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Ah, finally a beautiful change of scenery! I left Rishikesh last night and took an overnight train north. My train was scheduled for a 4:20 departure and I was staying an hour away from the station, but I left at 1:30pm to account for cow and stray dog sort of traffic. When I got there, I found that my train was delayed an hour, so I had a few hours wait ahead of me. India train stations are not the sort of place you can grab a coffee and chill. Locals lay down on the dirty platform ground and wait hours for their trains to come. Fortunately I had a yoga mat and a bench to make my wait more comfortable. This however, didn’t help with the ample stares and glares from the local folks.
I ended up chatting with a few local guys that spoke English. We compared notes on yoga, good places to visit in India, and what the average salary for tech workers was in Silicon Valley. Needless to say, they could retire themselves and their extended families on 1 year of salary from the US.
My train ride was a drama. I’ve taken overnight trains in Vietnam and Thailand, but neither prepared me for the barebones service of India’s railway system. My car was an a/c sleeper, so the highest class. I boarded at 6pm, and accepted the hellacious train meal which I ate 2 bites of before I thought better of preserving my digestive health. I left the meal for a porter to pick up (sounds reasonable right?). When the porter came by, he shouted something at me in Hindi which from my face he could see I clearly didn’t understand. Then my seating neighbor who loved to stare at me repeated the porter’s request in Hindi. Clearly, this didn’t improve the clarity of their request. Finally someone who could translate told me that the porter wanted me to dispose of my meal. Gladly, I cooperated and took my garbage to the back of the train car. I asked another porter where I could toss the uneaten food and tin foil plate and he pointed at the open door of the moving train. I looked at him as though he were nuts before he grabbed the plate from my hands and tossed it out the door for me. No wonder India has a garbage problem.
My head froze that night on the upper bed of my sleeper car as the air con blew directly on my face the whole night. If you know me, you know I hate to be cold, so this wasn’t a happy moment. I’m also a foot taller than the average Indian, so my feet hung over the bed as I tried best I could to maximize coverage of the 1 skanky blanket I was given. My sheets came to me with blood stains dirt marks that made laying on them a strategic game of “miss the nasty spot”.
There is no station call when you show up at a station. Had my garbage-translator friend poked me at 3am to tell me we had arrived at chekki bank station, I’m sure I would have slept all the way to the Pakistan boarder if it weren’t for his kindness. The stations don’t have names and one cement platform centered in a field, looks like the next.
When I got there, I was invited by a few other western travelers to share a rickshaw to the bus station. The bus station was 4KM away, and then another hour wait until the first bus left for daramshala. They started haggling for 15 ruppee rides to the bus station which is about 30 cents US, to take a 30 ruppee bus for 2 hours in the middle of the night with the locals and the chickens. I opted for a private car for 200 ruppees which is the cost of a vente soy chai latte. What the heck, I felt like treating myself. That said, the ride took about an hour and a half over some crazy terrain and up some steep mountains to get to the final destination. It was just me and this Indian man who was driving. He could have taken me anywhere into the woods, but I took solace in the fact that I was twice his size, so I could probably take him if I had to. But like pretty much all Indian folks, he was pleasant, peaceful and kind.
I arrived at my hotel just before 5am and rang the door bell for what seemed like hours. I was frozen from my train and car ride. The owner came down in his jammies, didn’t even confirm who I was, took my bag and asked me to follow him to the roof of the hotel. There on the roof top I wondered where the heck he was taking me. He opened the door to this little hut and with a huge flash light, showed me inside. This was my room for the night as my reserved room wouldn’t be ready till the next afternoon. The electricity was out so he left me with the flashlight and no heat. I just crawled into bed in my clothes and passed out.
I woke up at 10am and looked out the window. I was on the cliff of a mountain staring down at the Himalayan expanse. It was AMAZING. I spent the morning walking about Mcloud ganj. It’s primarily made up of displaced Tibetans, and the pace is much slower than rishikesh. Snow covered mountain tops poking into the clouds was the backdrop for my lunch, and afternoon semi private yoga session. I’ve fallen in love with this little piece of heaven and even my roof top cottage for 1 which I’ve opted to keep instead of a normal room. From the moment I woke up this morning to the sound of monks chanting, I could tell this is going to be an amazing stay.
So tonight I watched a peaceful candlelight vigil hosted by the locals and saffron robed monks. They walked up the streets of the small village with their candles making a gentle statement about their plea for peace. I support their cause fully.
Tomorrow, I’m off to see where the Dali Lama lives (in the temple just 1 Km up the road from my hotel) and then another morning yoga class. Tomorrow afternoon I start my 3 day cooking class in India cuisine, so I hope to be a pro Indian cook by the time I head back to the west.
For now, I’m off to my rooftop cottage to read and sleep.
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