That was pretty much the motto of our trip to Rishikesh. Every time some unfortunate fate would befall us, we had to suck it up and say “It builds character!”
Our train was an overnight one and we were in “sleeper class”, which we thought would be like bedrooms with doors that closed. We were quite wrong. Getting rickshaws to the train station involved running across the highway in front of the complex, screaming as a bike came from the other direction, thereby halting our straight shoot across the road. After surviving that, the rickshaw driver let us off on the wrong side of another insanely busy road, in a large group of leering men who were making icky comments to us. There was not a single woman anywhere near us. We managed to run across that road and then it took us awhile to find Ray, Shannon and Sam in the massive crowds. But it built character! We got to the platform and there were more men leering at us. Luckily Ray was there to protect us – it’s sad that even a group of 5 women can’t travel alone and feel safe. The train itself looked literally like a prison. It built character! So did the mice running around by our feet. Two creepy men tried to come to our compartment and claim that these were their seats, trying to wedge in between our group of young women. They gave up after we were very firm with them, and another man shooed them. I have a solar backpack (thanks Ming!) and Ray said “Hey, we should attach a taser to that!” I nearly peed my pants. The train ride itself was fine, I didn’t sleep but was also not sexually harassed while I tried to sleep so it was a blessing. When we got to Hardiwar, a group of taxi people swarmed us, trying to get us to go in their cars and charging ridiculous prices. We decided to be cheap and fit 6 of us plus the driver into a standard sedan. Annica, being the smallest, was literally sitting on the gearshift. She had to lean over each time the driver needed to shift.
We got to Rishikesh and set off for our hotel. This woman opened the door and it was her house. Her family was in various states of undress and the whole place smelled like milk. She showed us our room which was covered in cigarette ashes and butts, water bottles all over the floor, and the bed was rumpled and blankets were strewn all over. We asked her if she could change the sheets, and she took them off the bed, shook them out, and put the same ones back on, leaving the blankets rumpled in 2 piles at the foot of the bed. The hotel built our character as well! But for $2 each it was so worth it… there are worse things than dirty sheets, and we survived.
We found a yummy coffee shop for breakfast (where I ate yak cheese! tastes a bit like parmesan.) and started to perk up. We decided to go hiking in the Himalayas. On the walk to the taxi place, Sam was charged by a bull with the smallest horns ever. We were hysterical, it was so funny and she ran from the cows for the rest of the trip. We found an auto-rickshaw to take us up part of the mountain, and we thought we’d be climbing down. The auto-rickshaw built character as it careened dangerously close to the edges of huge cliffs, swerving to avoid other cars coming head-on as well. We were gripping the edges with white knuckles. Poor Mary who’s afraid of heights looked like she’d pass out. The hike was hot as heck but sooo beautiful. We could see snow-capped peaks in the distance, it was amazing. There were gangs of monkeys EVERYWHERE. They’d stare us down and bare their teeth sometimes. Scary! Luckily we avoided a character-building monkey attack and just got to enjoy the beauty. 3 hours later we made it back to Rishikesh were we had an amazing and amazingly cheap lunch. The entire town is vegetarian, so I was in heaven. I got a thali which had red beans, daal, a potato and pea dish, rice, yogurt, pickles, 4 chapati and one papadum for 35 rupees, aka less than a dollar. It was so good! The rest of the afternoon I was feeling tired and down. It’s hard to do so much hiking on zero sleep! I was feeling really homesick and like I didn’t want to be in India anymore.
Dinner helped cure this. We went to a place that had a menu with all different cuisines on it, horribly misspelled. Anyone who knows me well knows that creative spelling is the way to my funny bone, so I was just in hysterics over the menu. The best part? Under “Maxican” food, “QUESADILATES”. I ended up ordering some “quesaendillas”, the dinner-size portion of quesadilates, and they were so delicious. Weird, but good. The beans had some kind of cinnamon taste, the filling had cucumber in it and I think the rice was middle-eastern, but they somehow worked. On the bill, my entrée was listed as “QUDILAETAS”. Creative spelling is my favorite thing ever. Mary, my dear, you know how much I thought of you! And the great Claudia Kishi.
After dinner we bought some gypsy cards that had gypsy vans on the back of them and were made out of some kind of paper. We played spoons, which I was not very good at but I had a great time anyway. The hotel, for all its uncleanliness, had a gorgeous terrace outside the rooms where we could sit at a table and overlook the town, the Ganges and mountains. It was tranquil and the view was stunning. I slept really well that night, even on a rock-hard dirty bed.
The next day was much better. Much less character building, but much more fun. We had another yummy German coffee shop breakfast, where I had delicious fruit porridge and coffee, and then we had a 2-hour yoga class in a glass-enclosed yoga studio overlooking all of the natural beauty. All of my yoga-doing friends, I was thinking of you! It was good for us after our hike to be stretched out. It was my first actual yoga class and I think I’d like to take more. My hyper-flexible, loose body is good for yoga. It was not good for coming down the mountain, as my ankles kept rolling and I skidded a whole bunch of times. But yoga was lovely.
Rishikesh is a holy town and there are yoga studios everywhere, as well as temples and massage places. It is full of what you’d probably consider to be aging hippies, from England, Israel and a few from the US. They wear Indian clothes and take yoga and meditate and drink tea. It was good because we were not the first westerners the townspeople had seen, and therefore we were not gawked at or harassed. It was so good to see kindness from people and know they were being nice for the sake of being nice, not to get something from us. Restored my faith in humanity a bit! It was such a beautiful, peaceful town, great people, plentiful, healthy, cheap food, all kinds of cool animals everywhere (be on the lookout for my monkey pictures). Next time I would not take the overnight train, but I don’t regret anything else. I think the unpleasant experiences really did build character! It’s important to get outside of one’s comfort zone, and coming back to Delhi I feel stronger and ready to face more challenges. (And as a bonus – total cost for the entire weekend; hotel, food, transportation, entertainment? Less than $30!)
Not TOO much to report since I’ve been back. All the kids at the orphanage are sick, they all have fevers. I’m trying not to touch my nose, mouth or eyes until after I’ve left and Purell-ed like crazy. It was cute though, I got to take the bigger kids into another room to do some coloring. The nuns were the anti-IPS – making the kids color a flower with everything the right color. I was sitting with Mahima and I let her scribble all over hers, as a show of IPS loyalty! Today I washed the red shirt Pinki threw up on and dyed my other clothes orange. Waah. Yesterday’s tour of religious sites was amazing, and today we had a lecture on religion. Still having a great time with the friends I’ve made here, still loving Indian food. Overall it’s been great so far. My disposable camera is currently being developed and put on CD, so hopefully I’ll have Rishikesh pictures to post soon.
PS: Jodi and Sydney! I miss you! I had a dream that you moved to the financial district.. odd! Dina and the boys, I had a dream about you too.. I guess I miss my sweet, normal kids at home!