I’ve been back in Arizona for about a week now and it’s never felt so good to come back to my roots after going abroad. After living in both Tokyo and India—two countries I swear must be some of the most different from Western culture as you could find—it feels right to settle into my own customs and ways. I guess, “The American Dream” has never felt so real. I don’t mean that in the sense of “I was dying to come back here and revel in all my luxuries.” I mean that in the sense that I have never realized the degree of privilege I possess as an American—and how grateful I am for clean air, water, food, driving a car, independence, and more.
I feel like there’s so much to catch up on—simply, because so much happened in India every single day. My life was so full of entertaining situations, noteworthy conversations, and learning strides, that I couldn’t even keep my personal journal in the daily loop. But, I guess I’ll explain all the endings…
The end of work was nice. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to finish my video project. The script had to go through too many re-drafts, so by the final week, there wasn’t enough time to create an actual video. One of the problems with the script was that Paromita found the conversational tone unnatural. So, she suggested I record and direct a conversation between Umang and Kanksha to make sure my story-line and major points were included, but that they brought these points up in their own manner. It was an interesting exercise that helped me understand a way to blend documentary with a pre-determined plan. Looking back on the internship, my confidence with Adobe Premiere (editing software) has definitely increased, and Umang taught me that we can’t let technology be smarter than us. Often times, if something went wrong on an edit, I would ask Umang or someone else. I’d quickly s see how easy the fix was (after watching), and realize I wasn’t exactly trying my hardest. By the end of the internship, I was starting to catch on to this, and nowadays, I push myself to fix and find solutions to everyday happenings.
I have to say, it felt so freeing to travel after the internship. As hard as it was to say goodbye to everyone at the internship, I knew I wasn’t going to miss my 8-hour-day desk job, plus commute. This style of working is not for me, and I’m so glad I learned this now. I want to have an active job, where I’m interacting with other people and moving about. So, as it was time to go, I packed my bags, and started to feel a little uneasy. Everything came to a close at once, right as a I was about to begin a whole new journey by myself. It was the first time I was going to embark on a semi-unplanned journey. I had my initial and final flight booked, and knew which cities I wanted to go to, though I didn’t have all transportation and housing booked. But, Swapnil (one of my housemates) sat me down the night before leaving. He wrapped a red string around my wrist several times and tied it tightly. He said The Goddess, Bhairavi, would protect me while I was away. She’s the female form of Shiva and he’s had some powerful interactions with her. I’ve always liked this the most about India—the meaning that can be found in almost anything and everything. I felt way more at ease and ready to start my new adventure.
I traveled to Dharamashala for the longest period, then continued on to Delhi, Agra, Jodhpur, Osian, and then Udaipur. Again, no matter where I went, what mattered most was the people I was with. It’s as if it didn’t really matter what we were doing… with the exception of a monumental point in Dharamashala. I was only supposed to be there for 5 days, which turned into 6. It had been raining every single day, so I had already kissed goodbye my dream of hiking to the Himalayas. Even though Mumbaikers have assured me that monsoon season is the best season for hikes, everyone at my hostel told me there was no point—that it would be too cloudy at the top of Triund Trek to see anything. Once I accepted I would have to pass up the primary reason I flew all the way to the north, I booked my bus ticket for Delhi to leave at 5 pm. But the night before my bus, a worker at my hostel, Kabir, told me he would be getting up the next morning at 5 AM to go… and that I was welcome to join. He said there was a chance that tomorrow would clear up. I debated for the longest time, because I’ll tell you what, I was NOT ready to wake up at 5 AM, hike the whole day, then make sure I was back in time for a restless night on a sleeper bus. So, I went to bed, still unsure, and as 5 AM struck, my alarm blared. I looked around. Rainy and pitch-black outside. I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep.
And so I awoke around 8 to see from my hostel balcony… what do ya know? A clear, sunny, beautiful skyline of the lush foothills. “Welcome to the REAL Dharamashala!!”, my roommate exclaimed. My heart absolutely sank. I couldn’t believe it. What’s worse, Kabir came back around noon, sharing how amazing the hike was. How clear it was… and he even met a dog at the top. The entire day, I had a pit in my stomach. I just couldn’t imagine leaving Dharamashala without seeing the Himalayas now… but, I already booked my bus ticket and was mentally prepared to leave that night. It was weird. As the time ticked on, I went back and forth on my decision. What am I losing by staying? Money? Time? My pre-determined plan? I actually felt physically ill. Like this decision meant everything. It felt like I was forcing my hands to stuff my belongings into my backpack. I was upset with myself that I couldn’t understand what I wanted to do. That I was 22, on the road in India, and couldn’t simply pick if I was going to stay an extra night in Dharamshala or not. I’ve always been a bit of an indecisive person, but I’ve never waited until the very last minute, bags packed, to decide that no… I just couldn’t leave. I came all the way to see the Himalayas, so the rest of my plans could wait. Sure, there was no guarantee that the good weather would persist through the next day, but I had a chance to make-up my mistake of skipping out the first time.
And guess what? As I walked up to the check-out desk, bags in hand, I looked at one of the hostel workers, and said, “Do you want to you come with me on Triund tomorrow morning at 5 AM?”. “Sure“, my new friend, Sunil, immediately replied.
The hike to the Himalayas is a story in itself, but what I can tell you is that it was my favorite day of this whole summer. I enjoyed the company of a new friend, let my mind spread free of worries, physically drained my body to a state of natural meditation, and was overwhelmed by the pure beauty of this world. There’s no way I was able to know what kind of day it would turn out to be… but, I’m glad I finally reached an understanding with my gut.
I think traveling takes practice to get right, and this is just one idea I’ve learned along the way. For instance, Udaipur was memorable all thanks to a travel and food blogger I befriended–Nishi from Delhi. We both happened to come to Udaipur during a heavy monsoon wave. On top of that, most places I intended to see were closed (including a traditional Rajasthani dance show I was excited to see) due to a recent political event. But, Nishi and I met in our hostel, sharing our disappointment in what we thought was about to be a stormy-day in. It was the first time I’ve had a day of travel where I actually didn’t have plans and didn’t know what to do with myself! But, as we ate our breakfast on our hostel’s rooftop, overlooking Udaipur’s main lake, we made a pact that we were going to get going and do SOMETHING with our day. And, that something turned into the most spontaneous, joyous ending to my India travel that I could’ve hoped for.
We started off with our first destination—a temple ground where a famous Bollywood film was shot. Though I had no idea what the film was, I didn’t care. Nishi seemed fun, so the destination didn’t matter. Moments after stepping outside, the downpour began. We hurried down and the rickshaws were charging a bit much, so we decided to go with a cheaper option—squeezing onto the back of a motorcycle of some random teenager. So, we were off! Umbrella above our heads, we flew down the rainy highway. When we got to the grounds, we explored and started to hear… music. I had mentioned earlier that it would be cool to see some live music that day since the dance show was canceled. We just started to follow the noise, and ended up coming to a celebration being thrown for a god’s birthday. There was an entire band, an abundant spread of food and desserts, and gorgeous flower strands running across bright yellow curtains. It was almost what I’d imagine a wedding to look like. As soon as got there, the storm blew out of control. Water even broke through the rooftop, and completely drenched a couple of men in their nice slacks and button-ups, alongside all the food. But still, everyone had a smile on their face.
Just when I thought Nishi and I would be spending our day inside, we ended up taking our day from one place to the next, smiling the whole way. For both of us, it was really one of the “so happy to be alive” moments. After the temple, we went to a cable car attraction, as the rains let up. Here, we saw some of the best views of the city. We split a dosa at the top of the mountain, then came back down. Walking home, we met the lining of the lake and decided to take a boat ride—something else I didn’t think I was going to end up doing. On our way home, we ran into another birthday celebration for the same God that was being celebrated earlier in the temple. The lights, music, celebration… it was such a pleasant experience to run into again. Later, after hitting the local craft market and an art café she wanted to review for her blog, we ended our night chatting on the rooftop again. Just like the guys I meet in Varanasi, I didn’t really need to know Nishi to completely enjoy my time with her. I just had a good feeling about her, and we ended up talking about the challenges of solo traveling. About why it’s good to be alone, but why this irrationally makes us feel selfish at times. We talked about budgeting and unnecessary worries about money. She told me “We will never feel like we have enough money. Even when we do have more than enough. There’s just no point.” And, of course, I had to ask about relationships (conversations are the best form of research, right?) Nishi had just got engaged a few months back, and finds her finance understanding and good to her. As I was giving her my best wishes, I started to talk about my own experience finding a guy who treats me with respect, and considers my emotions, etc. Nishi and I started to wonder, “wait why do we act like men who act like this are extra-special? Shouldn’t all of those things be a given? That’s the baseline for how men should treat women, and vice versa!” We laughed.
I’m going to miss it all, really. I’ve noticed since I’ve been back, I don’t feel as driven to dive right back into my hobbies like guitar, poetry/songwriting, and running. I’ve gotten so used to waking up and seeing where the day takes me, revolved around people and exploring a city. I think I’m starting to learn how to relax a bit. To watch some TV and just let my mind sit. Maybe those few meditation sessions got to me? I think I’m going to have to keep up my practices from India and see where life takes me now.
I want to thank Janelle Fosler, Morgan Fitzgerald, and Ariana Paredes-Vincent for your enthusiastic encouragement through the SISA process. I wasn’t sure if I was initially going to apply, but now, there’s nowhere I would have rather spent my summer. Most importantly, thank you to the anonymous donors who gave me the most transformative experience filled with extremities of every emotion.