Dussehra Travels

My whirlwind tour of the Northeast has come to an end and I am back in Delhi.

How was the trip?  Overall, I would not relive the experience, but I would gladly go back to Meghalaya and Sikkim (definitely Sikkim).  Assam produced two bad experiences so I have no desire to go back there.  I will explain.

Initially I was fine going to just Sikkim because that is where I wanted to go because 1) It is really cold there; and 2) I wanted to look for specific bangles there for my mom (which I found).  A — my friend that took me to the Valley of Flowers — threw Meghalaya and Assam into the mix.  When I asked him about the plans, he sent me a cheeky photo that said “the best travels are not planned” or something to that effect.  I thought that’s what it was — that he was being cheeky.  He wasn’t.  Aside from Kaziranga on the first day, we had no plans.  And even that didn’t go through — as soon as we arrived in Guwahati, his friend in Shillong called and said to do Shillong and Cherapunji first because of one reason or another, so we headed for Shillong as soon as we landed.  Did we have plans there?  No.  A kept asking me, “So what do you want to do?” and I kept saying “I don’t know, I’m not the one who planned this part of the trip.”  I just wanted to see the root bridges.  The first day, we took his friend’s motorcycle and went out to Cherapunji with no plans.  We passed Elephant Falls which I wanted to go to, but he said his friend said we could do that on the way back.  “Okay,” I said. We didn’t make it to Elephant Falls because we didn’t head back to Shillong until about 5:00pm after aimlessly driving around trying to find things to do.  We eventually saw Arwah caves (which was a 4/10 at best) and Nohkalikai Falls (which was probably a 3/10).  Needless to say, I was already in a sour mood.  On the second day, we got a cab and did the root bridge (though not the one in Cherapunji), a village, and Dawki Lake.  Dawki was nice but since it had rained, the water wasn’t translucent which is why A picked the lake to begin with.  Later that night upon returning to Shillong, his friend took us to his friend’s house where we danced and sang — that was probably the best part.  But A was the only one who sat out.

After Meghalaya, we passed through Assam again and wasted a day trying to find things to do around Guwahati.  The taxi driver said he would take us to a waterfall and ended up taking us to a waterpark.  Did we have swimming attire?  No.  So we had him take us out of the parking lot.  We went to a Balaji Temple, then stopped by a small dock to take a boat out to a small island to see another temple.  I think that afternoon we took an overnight bus to Darjeeling.

We arrived in Darjeeling at about 6am — after a three-hour ride from Siliguri — and wandered around looking for a hotel.  Another thing I love, just love about A (can you hear the sarcasm?) is that he doesn’t book hotels ahead of time — he’ll wait until we’re there and then look for one.  Not smart.  We finally found one, and it was a crappy room for 1,700.  It smelled like wet cloth and mold.  The only plus was that I was able to get hot water for my shower.  A doesn’t get why I need to take a shower every day “even in the mountains” because it’s “so cold” up there.  I’ll complain more about this thought process later.  After a short nap, we woke up at 12:00pm and again, A said “What do you want to do?” and I said, “I don’t know, because you picked Darjeeling too.  I said we could have bypassed it but you wanted to come here.”  He was a bit taken aback by this statement since I was so soft-spoken the two other times we had spent time together (each about four days in length) but this is what happens when someone irritates me.  Anyway, we wandered around outside and first ate.  After, he asked again: “What do you want to do?” to which I said, “I already said I don’t know.  You choose since you picked Darjeeling.”  We eventually got a taxi and went to the zoo.  After the zoo, we went to a tea estate where I bought eight bags of green tea for people back home.  After that, since he had seen a rock climbing set up on the way to the tea estate, and since he is into mountaineering and such, A wanted to stop there.  He paid Rs. 100 (I think) to scale a rock in about thirty seconds, take photos of the view, and come back down.  When he arrived at the bottom, he said “I thought it would have been more fun” and I said, “It’s a tourist set up, of course it won’t be intense.”  We left Darjeeling for Sikkim that evening.

By some miracle, A had a friend book a hotel in Gangtok so we were set up that evening.  The next day we had planned Tsomgo and another lake but right as we were leaving, we were informed that in order for a foreigner to go to Tsomgo, they needed to be with at least another foreigner.  That didn’t (and doesn’t) make sense to me because I’m not sure why you would want more foreigners in a border area.  Since that plan was shot, the taxi driver that brought us to Sikkim ended up taking us to small waterfall (Lhasa) and Rumtek monastery.  The second day in Sikkim, we again had no plans.  A kept dogging me about it, asking “What do you want to do?” and I said, “You know, I told you to plan and you didn’t.  And now we have no plans.  I’m honestly fine staying in the hotel and reading my book and relaxing.  I wanted to come to Sikkim for the bangles and to relax, and I’m fine doing that.”  And he retorted, in some astonishment, “All day?” and I said, “Yes.  All day.  I’m fine doing that all day.  Sikkim is the place I actually wanted to go to.  I wanted to come here — Sikkim was my main destination.  You picked Darjeeling, Meghalaya, and Assam without plans, not me.  I’m in Sikkim to relax.”  After walking around Gangtok a bit more and finally finding the bangle for my mom (a bangle of various metals roped together, with silver dragon heads at the end – my host mom told me it’s a Sikkim speciality) he asked me again, “What do you want to do now that you have the bangle?” and I said “I’m fine relaxing, I said that already” and I just stood there staring off.  He went off to a tourist office to find things to do, and just then a man crept around my shoulder (not creepy like I’m making it sound) and said, “Kahan ja rahi hai?” and I said, “Uh…” and right then, A came back and decided we’d go to South Sikkim.  They (the man who approached me, and his two companions – a man and woman) were going to West Sikkim and offered to take us for only Rs. 500.  We ended up going all the way to West Sikkim with them, and on the way stopped at another tea estate.  They were all Nepali and ended up being my favorite people we had encountered.  The woman was particularly sweet and we ended up exchanging numbers and taking countless selfies (I’m surprised that the selfie culture is bigger here than in the US!).  We made one stop in South Sikkim and it happened to be the place I wanted to visit: Tathagata Tsal.  We reached Pelling at about 7:30pm or so and had dinner near the hotel.  A drinks regularly and had a bottle of whisky in his jacket which he needed to drink outside of the main restaurant and at the bar on the deck; to this, the woman (N), said “Do you drink?” and I said “Very rarely, usually only on special occasions” and she said, “Drinking is very bad!  No?  I think A is drinking outside” and I found that very cute and endearing for some reason.

Pelling was my favorite part of the trip.  It wasn’t A’s cup of tea since it was mine — relaxing.  The night we arrived, I asked a hotel employee, “Garami pani hai?  Shower ke liye?”  He smiled a lot and said yes, and I thought it was because he and N were talking about how surprising it was that I knew Hindi, considering I was from America and not Nagaland as they had both thought upon meeting me.  Later that night, I had issues with my tv so the same guy came up (“B,” from now on).  As he fixed my tv,  he asked how I was liking Sikkim and I said I absolutely loved it (I did and do).  He eventually said, “You should stay.  You should marry someone in Sikkim in stay!” and I was like “I wish I could!”  The next morning, I went looking for breakfast and B walked me to a restaurant where I gorged on four slices of toast, a masala omelette, and chai.  After that, A asked if I wanted to eat and I spitefully said I had already eaten.  He wanted to see the monastery and Rabdanste nearby, so we did that.  He went to have lunch and I went off on my own to explore Pelling.  When I returned later in the day, I went straight into my room and watched tv, doodled in my notebook, and just lied in bed eating apples I had purchased earlier in the day.  It was amazing.  To be polite, I asked A if he wanted to grab dinner with me and I eventually knocked on his door when he didn’t answer my message.  He was sleeping.  I had thentuk (delicious) and Tibetan bread.  The bread was a breakfast item but since I had asked about it anyway, the server said “We aren’t serving it anymore, but I’ll have them make it for you.”  I apologetically (truly, and multiple times) kept saying no and that it was okay, and that I could do without the bread but in the end, I had a feast of egg thenthuk, Tibetan bread, and ginger honey lemon tea on a cold, rainy Sikkim evening.  Of course A got back to me midway through my meal.  I walked back to the hotel in the rain, bought more apples, and spent my night eating apples, watching more tv, and doodling.  Lovely!  Absolutely lovely.  Pelling was my favorite.

The next day I went looking for breakfast again and B was smiling at me from the counter.  I didn’t think anything of him until he asked me about Facebook and then for my phone number.  That’s why he was all smiles!  But I’m a foreigner, so I’m not sure why he asked anyway.  Since I’m a foreigner and will never see him again, I did give him my Facebook information (showing I’m engaged, vomiting photos of me and my fiancé and our small family of two dogs and a kitten) and number (Delhi number).  A and I barely talked all morning and we sat across each other, me eating my aloo parathas and him drinking his chai, not saying anything.  He knew I was and had been upset, and I did not care.  To this, my fiancé said I should have been more forgiving, but I’m convinced he only said this because as my fiancé, he knows how b*tchy I can be when I get into my moods, but I’m not sure why A wouldn’t think I was serious when I said I wanted plans.  He runs a company that’s basically that — he takes people (locals and foreigners) on day- or week-long treks that include extensive planning, sometimes going on planes, etc., and so I expected him to be good about this.  He was not, and I did not and do not feel bad about my cold demeanor, especially since this mess of a trip ended up costing me about Rs. 20,000.  Anyway, then we left for Siliguri — or so we thought.  It was impossible to get a taxi from Jorenthang to Siliguri so we ended up taking a private cab.  We were supposed to have arrived in Guwahati at about 6:00pm.  Due to multiple jams, we only arrived in Siliguri at 8:30pm and needed to pay (well me, since A ran out of money) Rs. 14,500 for a private cab to Guwahati since our flight was the next day (today).  We reached Guwahati at 6:00am and that was that, and now I’m finally back in Delhi.

When we got the hotel in Guwahati this morning, I asked if we were getting separate rooms.  In an irritated manner, A said “Why?  Why do you insist on two rooms only for a few hours?” and I sighed and said “Whatever just one then.”  Why did I insist on two different rooms the entire trip?  Let my ranting begin:

A is a pig.  When he hung out in my rooms the time we were together for VoF, he basically trashed my rooms.  He would smoke and get his ashes everywhere and not clean them up, and then he would leave the butts everywhere.  The time I went down to his room to use the washroom right before we left Ghangaria, there were cigarette butts and ashes all over his room and cigarette butts floating in his toilet.  And this is at the hotel of someone he knows.  He knew the owners of all the hotels we stayed at and still disrespected their rooms.  I also don’t smoke, so his smoking in general was irritating to me.  Secondly, he likes to talk a lot.  I don’t.  I like to relax by myself, especially at night.  So obviously, the separate room was good for this.  Lastly, as I had mentioned before, he doesn’t see the need to take a shower in the mountains since it’s cold.  I do not think he took a shower at all since we left Shillong — that’s about six days of no showers.  By the time we reached Pelling he had a smell resembling wet clothes and sweat (plus his cigarette smoke).  I do not want to share an enclosed space with someone who smells.  Today, the smell was even stronger and even as we sat on opposite ends of the room, I could smell him in our Guwahati hotel room.  I am not even joking.  I am a very clean person and I need to shower every day, no matter what.  If I go to the gym in the morning, I’ll take a full shower then — soap, shampoo, conditioner — and I’ll take another full shower in the evening before bed.  I don’t care if it’s cold — a daily shower is a minimum for me.  Any time he walked by, I would hold my breath because I could not handle the smell.  Needless to say, sitting together on the plane ride back was near torturous and anytime he made any slight movement, the smell grew stronger.  Again my fiancé said I needed to be more forgiving, but again I said, “No, you do not understand.  It’s been nine days of this.”  A is also a bad listener.  In Gangtok, our cab driver dropped us off at Lal Market and said that for us to get back to our hotel, we needed to walk “upar aur uske baad, right” meaning, on to MG Marg and right.  When we went up, A kept asking me where to go.  I said, “He said up and right.  We went up, so now we need to go right.”  He kept asking, “Are you sure?  Do you know where we’re going?” and again I said, “He said ‘up and after that, go right’ and that’s what I’m doing.”  Again he asked, and I finally said “Were you listening to him as he spoke or not?  What did he say?  He said ‘up and right,’ didn’t he?” and he said “Oh yes, yes, I guess, yes…” and even after that, he called the hotel and asked for directions and said “Yes, we are going the right way” and I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they were going to fall out of my head.  A bunch of things like this just boiled over nine days and I don’t think I’ll be seeing A again before I leave.

Anyway…I’m glad to be back in Delhi (e.g., familiarity).  I really, truly loved Sikkim, though.  When I come back to India, I’m definitely spending a fair amount of time there.

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Dussehra Plans!

They’re almost official!  We just need to purchase our tickets.  The person that my host father put me in touch with for the Valley of Flowers was great and we ended up really getting along.  Initially I wanted to go to Aurangabad for Dussehra but my friend won’t be home during that time; after, I thought maybe Kerala, maybe Bengal (for Sundarbans), maybe Nagaland.  My friend – A – had made plans for Sri Lanka but rescheduled and planned a trip for us to Assam, Sikkim, and Meghalaya…all in nine days.  I told him not to cancel his Sri Lanka trip since he had already purchased his tickets, but he said they were refundable; he also said he lives here and can travel whenever he wants, but I only have until December to see as much of India as I can.

We will arrive in Guwahati and spend a day at Kaziranga park, weather permitting.  After that, we’ll drive (I think) down to Shillong because he has a friend there that is willing to put us up for two or three days while we see Shillong and Cherrapunji.  After Meghalaya, we are scheduled to pass through Darjeeling and spend two or three days there (though I would prefer to cut it down to a day or two), then for the remainder of the trip we will be in Sikkim and fly back to Delhi from Bagdora on October 16th, with my classes resuming the day after.  In my Hindi class for AY 2015 – 2016, we did two rounds of travel projects with each student picking two places to do presentations on (I did Sundarbans and Kachchh).  A classmate did Valley of Flowers (thanks to him for pointing me in that direction!) and another did Assam and Sikkim; without his presentation I wouldn’t have thought to go to Sikkim either.  He talked about Kaziranga (and also Cherrapunji) at some point, but I never thought “Wow, I need to go there” about either place for some reason.  I’m more excited for Cherrapunji than Kaziranga.  As for Darjeeling, I just want to go to Singalila and the Natural History Museum.  A quick Google search also told me that I can go horseback riding through tea plantations, which does sound nice…but after the mule rides between Govindghat and Ghangaria, I’m not sure I can handle subjecting another animal to carrying me around.  Some of the mule drivers were very mean to the mules and I had to bite my tongue on a few occasions.  Even if I had said something, I’m not sure it would have had the same effect through my intermediate Hindi.

My roommate initially planned to go to the Northeast too, but with friends from school.  She invited me to go but I declined for two reasons: 1) I’d prefer to go with my own friends, and 2) I can barely tolerate my roommate.  She’s a genuinely nice person and I know she has a big, good heart but I just cannot stand her.  I want to like her, but I cannot.  Every time she talks I feel my head pounding.  She speaks exactly like Jeff Spicoli and always says things are “sooooo coooooool” and “sooooo gnarly, dude.”  She also always has to make comments about how things are always healthy, as if I (or our host family) did not know that vegetables are generally healthy.  Tonight at dinner we had a bitter melon veg dish.  Goya is popular in Okinawan cuisine (I am Okinawan) and I love it.  My roommate asked what it was, and our host sister said, “it’s bitter gourd.  I don’t like it.”  My roommate tried it and said “Whooooooa dude that’s sooooo bitter.”  What do you think “bitter melon” means?  It won’t be sweet.  It won’t be sour.  It won’t be spicy.  It will be bitter.  Then, she had to drop her token comment: “But I feel like it must be really healthy because of the bitterness.”  She always tells me that dairy isn’t good for the human body.  I live off dairy.  I eat yogurt and eggs like nobody’s business back home and I love milk.  She says it isn’t healthy and finds her diet made up of largely raw vegetables to be superior.  We went to the gym a few weeks ago with our host brother and when we got home, he said, “The trainers were very impressed with you, but they found her to be very weak…they kept saying ‘She couldn’t do anything, she couldn’t lift anything, not even the lightest weights.'”  Eating vegetables and hummus only gets you so far.  I’m healthy even with all of my devil dairy, and I’m in better shape, too.  So quit your yappin’ about how wonderful vegetables are.  I love vegetables too, but I don’t talk about how healthy they are at every single dinner, like the people around me have no concept of what healthy and unhealthy are.  Meanwhile, while eating so “healthily” and being into raw and organic foods, she likes to pollute her body by smoking marijuana all the time.  She also likes to frequently tell me that washing my hair every day isn’t good for my hair, and she washes her hair once every three days (of course).  If I wanted gross nappy hair, I’d have it, thank you very much.  She also doesn’t take showers when it’s cold…of course.

Anyway, my roommate was dropping hints that she wanted to tag along with me and my friend to the northeast after her friends changed their plans and decided to go to the South instead.  In my cold-heartedness, I pretended I didn’t catch any of her hints and went about my business.  At home, in Hawaii, I’m very…nice.  I always compromise my own feelings and desires to please people (except if it’s my fiancé, then it’s all about what I want – hehe).  But being in India is a very special time for me, and I refuse to concede for someone else even though I know it would be the “nice” thing to do.  I am not going to ruin my time to be “nice” because my time in India is extremely precious to me.  And I know that if she comes along, I will want to shoot myself for the entire trip.  Am I being selfish?  Quite possibly.  But I worked very hard to be here and my time in India is limited – I need to be happy while I am here, and I must ensure my own happiness.  The way I look at it, being stuck with a roommate who otherwise makes me want to bash my head against the wall was a pretty fair trade for only paying $1,600 for an entire four months in India.  I got a $5,000 scholarship from the Center for South Asian Studies at my university in addition to a $2,000 grant just for completing my financial aid paperwork on time.  I only needed to pay out-of-pocket for my plane ticket and remaining $292 that my scholarship and grants didn’t cover.

That’s another thing that bugs me…I worked very hard to be here in India.  I did my Bachelor’s degrees in Religion and History.  I took courses on Indian history, religion, and philosophy (and two years of Hindi!) and slaved over my application for the scholarship I received (my advisor revised it for me four times before I submitted it).  I’m doing my Master’s in World History with a focus on India.  I have many reasons for being here right now.  I’m taking four MA-level courses (the max at my university is typically three, so I’m taking one extra course) — The State in Indian History, Partitions in South Asia, the Indian Ocean in History, and Problems of Historical Knowledge.  My roommate picked to study abroad in India because “[she] really [likes] Asia and it was the most exotic location offered.”  She’s a year younger than me, it is her fifth year of college, and she has yet to declare a major (I didn’t even know it was possible to be undeclared past the junior standing).  She requested an academic leave because she will travel through Southeast Asia until the Fall 2017 semester and is scheduled to complete her Bachelor’s degree in a total of six years.  She’s thinking about declaring a major in sociology but is taking two literature classes, one sociology course, and an economics course (there are more than a few sociology courses on offer at our university in Delhi).  Her philosophy about school is that it should not be rushed and one should learn whatever they want to learn, and obtain their degree whenever they just happen to accumulate enough credits after all of that liberal learning.  And of course, her parents pay for her schooling; meanwhile, I’m $20,000+ in student debt and racking up more with this Master’s degree.  We’re on different wavelengths, I suppose.  She also thinks ALL drugs should be legalized, and truly, truly, deeply believes that the US government uses the illegality of drugs to keep the US citizens from the “truth,” effectively rendering us ignorant and otherwise slaves to the government.  Different wavelengths.

Anyway, I’m excited for my upcoming trip, and I don’t care that I’m being mean to her about it (well not to her, but…I’m just not being nice, just civil enough).  I’m also going back to Dehradun for Diwali to stay with A and his family.  He (and others) said that Dehradun is beautiful on Diwali, especially when seen from Masuri, so that’s the plan as of right now.

I’m also considering vegetarianism again.  I was a vegetarian for about two years in high school and the reason I stopped was because I could not resist my aunt’s pork chops one summer in Washington.  Her pork chops are among my top favorite foods.  Pork is normally tough, but she browns the meat and then bakes it in cream of mushroom with peas and corn.  My aunt is a wonderful cook.  She always makes two pans of pork chops – one for me and one for my cousin (her daughter).  I like mine with peas and corn and my cousin likes hers with potatoes, so everyone else just needs to pick between our preference, haha.  But those pork chops are amazing, and the meat melts off the bone.  Anyway, that is why I stopped being a vegetarian.  I tried saying no to the pork chops but in the end I ate one pork chop for every meal until the pan was empty.  Eid was not too long ago.  Last weekend A and I went to Jama Masjid with two of his friends.  After our visit, we were walking around the lanes behind Jama Masjid looking for food and on our way out, we passed a shop and my eyes fell upon two decapitated goat heads sprawled out on a table.  We had just eaten mutton curry for lunch.  By some strange coincidence, my Facebook feed was then flooded with pro-vegan and pro-vegetarian posts (perhaps because my friend is a vegetarian and frequently posts those things?) and I got sucked into the “glass walls” void for about three hours.  If I wouldn’t eat my dog, why would I eat a pig?  Or a cow?  Or a chicken?  Delhi also puts me a lot closer to my food, and seeing chickens shoved into a cage clearly too small for that amount of chickens a few weeks ago also made me feel a bit uneasy.  If I can live off of plants, why would I need to eat dead animals?  My host family is largely veg, too, so that’s made the decision a bit easier.  I don’t think about eating meat because the food I’ve been served every night has been delicious without it.  But then I also found myself thinking that egg-laying hens and dairy cows are subject to the same treatment, and I’d like to think I could commit to laying off eggs and dairy whenever possible, but I think I’d have to half-ass that one.  I can do without eggs and milk (I actually really love almond milk) but I would’t be willing to scrutinize every ingredients label looking for red flags.  Vegan super powers would be cool, but I don’t think I need them.  I can try to avoid animal by-products, but I don’t see myself going out of my way to buy egg-less pastries or asking if this or that dish has fish sauce, etc.  I’ll do my best.  India has some freaking delicious soya dishes, though.

Lastly – and most importantly – please feel free to let me know if there are things in Sikkim, Meghalaya, and Assam (and around Darjeeling) that I should see!