"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I accompanied Wayne and Nicole to the train for an ultra-quick sightseeing adventure. We took sleeper class for the first time, which I didn’t find much different from 2 or 3 AC, apart from the fact that people were infinitely more curious about us. I arrived at my berth the second night to a family of 8 who watched me like television. They were quite entertained when, climbing to my upper bunk, I lost balance and catapulted over the side, smashing my breast bone into the side and landing in their laps. It was a definite Bobbie moment.
After a breakfast I never grow sick of—samosas and chai from train vendors—we headed for the Taj Mahal. We had four hours in Agra, which, minus train station, rickshaw, lunch, and queing up to get in, translated to about half an hour at the imposing world wonder. What a sweet half hour it was, too! The Taj Mahal shimmers in the light, and is so bright that, without sunglasses, it's difficult to look at directly. Though it appears to be all white at first glance, there are intricate designs throughout. I’m not doing it justice, so I’ll just concede that the monument to love is, as they say, indescribable.

There were many people eager to get a picture with me (even more with Nicky, for her red hair); white skin makes one a celebrity in certain places, which, having grown up in the West, feels strange and a bit discomfiting. I imagine it's how people must feel when I want a picture of them for their colorful saris and bracelets, so I try to smile with as little awkwardness as possible for the women. The men make me more uncomfortable.
After Agra, we headed to Amritsar, where every moment was notable for the overwhelming kindness and inclusiveness displayed by the Sikh community. On my way into the stunning Golden Temple, a man offered to show me around and explain the ceremonies and construction. The entire sight, inside and out, is covered in gold leaf, and the singing you hear from outside is live, all the time. A man named Rohit stopped us on the street to offer his help, and we ended up sipping the tastiest lassis with him. We also received everything for free—from a room at the Golden Temple to meals at the incredibly efficient 24-hour kitchen, which runs on volunteers and donations, and feeds up to 100,000 people a day. We took a turn at the sewa (selfless service) as well: Nicole helped make chapatti, and Laura from England and I chopped veggies on our last day.

In the evening of my second day, I rode 20 kilometers to the India/Pakistan border in a death-defying van ride (seriously the most terrifying driving I’ve yet experienced—which is really saying something, in India). What an experience! Every day at 5pm, the guards on both sides perform a dramatic border-closing ritual. As tensions between the two countries have grown, this ceremony has expanded to become a sort of dance off a la “Honey” (yes, I did just reference a Jessica Alba movie), and the daily audience grew enough that they installed bleachers. Beyond the lively, crowd-inclusive dancing (taken from the latest popular Bollywood films), women lined up to run with the Indian flag down the street toward Pakistan, there were call-and-response cheers, and the impressively-uniformed guards flamboyantly high-kicked with solemn purpose toward the gate. Through all of it, of course, the crowd went wild.

After many dosas, ice creams, and package shipping together (you have to have packages sewn up by a tailor in order to mail them), Wayne and Nicky took off for Delhi, and I packed my bags for Dharamasala.


  1. Holy crap, the India/Pakistan dance-off sounds unreal.

  2. Haha, it really was. The Pakistani side was admittedly pretty thin on audience members compared to the Indian side--but those who showed up had HEART!