quickly. i have gone through the ups and down of travel and back again. this country is unexplainable. someone has said that india is like africa on steroids. i think it is like pieces of the entire world on crack, speed, and mostly, lsd. you can look at the same 10 square feet of space and see 1,000 things in 5 minutes. and the person standing next to you will see something completely different. you turn a corner and run into something you would never, ever expect to see. you meet other tourists and you share how relentless the harassment is, how you are getting ripped off every second, how shameful the poverty is, how terrible it is to be sick, how ungodly hot the temps reach, and how unsafe it is. then you immediately start to discuss plans for your next trip there.
it seems like all of sudden here, you just accept the madness and see the beauty. you have to. the make-shift barber stands on the urine-soaked streets of jaipur. the endless color that splashes everything: women wearing saris, street stands selling mounds of bright powdered dye, hindu cloths over doors, elephants' faces smeared with beautiful patterns for festivals, and the men's turbans that they tie skillfully and quickly around their heads after bathing in the blessed ghats. the way that you walk down the street and a festival just takes over with a marching band, decorated animals, fire torches, a huge flower filled monument to brahma atop a gigantic gold carriage, then followed by a man put-putting pulling a generator behind it all. the flowers. the way many children are loved by their parents. the way people dance. the music.
as i was taking a very dodgy bus to pushkar today, i was going through my head how i was going to fulfill my grand travel plans to all of the places i want to go to in india amidst bad trains, the extreme difficulty of booking tickets on anything, and the daunting reality traveling as a single woman. then a clear realization hit me. it doesn't really matter where i am in the country. it truly is an experience, as cliche as that sounds. and there will be billions in a day no matter where i am. then i stepped into a paradise. and even better yet, a man from our guesthouse picked us up from the bus station and drove us through it.
now it may be because i am traveling with a couple and am not fighting every battle on my own. and it may also be that this place is built for hippy tourists. but i have relaxed here and have seen some of the most amazing things in my life in just one afternoon. i took a yoga class, watched the sun set over a ghat where men were bathing and washing their very long and very bright turbans, gushed over the most intricately detailed sewn textiles, and ate at 2 beautiful rooftop terraces overlooking a lovely lake enjoying a sweet breeze after a morning crammed into 2 non-ac buses. this is supposedly a place where tourists come to take a break, and apparently india has been tough on the dread-toting israelis.
i'm just glad i can wear shorts here.
and to top it all off, i walked a good 3 minutes alone before someone harassed me. ok, maybe it was actually one minute, but it felt like an eternity. i also get the sense that the people here might actually feel bad if they killed you on the street with their autorickshaw or moto. at least they would turn around and check to see movement. i love the hospitality of pushkar. whenever i ask for anything, i am answered with a confident "why not?". food continues to be amazing, although i have to say that devon street has consistently proven to be on point. the only difference is that i have yet to have a mango lassi, but am offered every other fruit type lassi on menus. papaya ones are particularly lovely, but the lemon one is not worth repeating. i am collecting knowledge on many culinary goodies to benefit my friends in chicago on our beloved indian dining nights.
i am not immune to it all here. as seems to be the theme, i got a boob grab from a begging woman near a ghat today. and an old man whacked me on the shoulder after giving me the namaste hands. it's great to be a woman.
now i find it all the more befuddling that one of the biggest feminists i know in chicago is an indian man. and at the same time, it makes almost perfect sense to me. i really never thought it would be this bad. traveling with this new zealand doctor couple (who, by the way, are younger than me), particularly with the 6-foot plus man, has really shown me a different side of india. i am really left to hang to dry on my own. all of the travel advice from men or from women who have traveled with someone else is somewhat moot to me now. i simply don't have the same options to do some things on my own. i am hoping this will change and my experience will lighten. honestly, i just hope that more travel companions come my way as i'm sure they will. i also would love to share a room with someone as this would cut my expenses in half (many rooms are double occupancy) and add to my security.
i thought this whole traveling alone thing would be normalized once i got here. i thought i would find scores of people traveling alone. in fact the opposite is true. at my age, it feels as though everyone is coupling everywhere i go. in the year i left chicago, it seemed every independent soul had been paired by the time i was home. and that honestly never phased me as relationships tend to ground me and i want to make decisions based solely on myself right now. it took traveling to india to make a very small part of me crave the security of a pair. but at the same time, this is the most insane expression of my independence of my entire life. there was a shady bus transfer today that was eased completely by the presence of another person to watch bags as i squatted in the toilet or tried to interpret crazy hindu schedules and misinformation.
you know that if you jump on the wrong bus in a pair, you're in it with someone else. you don't have that luxury alone. and squatting over an indian bus station toilet with a 30 pound bag on your back is no picnic either. but i also know that if i had to that today alone, i could have. and it wouldn't have been as fun, and it certainly would not have felt like vacation, but i would have done it. because i would have to. and because i can. and that makes me feel pretty good right now. and feeling good amidst sexual harassment is not such a bad place to be.
i think it all comes down to one of the biggest surprises of this trip, for good and for bad. india has remained true to the past. this means i am immersed in a rich culture and completely other place where things exist entirely outside of a western persuasion. and that is exactly why i travel. i am disappointed when i fly 15 hours, get off the plane, and find people speaking english and sipping on starbucks. western influence exists, for sure, but on a much smaller scale that i would have imagined. so with the opportunity to experience something completely foreign and magical, i give up the comforts of the culture that is my own. india is stuck in the past. and i am not. and this is where the stories will stem.