MCLEOD GANJ, India // After 30 days in India our visa has run out and we fly to Nepal. India has been the biggest mix of emotions for us so far as it has seen some of the best and worst parts of our trip. It can be defined for me as a place where at first I questioned why we had come here, to a place where I didn’t want to leave and still wanted to explore. Despite the fact we were here 30 days, we didn’t even visit Kerala in the south, Calcutta and Varanasi in the east, or Mumbai and Goa in the west.
India was a place where I 'felt' more than I 'saw'. I had lots of experiences where I felt certain emotions that were absent from other parts of our trip due to the strange circumstances we found ourselves in. Each situation involved spending extra energy to seek out special things. We have noticed a big difference in entertainment when it comes to travel. This was more evident in India than I have felt anywhere else in the world. There is the concept of showing up in a destination and paying money to be entertained: (Hi, I’m here now, show me something that will impress me!) …and there is the concept of showing up to a place and seeking out fun things that are of distinct interest to you, that may not be fun to anyone else except you. This was multiplied exponentially in India.
The first 10 days were spent mostly in Rajasthan. When we were in Delhi planning our trip to Jaipur we decided on a homestay. After a long train trip we wanted to just lay on a hotel bed and put our feet up. Instead we got picked up by a local guy Sadik and brought to a house and spent the next 4 days in a bedroom in their home. We did yoga every morning with the mother and and her neighbors, we had home cooked meals from their housekeeper, and the father and son invited us to watch a cricket match with them in their living room as they explained the rules to us. Initially it felt uncomfortable to be picked up from the train station by a random guy and driven to a residential neighborhood, instead of being picked up by a taxi and driven to a popular hotel, but in the end it was totally worth the experience.
The next 10 days were spent in Rishikesh and mostly at a yoga ashram. The more we ended up talking to the other people, the more enjoyable our stay became. This was another situation where just like we felt on arriving in India, we questioned why we planned to stay here so long. As time progressed, it become more enjoyable and fun, which peaked the final day when we made friends with another couple traveling and one of the other guests had her boyfriend in town who played in a band. He was playing on the other side of town that night and she invited us to come and watch. It was already late when we decided to go and was raining. We were tempted to use this an excuse to stay in and go to sleep. We walked 20 minutes, the rain stopped, and the band was awesome. Before we knew it, the time was midnight and Jenny and I were singing and playing drums, and laughing with the friends we made. Once again, the energy to meet people and accept invitations proved to be a great choice, that could have alternatively been us pouting in the room for being bored or not having fun. Although at times we felt India was dirty and uncivilized, we had a choice to accept it, or to just be upset. The same happens with many bad situations in life, you have the choice to dwell in it, or the choice to make it better.
Day 20 through 30 was essentially spent in Mcleod Ganj in northern India, home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibet government in exile, as well as hundreds or thousands of Tibetan refugees. Here we opted for a nice hotel after the simple ashram which was welcomed by both of us. However, we spent a great deal of time everyday as volunteers teaching English. For the Tibetan refugees learning English is what the Dalai Lama told them to do in order to communicate with the rest of the world. Working or volunteering doesn’t always sound so fun on a trip or vacation, but deciding to allocate our time here could not have been a better choice. After a morning of researching and figuring out the best and most fun way to learn English, me and 3 monks: Sonam, Gilek, and Nawa sat in a circle and showed each other photos from our phones and explained in English as much as we could about the photo before we moved on to another. Afterwards I realized this was no different than me and friends in NYC sitting and showing each other our favorite photos, conversing and laughing. This daily project involved us brainstorming ways to teach English to these people, an hour of small group, and then Jenny and I talking about our experience having a chai tea on the neighboring rooftop. This once again took a great deal of energy, while the alternative could have been relaxing or enjoying ourselves in the city.
Looking back I’m grateful things turned out the way they did, and we made the choices we did. There is a quote from a backpacker novel / movie that has always stayed with me throughout all of my travels that I noticed was applicable to many distinct moments and choices that we were presented with in India.
“Never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite, and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts? You know what? It’s probably worth it.”