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!