Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Three bad days, or has it been four? The beginning of an adventure....

It is nothing like I remember.

Well, let me revise that. I remember that everything was hard, nothing easy, and I remember always feeling frustrated. I feel all of those things right now, and have been feeling them for the last 73 or so hours since I arrived.

The last three days have been nothing but a whirlwind of planes, busses, taxies and hotels. After almost 26 hours in transit, I finally made it to Delhi the day before yesterday. I spent a quick overnight in a hotel near the airport and then back to the airport for a flight to Varanasi.

            Now, let me take a quick step backwards. I realized that I had WAY too much luggage about 2.5 minutes after I got dropped off at the international terminal at SFO, and unfortunately that it was about 10 hours too late to do anything about it. As I walked up to check in with my apparently 48lb pack on my back and a camera backpack on my front that weighed nearly the same AND a second smaller camera bag sashed around my neck (which I am using here as a purse but intend to use as a day bag for my camera so that I don’t have to hall around this huge backpack every time I go shooting) it becomes abundantly clear to me that I had vastly over estimated my ability to mule. I was screwed.

            Okay, so back to yesterdays flight from Delhi to Varanasi. Apparently, and I cant say I didn’t kind of know this beforehand, your checked bag for domestic flights in India can only weigh 15kg, yep, that’s 33lbs guys. So, it turns out, I have to pay X amount of Rupees per kg I am over weight, in total 1750 Indian RP or $35 USD. I pay up, while doing a quick count of how many more flight I have ahead of me on this trip: six, $210, shit.

            Next, I deal with an incredibly intolerable pat down and luggage search. Finally, I sit down in the waiting area and almost fall apart completely; I mean really, I’m on the verge of tears. What was I thinking? How could I have been so completely out of practice that I did such a crappy job with my packing and how had I not foreseen this? And then all of the negativity in the world bubbles up and sitting there in that waiting room, my thoughts go like this (direct expert from journal I wrote while sitting at gate 12):

Everyone said, enjoy, have fun, relax… but, uggggg, I am a mess. I fear that this trip will not serve me in all of the ways my India trip did before. I feel myself different. I feel a deeper seed within myself, something like having my roots deeper in the ground now then I did before when I used to travel so often. I am not looking for a different life then I have, I am not seeking in the ways I was before. I am not looking for myself, it appears, I just may already know who I am. What then do I need to cultivate from this trip? WHY AM I HERE? This is awful!

I suppose I could use more happiness and motivation in the life that I already have and love. I can always use more gratitude, compassion, of course too. Perhaps, then, I can give myself permission to relax. If, I have nothing to seek, then there shouldn’t be any restrictions or expectations. I can do absolutely nothing. I can just try to survive, and make the most of it. Or, on the other hand, the more difficult way of doing it would be to continue to push myself into self inflicted fears about how I am doing, or what I may be doing right or wrong or whatever, blah, blah. But truthfully I, only need to enjoy myself – or do my best to try to at least. If pushing myself, and being so self-critical is what is making me have such a difficult time, then I need to stop it. I’m not perfect, and I’m not supposed to be. I don’t do this every day, or every year (not any more at least), I’m a little out of practice at this traveling thing. Honestly, it wouldn’t kill me to just relax into it. Laugh at myself when I’m being ridiculous laugh at the fact that I brought so many clothes and 6 books and two journals and an iphone and two ipods, an ipad and my computer. Not to mention $15,000 worth of camera gear. Laugh Dawn. Laugh! Its ridiculous! There is nothing wrong with you; you are not fundamentally flawed because you packed too much stuff. You, dear one, are simply just an American woman in India trying to figure it out. Forget about what you think people are thinking about you, stop it, stop judging yourself, stop feeling silly, stop resenting yourself, just stop. This is your lesson of the hour. Let it go, breath, first in, then out, good, now smile. You’ll figure it out. You will.

            So, I momentarily get over the fact that I’ve messed up my packing job and may have slightly miss judged my motivations for this trip all together. I have a small but meaningful giggle to myself, about myself, and I board the plane.  Not at all to my surprise, the plane is having difficulties and we are asked to wait in our seat while it is to be fixed, an hour later we are asked to get off of the plane, and we take a shuttle to board a differing plane. This plane works, and though two hours behind schedule, we depart. Okay, so here is where it gets good. I had neglected to buy a bottled water while in the airport, its now been, maybe four hours since I’ve had any water, or anything to drink, and I’m thirsty. One problem, the cheap Indian airline I booked is serving water out of pitchers and everyone is grabbing with their dirty hands and the whole thing looks like a belly ache waiting to happen, India rule #1, only drink bottled water. I get a sprite and keep breathing.

            At this point our flight is so behind schedule that when I land its almost dark. I’m worried because I know what is ahead of me and I purposefully booked a flight that was supposed to land at 3pm to avoid having to do it at night. Varanasi, you see, is one of the oldest cities in the world and its streets are a tangled maze of no named alleyways, too small for cars, tuktuks or motorbikes. I am going to have to walk these alleys at night carrying something like 120lbs of camera gear, clothes, and Apple products (I’m still laughing at myself). So now, not only do I feel foolish, but downright horrified. This is not going to be easy, and it isn’t going to be safe. I get a taxi from the airport, and have two different taxi drivers explain to me what I already know, which is that they can only take me so far and then I will have to walk about 900m to find my guest house, and that I need to be extremely careful while I do so because it is going to be dangerous, and blah, blah, and they are looking at me and at my luggage and they think I’m completely crazy – and I don’t blame them. One man decides to take me anyway. He drives me to the last point where cars can drive, he helps me load up my packs and points and bobbles his head “that way”, he says with a heavy accent. Did I mention its about 90 degrees out and completely dark now…

The directions on the piece of paper in my hand say:

FROM THE ROAD: As you walk along Dashashwamedh Road, after 400m from Godowlia Crossing, the road bifurcates. Take the road going to your right. Just before that road reaches the Ghats, you will see a Bank of Baroda ATM on your right hand side. Take the lane which starts from there and go towards your left. Walk around 500m on that lane and on your left hand side you will see some steps going up next to a small temple. Kautilya Society is in that lane.

            Okay, so, it shouldn’t be so difficult, right. Well, if you’ve been to Varanasi, you know, it’s a mad house, its beyond that actually, it’s virtually unexplainable chaos. Cows, monkeys, stray dogs and cats are among the kindest of creatures inhabiting these alleyways. I am dodging the piles of trash, and puddles of water, or is it sewage, which is at my feet along with the cobblestones and feces of mysterious kinds. I am overwhelmed by the smoke, and for a brief second, think of all of the cremation grounds that are now so close to me. The smells of the streets are strong and intense, some spicy and intriguing, but most repulsive and sower. A kid runs by me and steps in a puddle and whatever form of wetness it is, it splashes me and covers my legs and shoes. As I try to navigate these obstacles, with all of my luggage I am faced with a new man around every turn asking me where I am going, as it is more then clear that I am lost, some of them following me, and some of them trying to persuade me to go to their cousins hostel instead.  I ignore them all. I keep walking, and walking and turning, and walking and turning and nothing is making sense. There are, of course no signs, and there are ATMs and small temples everywhere. I hate whoever wrote these directions. Anyway, I keep thinking I am seeing the same streets over and over again and the alleys are getting smaller and darker and I am sweating, and I am really starting to worry, plus, I still haven’t had any water.  I remember last time I was in Varanasi feeling this way for the first few days, but eventually, getting the alleys down and having no problem finding my way around. I was hoping my spidey sense would kick back in, but no luck. I finally give in and ask the guard at the bank, he tells me in broken English, “right, then left, then strait, then right”.  Um, Thanks. Then again 10 minutes later, I ask two women in a jewelry shop. They don’t know. Then, I find a restaurant, the young boy there seems to think he knows and tells me again, “right, then straight, then left”. Oh, I am so screwed. Finally, I realize the boy from the restaurant is following me, he’s not aggressive though and he’s truly just making sure I am finding my way, plus, he’s only 11 or so, so I am not at all intimidated. He walks me the rest of the way and points down an ally and says, “There, it is there at the end”. Then he turns and walks back, not even asking for money for his efforts. Angels come in all forms, thank you to that dear boy! And for the record, I entered that ally from the right, not left, as the directions had said, so who knows how many loops I had made, or if the directions were wrong, or if the driver had dropped me at the wrong place…. but I can tell you, I walked for a long time with those packs.

            I walk through the doors and the man and elderly woman, whom I remember from the last time I stayed here, are sitting drinking chai, they look up, laugh a little and the woman says, in very broken English “Awwww, Dawn?  You are late.” I put my bags down and they put a fan on me. I am utterly exhausted and dripping sweat.

            I get to my room. I fall head first onto the bed and I weep. Was it exhaustion, dehydration, fear, worry, I don’t know? But I needed it. After a good cry I realized I needed to go back out and get water. I begin to look through my huge overly packed bag for the lock I had packed so that I can lock my room and go back out for water. I can’t find it anywhere, I am digging and digging, and before I know it, everything is out of my bag and still, no lock. I cry a little more. Then I pull it together, grab a little cash, say a prayer and go back out without locking my room. I get a lock from a shop a few block away and two large bottles of water. I find my way back to a safe and luckily untouched room and I go to sleep.

            I wake up and it’s about 5:15 am and despite how exhausted I am, I have barely slept. I have been waking up every few hours, listening to the monkeys and dogs fight over scraps outside. I decide that perhaps if I get up and go down to the Ghats for the morning prayers, I have a good chance at remembering why I am here. I pack up my camera bag and get dressed and head downstairs as the light begins to show through the windows. The doors are locked. Nobody is awake and I faintly remember that I need to use a back door to get out for sunrise, but I can’t find anyone awake and so I go back to me bedroom and wait a while – staring, in absolute hatred, at the pile of things in my room. I am going to have to send a box home and give away a few things just as soon as I can. So now, I am locked up here in my little tower until the woman of the house gets up and decides to let me out. I have so much I still need to figure out. Lets hope, that this is the first and last blog post about all of this, and from here on out, I can write about the magic of it all. I still haven’t even eaten a meal since I’ve arrived in India, oh, except for the fried egg on toast at the hotel in Delhi, was it, yesterday morning? I think I need to eat.

             Through all of this, I hope you can sense my lightheartedness. I know that this is only a moment, and that its all going to get easier and more familiar. Now, I'm going to go get some breakfast and maybe even take a picture or two.




  1. Dawn,
    Often the journey you plan is not the one you get, however I do believe this trip is already helping you find what you are looking for. The light-heartedness and honesty does come through in your post. Continue to reassure yourself because you are strong and deep inside your need to find answers to questions will settle your restless soul. Keep your spirit and rely on your intuition. Blessings on a safe and fulfilling journey.


  2. What a great read! Thanks, I needed that!
    Well, I am so glad we did that the first time together! I remember how hard it was. I remember the cabby letting us out and there being streets in all directions. Packed streets. And I was going to have to do it myself originally but then you surprised me in Delhi and saved me!!! Thank you!
    Does your room look out towards the ghats? Do you remember the one we had? And the house does have filtered water - ask someone if it is well filtered before drinking it. Well by now you will have met some of the people at the house and gone out on to the streets and probably you are doing much better. I hope so.
    I remember that back door. It goes straight to the lane to the ghats. Blessings honey! Go easy on yourself... I can see that you still have your wits about you, even in a desperate, tired state! Good job! I love you! Bodhi and I went to the dog park after swimming this morning. I'm really enjoying him! He's fine! XOXOXOXOXOXO

  3. Giving up attachment. When I was in India I had a new pair of Tiva sandles I didnt like and was tired of lugging them around. So off I went to find a tall Indian to give them too. This seemed easy enough, but for one there aren't many tall Indian men and two it is impolite to look at people's feet. I finally found a Sadu who sold coconuts on the side of the road. After much talking hand jester ing head wobbling and bowing, be tried them on and they fit perfect. I leafy quite pleased with myself. the next day while down the same road, I noticed another Sadu in my friends spot. So I stopped and asked where the other Sadu was. he explain that he had got a message from god and it was time for him to start walking again and left that morning for the desert. You never know what our excess baggage might bring. Blessing dear one.

  4. Oh Dawn, I feel you sister! You picked a very auspicious time to travel during this very intense mercury retrograde. This is also the year of the snake which is all about death and rebirth. Shedding old skins, growing new ones... If nothing else, you can embrace this journey and all of it's trials and tribulations as an epic adventure that will surely be life changing... I am so inspired by your courage, strength and commitment to seek the lessons & gifts in your experience. Something I always remember to tell myself in moments of struggle or fear that helps me in difficult times is this, "what you resist, will persist. Freedom (and miracles) come when you surrender to the resistance and embrace all that is... then everything becomes perfect, and as it should be." Journaling is good therapy too. Keep writing! I would love to share in your experience more. Thank you! I love you!

  5. Im with you beautiful goddess sister-daughter...You are the "itness" of it. This story is already Epic! and it's only just begun. I love the authenticity of your writing! I love that you can just get down and blast the truth of the moment, " I hate the person who wrote the directions!" You blow my mind with your courage and sense of adventure. I am praying every day that your guardian angels get the support that they need to keep up with you. Ride em Cowgirl!

  6. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments and for reading. I love having people to share my experience with and writing is so fun for me. Michael, great story!!!!