Home Sweet Home?

Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, IndiaI miss India.

I’ve been home for less than twelve hours, and let me tell you, it feels fuckin’ weird. Let me back up first though, because there was a lot in the last few days of the trip that I’d love to recount.

So, Ladakh was the shit, totally one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been, in so many ways. And it was kind of cool being in a smaller group (though I definitely missed the others) b/c we got to meet up and travel with other people traveling from other countries, like Erez from Israel who was hilarious and loud and talked a bit like Borat and wore these lime green pants all the time and was always making dirty jokes. The pronunciation lesson I couldn’t share on the group blog (see link in previous post) was the difference between “fact” and “fucked.” It was awesome.

On another funny note, we traveled with a German woman named Astrid who told us about some sex ashram in Pune called the Osho ashram (and strangely enough, I used to have an Osho tarot deck, which wasn’t at all a sex oriented deck, unfortunately), and Desmond was having her translate Rammstein (a German metal band) lyrics, which was hysterical, b/c she had headphones in, so was talking really loud in the back of the jeep, on our way through Nubra Valley, yelling out translations like, “I don’t want to masturbate!” and a whole slew of other crazy lyrics.

We also traveled with Ambre from France, and it was really fun sharing a room with her. She really bonded with Karen, and might actually end up working on an art abroad project with her.

I was not overstating in that last post about the military presence in Ladakh – it was everywhere. The first night in Hundar (in the Nubra Valley) the only place to eat at all was some army “restaurant.” And there were Indian army vehicles everywhere. Coming back from the Valley, we had to cross the pass by a certain time b/c after that it was all the green army trucks. One of the days that we were in the Valley we heard something that really sounded like gunfire, though we never heard anything about it on the news or from our host family back in Leh. Our host said she thought maybe what we’d heard was from within Pakistan but I don’t think we were really close enough. Who knows? Anyway Ben tried to tell me when we were hearing the gunfire, that it was nuclear war, and then he and Desmond made fun of me for how much I would freak out if it really was (who wouldn’t???). Even in the city of Leh, walking around, you’d see tons of military dudes. I guess that is what happens when you are traveling within Kashmir.

I also definitely didn’t overstate the amazingness of Ladakh – just wait until I figure out how to load pictures onto the computer. I took over 600 on the trip and I think over 100 of those were from the nine days in Ladakh. I’m definitely going back someday, and also want to explore other areas of India as well, like Kerala and other parts of the southern regions.

So we flew from Leh back to Delhi and then took a train to Agra to meet the other half of our group and see the Taj Mahal, which like a lot of things in India, has lots of pot plants growing right around it. Okay I have to say, I was not that impressed by the Taj – it doesn’t BEGIN to compare to the awesomeness of the Golden Temple, in looks, vibe, people, anything. And I didn’t like Agra. I don’t think there is any other city in India I can say that about, but omg we got hassled there way more than anywhere else. It felt like we got swamped anytime we ventured outside, just hounded left and right. And at one point, I was walking with Karen and Andrew to go to some sunset boat ride by the Taj which we never actually did and some monkey kept coming at us, mostly at Karen (it seemed to be reacting to her camera or something), which was pretty scary for a moment there.

I got my hair cut a final time in Agra, the shortest cut yet, almost a bob. I am loving it. It feels so different.

Then we took an “express train” back to Delhi, and we got some other sort of tickets, last minute, like standby tickets, which basically meant we could ride the train but had no assigned seats. So all those other times we took trains where random people would be sitting in our seats and we had to ask them to move, well this time we were those people. So a lot of us ended up having to get out of the seats we found and standing or cramming into seats. And to make it that much more pleasant, the train barely moved for the first, oh I don’t know, four hours maybe (the whole trip was supposed to be three), just inched along. We got in sooooo late back to our home base in Delhi, the Shelton. The next morning, Willa and I were so conked out it took us like half an hour to realize our leaders were knocking on our door to wake us up.

Then began all the ending stuff that goes along with a trip like this. We each had a closing meeting with each of the leaders, which made me a little nervous, but actually both went really well. Karen told me she felt like I was the glue that held the group together, and we talked a lot about different parts of the trip, especially the trek, which felt like a real turning point in the trip for me. I think it was after that that I stopped wanting to go home. Andrew told me he was sure I would have been fine traveling in India by myself if I had decided to stay longer. That was cool to hear, b/c there’s still that part of me that has doubts.

That night we had our last dinner, a fancy dinner in a rotating restaurant on the 24th floor of a building. It was cool. Since it was the last night, and no one could get in trouble for breaking the “group agreements” we (almost) all ordered drinks. I walked into a glass wall on our way out which everyone said is because I was tipsy but I’ve done that sober, and think it’s more a vision thing. This was definitely not the first time I drank in India. There were a few “cultural exchange” instances when we were allowed to drink, like when we were on the trek and the villagers served us millet beer and rice wine, or when I kind of accidentally ended up going to dinner with Des and Andrew to the house of Mr. Sikkim, where we were also served millet beer, which I think actually tastes great and wish I could have some right now. Something about it was earthy and hearty. And then I got drunk twice in ways that weren’t allowed – I went to a bar with a group member in Darjeeling (my idea) and got drunk with three others one night in McLeod Ganj, like obnoxiously obviously drunk, right before one of the leaders was coming over to have dinner with my homestay family! It was a close call, but somehow, to the amazement to everyone in the group who saw me wasted, rallied myself and played sober and pulled it off. It was incredibly fun, and I think part of it was b/c the experience was so rare. In the end of the trip, we all fessed up to whatever we had done during the trip, which was fun too.

Speaking of debauchery, during our last day, we were leaving at night, so in the afternoon were having a group meeting on the roof of our hotel, where there’s a restaurant, and most of the group members, myself included ordered the infamous bhang lassi – how can you leave India not at least having that experience? So we ordered “magic lassi” and mine was especially loaded. It still sort of blows my mind that we could just order it like that, that it was on the menu, and that it cost about $1.20. Only in India. So yeah, we were riiiiiidiculous. I was still feeling it when we got on the plane, like eight hours later. And let me say, there is something to be said about flying while high, most pleasant plane experience in my life.

We said goodbye to Karen outside the Shelton Hotel, as she’s staying to travel further, and is probably in Nepal with her boyfriend right now, doing some awesome trekking. I slept through the first flight (to Hong Kong) completely (that magic lassi did the trick), and then when we got to the HK airport, we found a spot and all conked out. I passed out on the floor for hours. Then we drank champagne, ate lunch (time was just sooooo fucked at that point it was pretty much irrelevant), and boarded our cross-Pacific flight. That’s when I started to get really sad about saying goodbye and leaving India. I watched The Reader, Revolutionary Road and Slumdog Millionaire (finally) on the way home. Graham and I sync’d it so we were watching Slumdog exactly together on our personal screens. It made me miss India terribly, just seeing the trains and the people and the images of India.

At SFO, we started to trickle out one by one, Hilary and I being the last to leave. I had to get a hotel room b/c my flight was early morning and they wouldn’t let me check in during the evening (I’d planned on sleeping at the airport) so Hill and I hung out and raved over the pleasures of using a REAL western toilet with toilet paper and other modern conveniences, and the whole room felt so luxurious it was almost disorienting. After Hilary left, I passed out, at like six in the evening, woke up four hours later, slept for a while later and then slept another few hours. I took a bath and felt the cleanest I had in three months (bucket showers and quick showers in freezing water, or hot water that could turn ice cold at any moment, just aren’t the same). And oh yeah, drank some tap water, which felt really weird after being so vigilant about not getting tap water in me under any circumstances. It was nice to not be thinking about giardia (sp?) or dysentery.

I woke up at some point during that night, feeling really sad and out of place to be back in America, and really wishing I was still in India. The chaos starts to make sense after awhile, and I have definitely been having some reverse culture shock.

This morning I got up early, went to the airport, flew to Seattle and back to Orcas. The lovely Jan picked me up at the airport. It feels so surreal to be back. My apartment is so tidy and wonderful and welcoming and the island was a really welcome sight – just the amount of trees and greenery was a comfort to my soul. Still it just feels so weird. I mean in one sense it feels like I never left, like the whole trip to India was just a dream. I’m coming back to the same place, which looks the same, with the same people, listening to the same music, and on and on. On the other hand, nothing is the same. I have more to say about all of this, but it’s getting late and I want to get on a semi-normal sleep schedule.

~EJ

Currently Listening:
“A Bitter Song” – Butterfly Boucher – I had this song stuck in my head a LOT during my trip, it was a random song that consistently I’d find myself absently singing, and once I had a dream about it.

All I need is a bitter song
To make me better
Much better
All I need to write is a bitter song
To make me better
Much better

It found me to hold me
But I don’t like it at all
Won’t feed it,
Won’t grow it
It’s folded in my stomach;
It’s not fair,
I found love;
It made me say that.
Get back,
You’ll never see daylight;
If I’m not strong it just might.

All I need is a bitter song
To make me better
Much better
All I need to write is a bitter song
To make me better
I feel better
I feel better

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One thought on “Home Sweet Home?

  1. Hold tight to those memories as the disorientation fades, Chrys. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime (or at least one of them!) and I’m so glad you went. It’s been absolutely amazing just following all of blog posts from you and the group, I can’t even begin to imagine how incredible it was to actually be there!Get somebody to help you with those pictures, woman, I wanna see! ;)

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