May 21, 2015

Remember This if you Hit a Wall while Traveling Alone.

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I am writing you from the clean clothed table of a supposed five-star restaurant in Varanasi, India.

I just took my first bite of my paneer butter masala and broke down in tears.

Five gentile, well dressed, Indian men are trying to get me to stop crying but I can’t. All the attention makes me cry harder. Due to the language barrier they think it’s because of the food and it partially is. In broken English they say “Ma, don’t cry. Don’t eat. Ma. Please.”

Their fussing about has made me break out into a fit of laughter completely confusing these poor waiters. I’ve been in India for four months now and Varanasi has finally broken me.

I had always dreamed of coming to India. I grew up with stories from my parents talking about their adventures here. The delirium of colors, spices and the generosity of the people in a diverse land of spiritualism haunted my thoughts for the last 38 years.

All my life I dreamt of studying at the feet of those wiser than me. I wanted to bathe in sandalwood smoke and practice yoga under that classical nuclear sun set. Now that I’m here, I have done all that and more. I lived in an ashram and practiced yoga on the southern beaches. I worshipped shiva at the foot of the breath taking Himalayas. I studied Ayurveda in a real Indian hospital and learned to ride a motorcycle—weaving through the chaotic India traffic.

I came nose to nose with water buffaloes that were barreling down a busy city street. I got to smell freshly picked cardamom and vanilla and cloves. I watched the sun set behind the Arabian Sea and rise above Tamil Nadu. I drank chai and ate homemade Indian food until my heart was content.

I came to India seeking something, my heart wide open to receive and I have found.

Like most travelers, I am on a budget. I have stayed in a frog filled wooden hut in the jungle and slept on a wooden slat with just a quilt to comfort my boney hips. I came to realize that 500 rupees, while only about five american dollars, is a lot in India. The thought of paying more would mean less that I could explore.

I became comfortable with eating 20 rupee dinners from a man squatting over a small fire on the corner of the street. I have been traveling through India and loving every moment.

I had one week left before leaving India, this time. I wanted to do something epic. I thought I had to go Varanasi. It is one of the most popular holy cities in India. It is believed that if your ashes are placed in the Ganga in Varanasi you will be directly forwarded to Moksha, freedom and liberation.

Every day, thousands of people flock to the dusty Ghats on the Ganges, myself included. They come here to worship and chant and contemplate life and death.

Pilgrimages through any country are hard. As we, the travelers, the seekers, the adventure takers will walk miles upon miles through dark, dusty, busy streets, sometimes only in thin flip flops, with our lives strapped on our backs. We endure the walk through the heat and power through the rains. We forge forward with endurance, determination, a spirit for adventure and a lot of luck.

We learn to appreciate the little things like a clean wall to lean against or a day that I didn’t step in cow dung. We pray we don’t get sick. We pray we get on the right bus. We pray our rooms are free from lice. We pray we don’t misplace our passport. We pray. We pray—but it’s all worth it in the end. The adventure. The freedom. The stories we can tell are priceless.

I was recently speaking with my father about the intense four days I experienced in Varanasi. I told him about how I arrived at night, off a bus, by myself. The rickshaw driver decided he would take me to the guest house of his friends, not the one I had requested.

I screamed at him to get me out of the dead end dark alley behind the Ghats. He was so offended that he made me get out in the middle of the city. I paid a crazy eyed dirty man 20 rupees to walk me the mile to my guest house that was down to cobble stone, winding pathways, to the inner circle of the city. I would have never found it on my own. Varanasi is so busy and loud and because it is abundant with tourists, the locals will try to take advantage of you.

The dust of burnt bodies lingers in the hot air and sticks to my face. The next day I knew I had to get out. I spent the day trying to go anywhere but all buses and trains were full. I kept hearing that lovely Indian expression “not possible.” It seemed like it was the only thing this man could say.

I was defeated. I was stuck. I was alone and I was hungry. Hungry because in my opinion all the food tasted like street dust. How could it not? It was everywhere.

For the first two days, I nibbled a little here and there. By day three I was so hungry that I caved and went to the five-star restaurant. My paneer butter masala came out from the kitchen and it tasted like street dust. I broke down in tears. Varanasi had finally broken me.

As I was telling my father this he was laughing. He reminded me of how he went through the same thing. Then I was chatting with some of my other travel friends that I have met along this trip, and they were all hitting the same wall. That all too familiar wall of too tired. Too hot. Too dirty. And too much.

I’m back in New Delhi now. For the first time in four months I am allowing myself to lounge in an air conditioned room, on a comfy bed and I just sent my clothes out to be laundered. I have to admit it feels good.

So fellow travelers we do our best, but we forget that to truly enjoy life we must first take care of ourselves. Be good to yourselves. Give yourself permission to relax and eat well. It’s not giving up. It’s recharging for our next big adventure.



Divorce Doesn’t Need to be a Four Letter Word.


Author: LeLa Becker

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Bryan T/Flickr

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