anything about anatomy, but I know which asana is correct. See here? Three different bodies, all in the same asana. Everyone different degree of flexibility. Everyone in correct asana.”

“But I see three different spines!” you announced angrily, looking at the three students in Butterfly. One spine straight, fine. One lumbar spine extended, fine. But the third, the lumbar spine of literally the most flexible student at the school, rounded in a horrible manner, indicative of an egregious posterior pelvic tilt. This particular student had so impressed the instructors with his flexibility, his ability to tie himself into knots, that not one of them could figure out what was wrong with his spine.

You took him aside during lunch. Explained something very basic to him. His eyes lit up in sudden comprehension about his back and why, perhaps, he’d injured it so many years before. He corrected his posture immediately—told you his back felt better than ever—asked you constantly, “How does it look now? Good? Great! Thank you so much. It feels amazing now.”

You felt annoyed that this kind of instruction in yoga school was allowed—or really, the lack thereof. But you also understood yoga industry. You can only say that you feel angry at your trainers and coaches of of the past—the ones who aided your self-destruction because they didn’t understand movement. This anger fueled your critique, fueled you to take your own time, independent study, and energy to better understand the asanas and the ways in which they could work for and against you.

* * *

On the last day of the course, the opinions of the other students started boiling to the surface.

“I don’t understand. The philosophy is confusing. I want to know more about anatomy. You are such a good teacher, Maria. You should teach the anatomy here. Maybe they will offer you a job.”

“I don’t want to work here.”

“It just feels like a giant business. The whole school. It’s beautiful,” yes, with its flowers and trees and rainbow tarps, bolsters, pillows, mats, incense, sunset chais and fresh nuts and dates and healthy food. The package was incredible.

But the old song, Razzle Dazzle, played in your head. And every time you watched K climb on someone’s body, and then add another instructor on top of him, and another on top of her, and a third in front of the student—all of them, stacked together like some human pyramid—bearing their weight into that person’s body, you thought, “This is a fucking circus. This is not yoga.”

But what the fuck do you know about yoga?

Nothing. 200 hours of teacher training, and you passed your philosophy exam with the following BS: “Pranayama is exercise for the lungs—the training of oxygen delivery to the cells. This is what is called prana. Oxygen. The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga are: things not to do, thing to do, asana practice, pranayama practice, sensory withdrawal, focus on a subject, effortless focus on a subject, and enlightenment. A mudra is a symbolic gesture.”

That’s it?

Pretty much.

There was no real practical exam on anatomy of alignment. There was no way to fail the school.

“Has anyone ever not received their certificate?” you asked your instructor.

“Not that I know of. You’d have to skip a lot of the sessions. You’d basically have to not attend.”

Shouldn’t exams matter?

It bothered you. But whatever. You could live with all of it. You had enough pre-existing knowledge of both philosophy and anatomy to plug the holes in their curriculum. You understood the industry of certifications. You understood business. Your only issue was that K was certifying people who would likely one day injure their students, or tell them to continue practicing in light of contraindications.

* * *

But you took new issue with the school when the women began to complain about K himself. Most notably, that he was a toucher. You heard stories about how his hands would reach down asses, to the tail bone, but then not stop there. Hands that kept reaching. A body that kept pressing. Too much surface area involved. Too much butt touching. Too much inner thigh. And too many smiles. Too much, “Wanna go for a ride?”

The students gossiped about him. Two rumors circulated, that he was sleeping with two different women in the yoga village.

Your early interpretation of his unprofessional behavior, comments, and energy found some more ground. You gingerly asked a two more women if they’d ever felt that his touching had been inappropriate. The immediate response was a hesitation, silence, reflection, and then… “Yes, I think so. I think he takes liberties.”

Some women did not feel this with K. You cannot speak for anyone by yourself. That you had been so guarded against his adjustments in the first place, you’d never been in a position in which he’d been able to touch you like that. You only recalled when he’d mauled you with his entire body at the end of the first week.

One woman was so upset, she declared she would leave a review on Trip Advisor, just as soon as she’d left. The non-confrontational tendencies of woman in these situations came as no surprise to you.

So you left your own reference on Trip Advisor, even before you received your certificate. You were prepared for confrontation.

Overall my experience was very positive and I am quite pleased by my selection of K Yoga for my 200 YTT. I was, however, disappointed by the lack of depth in the curriculum and the rate of injuries among the practitioners due to aggressive adjustments and pressure to go beyond physical limits. It feels much more like a well-run yoga business churning out yoga teachers with very superficial understanding. I must also add that no fewer than seven women complained to me about ambiguous and inappropriate touching from the owner–much of it under the guise of a “yoga adjustment.”

Confrontation? You got it!

* * *

They accused you of many things. Of being a ring leader. Of corralling angry women, goading them to talk shit about the school. Of trying to teach the teachers, rather than learning from them. Of being a malicious, two-faced gossip. Of being unkind. Of unreasonably threatening the business. Of making accusations that had nothing to do with you. K accused you of making three women feel uncomfortable, of enjoying the pleasure of getting to touch on so many women who’d asked for body work (the majority of whom were his own instructors.)

“You have no idea the repercussions of your actions!” one of the instructors said. “You had no idea how serious your accusations of K are!”

“Actually,” you said. “I do. I was once fired for sexual harassment, and all I did was ask an inappropriate question. I didn’t flirt with anyone, and I certainly didn’t touch anyone. And when I am working on someone, I am acutely aware of my body’s position to theirs, my chest, my hips, and my hands. I tell them very clearly where I will touch them, and if it is a sensitive place, I ask for their permission first. The energy I project is professional. Believe me, I am well aware of my actions.”

“You really stabbed me in the back,” one of the instructors said. “I thought we were friends. We were like buddies, laughing and joking and talking all the time. And then you write that I’m some churned out instructor with only superficial knowledge.”

That was true, unfortunately.

“You said I was a good teacher!”

“You are an excellent teacher. You know how to teach. You need to know the curriculum, though.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Maria, this is your loss. You’ve stabbed me in the back. My feelings about your are totally reversed now. That’s your loss.”

You looked at her directly, feeling bad, but feeling no deep sting. “I accept your feelings and everything you have to say about me. I can live with that.”

“This is on you, Maria,” K said. “This is your karma!”

Shrugs.

You wrote what you needed to write. You felt it was important that women know that there was an energy about K that should be received with caution.

“This thing didn’t happen to you! This is not your business. Why do you think you can write about other women’s experiences?” K demanded.

You stared him dead in the eye. “Because this is a women’s issue.

“If they have problem, why don’t they talk to me directly?”

You wasted some breath on this one. Explained women, their psychology, their passiveness, lack of desire for confrontation. That a very rare woman would take K aside and say, “Hey, I think you touched me inappropriately,” when she knows very well she will only be met with outright denial and misunderstood circumstances—in other words, the beauty of ambiguity.

“Why did they not go to the non-adjustments line?” they asked.

“Some of them did, after it happened. And the point it that this icky feeling should never happen in the first place. And I would like to remind you, K, that two days ago, while I was in the non-adjustments line, you tried to adjust me. You asked what I was thinking and I said to you that I am wondering why you are touching me when I am in the non-adjustments line. Don’t you remember? That was just three days ago.”

The conversation went in many directions.

One of the girls said, “Maybe these women just don’t understand that Ashtanga yoga is all about adjustments. We have to touch the students that way,” one of the women said.

You replied, “I should add, to you two–” the two female instuctors “–that no one complained about your touch, your energy, or your adjustments. This is strictly about K. And his touching was not limited to adjustments. Women told me that often avoided him, walked across the yard when he was coming there way. He was a reputation as a big flirt, and he has rumors circulating about him that I have nothing to do with.”

“Why didn’t you speak to me about this,” one of the women asked. Why did you have to go on Trip Advisor?”

This made you stop and think deeply. Was it necessary to broadcast this information on the internet? Wasn’t that was Trip Advisor was for? You thought about the time your friend was raped in a hostel in Rome, and how your intervention on her behalf, your discussions with the management and the owner amounted to nothing. Nothing changed at all. You’d been informed by a friend who also worked there.

But really, Maria? Was that good enough? Shouldn’t you have talked to one of the female instructors in private? In your mind, speaking to her—your friend—about her boss, in such a manner, would have been met with indignant denial, or that you would be putting her in a position to take sides. Or that maybe, just as you’d asked her to announce to the students early on to please mind their bodies, she’d simply do nothing until it was too late. There was no accountability. He was her boss. And he was clearly in denial. And so were they.

Or maybe you’re a raging, vindictive bitch, out to accuse all men of being touchers and perverts. That’s quite possible, and they even said to you, “You’ve got this army of angry women behind you on this, and they elected you their spokesperson!”

You spread your arms and gestured to the vast emptiness of the beach. “I’m sorry, an army? I invited three of the complaining women to join me in this discussion with you, and told them I understood completely if they wanted to avoid the conflict. As you can see, none of them came. I have no army. It’s just me sitting here, confronting three of you, speaking very directly and honestly about my concerns. I would like to know, now, what it is that you would like to accomplish from this discussion.”

K had a convoluted and distracted way of speaking. A way of losing focus. A lack of adequate communication skills in English. What did he want? You to feel guilty? To say that you were sorry? To take down the Trip Advisor review? Amend it?

“Never ever ever has anyone described my yoga school as a well run business. This is offensive.”

You didn’t tell him that it was on everyone’s mind. Everyone’s. Even two of his own staff members, both of whom would not be returning.

* * *

You returned to some of your friends and fellow students on the beach. They wanted to hear everything. You explained the conversation as well as you could, told them the insults, the defenses, the accusations and both sides.

“You shouldn’t have even talked to them!” one of the women said. “I wouldn’t have wasted my time.”

“I think what you have done it very brave. I wish I could be that person.”

And so on.

And what was concluded?

You conceded one point: that you should have spoken to one of the female instructors about the touching first. That perhaps you should not have put that on Trip Advisor. But deep down you knew that K would probably not change his behavior. That energy, not the context, is what was important. Women felt… weird around him.

“I told them it was unfortunate that we ended on these terms. That I should have spoken to one of the women first about the touching, but that I absolutely stand by my declarations that it is a well run business, that the instruction is superficial. I told them I would look into the comment, see if I could amend it, and if I can, provide more context about who I am and why I have these opinions.”

You weren’t sure whether you could amend the statement. And you also weren’t sure that, if you did, they would prefer your amendment to your previous comment.

* * *

You’d like to add the following thoughts on the subject of yoga. You love yoga, what little you understand of it. And you know very well that real yoga has nothing to do with certification. Your issues have nothing to do with yoga itself and you do not mean to ridicule or belittle it. No. Rather, your issues, your critiques, have everything to do with the Yoga Alliance (another accrediting organization, quite similar to numerous other associated in your industry of health and wellness) and K Yoga School. As a professional who invested in accrediting education, (as you have many times in the past) you expected far more structure, depth, and mindfulness about safety issues. What you got was not yoga school; you got a four-week holiday yoga retreat at the end of which you received a laminated piece of paper, declaring your aptitude to teach yoga to others. Nothing can be further from the truth. But, at least, if one registers with the Yoga Alliance, they will graciously cover him with insurance the moment he injures someone.

Yoga holiday retreat

Yoga holiday retreat

Categories: India | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

45 Cents, 14 Hours Of Your Life

When you emerged from the Indian Commuter Train System, you were a sweaty, brown, dehydrated mess. And tough as nails. You faced the crowds of Mumbai. Currents of people flowed up and down stairs, over platforms and footpaths, like blood in her arteries. Certainly, she suffered from hypertension—too narrow pathways, too dense—but her pulse was resilient. You dipped back into the city with uncanny familiarity.

Tough as nails.

Tough as nails.

Welcome back to Mumbai.

Welcome back to Mumbai.

Get your push and shove on!

Get your push and shove on!

You and Maeva reconnected with your old CS host and spent two marvelous nights in the comfort of his large, clean flat, complete with wifi and home-delivered, most-excellent Indian cuisine. The bathroom, with its toilet hose, shower head, and hot water, was an upgrade long-forgotten, so accustomed you were to “showering” by dumping little plastic pitcherfuls of cold water on your discolored legs. You reconnected with Karuna, and then you slept like the dead. In the morning, you drank your first cup of coffee in god knows how long.

By the end of your first day, you were supercharged. No bad news in the old inbox, not logistical nightmares. Narendra helped you book your ticket straight to the last station of Goa, and you scored the perfect seat. You were hyper, ecstatic—rested. That night, when you piled into Narendra’s car for a nice fish dinner followed by dessert and the cinema, you cranked down the windows and screamed the words to Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe, reached out to try and grab perplexed rickshaw drivers and motorcyclists.

It was a very short-lived “vacation.” The next morning, you were awake at 8:30 and packed. Narenda fixed you a breakfast of toast, eggs, and strawberry jam, which confused and delighted your palette after months of rice and dahl. By 9:30, you were out the door.

THE ITINERARY

Your train would leave at 11:30 that morning and would arrive at 12:33am in Goa. It wasn’t the greatest of itineraries, but you didn’t mind arriving in the middle of the night to a place a mere 2km away from your yoga school. Piece of cake. You could find yourself some last-minute guest house and catch a few hours of good sleep before checkout.

SMOOTH BEGINNINGS

9:35 – Caught rickshaw to Malad train station.

9:45 – Shoved your way onto the commuter train in rush-hour and travel to Dadar station, praying to god the mob in the “ladies” car didn’t eject you onto the tracks as you clung to a pole under the weight of your backpack which hung out the side of the car.

10:10 – Stood in line for ten minutes to get a rickshaw. Drove across town to Lokman Yatilak station.

10:40 – Boarded your train one hour early, found your seat, and started writing. Ate a fried banana snack.

2:00 – Took a break from writing. Ate a 50rps lunch and promptly fell asleep.

5:00 – Read some Milan Kundera, wrote some more, listened to music.

7:00 – Ate an 88rps dinner, listened to music, and felt the boredom sink in. For the first time ever, you were train-traveling without someone to talk to, or even someone to acknowledge from time to time. No quirky Maeva, no verbose Danish girl. Just you.

Idle picture taking.

Idle picture taking.

12:00 – Took a toilet break. Your train was scheduled to arrive in just 33 minutes.

THINGS GET BUMPY

12:33 – Train stopped. It was still two stations away from yours. Disappointed, you went back to your berth, unlocked your bag, and waited for the train to start moving again. You are only 25km away from Cancona.

1:00 – Train finally left the station. Traveled for five minutes. Then stopped. There was no platform. Nothing. You waited.

2:00 – Train was still stopped, occasionally moving a few feet down the line before braking again. After one hour of this nonsense, you felt angry. Then you noticed the man on the middle berth across from you, openly masturbating while staring at you. His fist beat against the underside of the sheet he used for concealment, rapidly, like someone about to finish. You calmly reached into your bag and pulled out your tactical light. You clicked the button on the end like a sniper pulling a trigger, shot him with 220 lumens in the face. He grimaced, his hand stopped immediately, and he pretended to sleep. Then, after some seconds, he pretended to wake up and peer at you through little slits as though the light had disturbed him. He shifted to his side, never displaying anger or irritation, and covered his eyes. He stopped masturbating.

Zap!

2:15 – Drifted in and out of a very thin sleep. Lifted your head over and over and over again to verify that there was no station or platform out the window.

3:00 – Felt the train stop. You jumped down and went to the door, asked two men if it was Cancona station. They said no. You couldn’t believe it. Two and a half hours late! You went back to your berth, and a minute later one of the men found you and told you that the train had already passed Cancona.

You’re joking!” you said.

It passed before one hour.”

No…” you whined.

He asked if you were alone. Said that it would have been better to have had a friend with you, so that one of you could keep your eyes open for the station.

But I was watching almost the whole time. The strain stopped forever. There was no platform. There was…” were you crazy? “Where should I get off?”

You should have gotten off back there. It’s a main station, where you can easily get train to Canona.”

Well… it was already behind you. “How far am I away from Cancona?”

About 25 kilometers.”

It didn’t sound that far, but it was. Over one hour already! And you were still galloping in the wrong direction.

You can get off at the next station, hire a car, and drive to…” some place. “There, get train.”

You felt your emotions rising and collecting in your chest, your throat. You were furious. You had been so diligent, and yet the station had snuck past you. You wanted to cry. Instead, you grabbed your backpack and camped out next to the train’s door, ready to disembark the moment it stopped.

It ran for another 30 minutes, at high speeds—longer and faster than it had traveled in the preceding three hours. Of course it did. Goa was far behind you, and the train showed no sign of stopping.

You really wanted to cry. But maybe you were too dehydrated to make tears. Or maybe, maybe it was because you told yourself crying doesn’t change anything, Maria. True story. You tried everything in your power to stop obsessing over the mistake; it was in the past. All you could do now was move forward.

Maintaining positive self-talk at three o’clock in the morning is no easy feat. You tried to distract yourself by reading your book, but could only offer it half your attention.

Angry, angry, angry! Stupid, stupid! Fucking train. Piece of shit masturbator.

3:30 – The train stopped. The man found you again. You told him, “I’ll just hop on the next train heading in the opposite direction.”

He hesitated. “This station very small. Not a lot of trains. Better to hire a car.”

Should I keep riding until I get to a bigger station?” you demanded, not sure if you should leap onto the platform.

No. Get off here. No better station ahead.”

You did as instructed. Leaped down and found yourself in a little place called Kumta. Dark, underdeveloped. You went straight to the first railway worker you could find and demanded, “When is the next train to Cancona?”

Incredulous, “Cancona, that way.” Meaning, the train you just got off had passed it already.

No shit.

You tried not to slap him.

OF COURSE IT IS.”

Next train is at 10:30, Madam.”

You sighed and looked at your watch: 3:40am. “Of course it is.”

Seven goddamn hours…

3:50 – You appraised the room of waiting families, of homeless people, of pairs of men wrapped in blankets, shielding themselves from the overhead lights. You thought about all the train stations you’d seen in the middle of the night. How sleeping at the train station was considered perfectly common.

So you did. You found a nice spot under a display case and unpacked a couple pashminas for sheets, and used a bundle of clothes for your pillow. The locals watched you get situated, and you were unsure if they stared because you were white, or because you were white and preparing to sleep on the floor. You jammed some earplugs into your head and pulled your wool buff over your eyes and endured the sounds of children crying, shrieking, laughing, and stamping for over one hour until you drifted off.

You’re a little surprised with yourself. You recall long ago, in your early days of travel, trying to sleep on a wooden floor in a Berlin flat—and finding it impossibly uncomfortable. Perhaps 24 hours on a Gen Pop luggage rack made the cool, broad tiles of the train station feel like a luxury. Or maybe it’s just all the practice—the “you travel so damn much, anything is a bed at this point” syndrome: you’ve slept on floors, pads, futons, couches, beds, armchairs, rock faces, gravel, roots, branches… when you’re tired, you’re tired.

9:30 – So yeah: an unbelievably decent sleep, all things considered, barring that time around 7am when the mosquitoes found you. Oh yeah, and that occasional tap-tapping one your legs, which you’d mistaken for the tail of a wandering, mongrel puppy, but which was, in fact, the ceiling leaking on you. No matter.

Good morning.  You were the last person to wake up.

Good morning. You were the last person to wake up.

You packed your stuff, bought a few samosas from the canteen that had just opened its window over your head, and then inquired at the ticket window.

The train is one hour late,” said the clerk.

You were too numb to care. “Of course it is.”

You waited. Went back to the window fifteen minutes before your delayed train was supposed to arrive.

And?”

The man smiled apologetically, “Delayed now one hour and a half.”

Of course it is.”

SO PATIENT

12:30 – You finally got on the train. You knew that you are about 100km from Cancona. You were flabbergasted when you realized such a short distance took more than two hours. Local trains. Damn them. You realized that your mistake–your having missed your train stop–was an error costing 45 cents to correct (the cost of your return ticket), but one which cost you 14 hours of your life.

2:45 –  Arrived in Cancona.  Fought with rickshaw drivers over the price of a 3km lift. They wanted 100.

I’ll pay you 35,” you said.

The driver laughed in your face.

Fine,” you said, “I’ll walk.” Because you hadn’t walked in over 24 hours. Just sat and waited. Waited, waited, waited.

Oh, how India makes one patient.

And India allowed you to walk no more than 200 meters, before the very same rickshaw driver tracked you down and offered you a lift for 35.

 

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