Ladies and gents,
Sadly, our time with you has come to an end. Dayna and I have finally arrived in Canada after 6 incredible weeks in India. After leaving Rishikesh, we spent the rest of our time in the cooler Northern region of the country, among vast green mountains and heavy river rapids. I had a particular appreciation for the natural rivers after a month and a half of man-made ones (the kind dripping from my forehead).
Anyways, instead of boring you with the details of our last couple of weeks in India, I thought I'd give you a reflection of our trip. First of all, I can't talk about India without discussing the food. We initially took all the health precautions one could possibly take, but eventually loosened up (figuratively...and eventually literally). We went from dousing ourselves in purell and refusing to touch street food with a ten foot pole to regarding a man sitting on the ground in a loincloth who serves chana masala and gulab jamin by scooping it up with his hands and placing it into a soggy leaf as an acceptable eatery. Alright, I’ll admit that I took a few too many risks with my food choices, but some the best Indian food came from places that would fail to meet a single health standard in Canada. As we traveled around India I really enjoyed trying all of the different cuisines that were specific to their regions. Although I loved the food in the north, I must say that the south was the only place where the food actually brought tears to my eyes. The food was delicious but incredibly spicy! I'm sorry to take sides in the north vs south rivalry, but the north really disappointed me with their spice. And as a white ashkenazi woman that says a lot.
Anyways, it was interesting to see the way that Indian culture varied among different regions and the ways in which some regions interacted with American culture. In the north, it was clear to us that many cities were much more influenced by their exposure to American culture than others. In these places, seeing a woman wearing pants on the street wasn't necessarily a spectacle, whereas in the south, absolutely everyone we saw wore the traditional Indian garb. The women wore either saris or silwars (a 3-piece suit consisting of a tunic, pants, and a scarf) while the men either wore standard pants or loincloths. On a side note, what remained a mystery to me was how the women wearing saris/silwars were able to remain so beautiful in such ungodly heat. The men in the south had it pretty good in their airy loincloths, while the women were forced to shvitz up a storm in their conservative attire. I'm sorry India, I was pretty accepting of your customs, but this social injustice I could not stand for. Maybe I was just bitter that I wasn't afforded the same airy comforts as the men, or perhaps it was my intuition as a recent liberal arts graduate with a degree in kvetching. Either way, I felt it was my duty to speak out. If only I had more than a week in the south, I could have had time to establish WFLE (Women For Loincloth Equality), but sadly, one week was not enough to become the next Bhakti Freidan.
Even though we saw how drastically Indian culture differed between regions, there's one thing that remained consistent: the universal rejection of toilet paper as a wiping option (Random tip: NEVER shake anyone's left hand).
But in all seriousness, one thing that seemed fixed along all regions was the kindness and warmth that we felt from locals all over the country. Right now Dayna and I would probably be mangy rotting corpses in the middle of Connaught Place if it had not been for the help of many kind-hearted people that we met along the way. Of course I'm not overlooking the many times we were taken advantage of as naive tourists, but considering that we were in a country of more than 1 billion people, where poverty is widespread, the compassion and generosity that we so often encountered was admirable. One particular instance was en-route to Rishikesh from Varanasi. Dayna and I had booked separate trains and while Dayna's train brought her straight to our destination, my train arrived in a connecting city called Moradabad where I also had to take a local bus at night. On the train I met the only person in my car that spoke more than 2 words of English. Although he couldn’t speak English fluently, he knew enough to keep me entertained on such a long train ride. When we arrived in Moradabad he insisted on buying me food, bringing me by rickshaw to the bus station, and speaking directly to the bus driver to ensure that I was safe on the bus. I was shocked to encounter a person who naturally treated a complete stranger as a close friend. I think I was just particularly amazed coming from the agoraphobic country of Canada, where an accidental brush of a stranger's hand warrants an apology and where looking at a stranger in the eye is considered a federal offense. Both of us were amazed to meet people who were quick to warm up to us. In fact, we received a combined total of 3 marriage proposals on this trip. Maybe our Hindu suitors wouldn't have been so rash with their offers had they known that I'm Jewish and that my dad doesn't have 3 cows to give as a dowry (Unless we're talking about the frozen burgers in my freezer).
Speaking of cows, we can't forget our many "out-of-body" experiences in public transit where we transformed ourselves from members of the tribe to members of a herd of cattle. I warned you a few blogs ago that Dayna and I became a force to be reckoned with in the rowdy swarms of people vying for a seat. However, on the third last day of our trip, I came to an important realization as a result of another "out-of-body" experience, this time as I was transformed into an inanimate object. I realized that getting a seat on a crowded bus is not necessarily an advantage. After fending off my opponents who unsuccessfully attempted to push, body check and choke their way in front of me, I managed to get a seat beside a nice elderly lady. My victory, however, was short lived. Soon after, I realized that getting a seat doesn't necessarily result in increased comfort. Rather, it means making new meaning of the phrase "You are what you [s]eat". In addition to being awarded a seat, I was awarded the opportunity to serve as a seat for another passenger, who was well informed of the unwritten rule in India that laps are public property.
We tried just about every mode of transportation: motorcycle, bus, rickshaw, and train, and I must say that my personal favorite was in the back of a pickup truck on top of chicken crates. Even though we didn't have the forethought to reserve our seat in the A/C sleeper class, I think the 0 rupees that we invested were well spent.
Alright, I think I've abused my writing privileges long enough. Thanks so much for following us on our adventures. Our trip to India has been out of this world. We've had our fair share of highs and lows, and have made some unbelievable memories along the way. We hope you've enjoyed sharing in our experiences. If you didn't enjoy yourself, don't worry, our tireless efforts have not been in vain. At least you helped us engage in every Jewish woman's dream: lengthy, self-indulgent rants about ourselves. So, thank YOU!