There’s only a little bit more than 24 hours before we leave India. It’s always weird to leave … after four months you can get really accustomed to some things, and there is a significant readjustment process to go through on coming home. I’m excited to see my family and friends again, though. And to figure out what’s going to happen next with my life.
As for what we’ve been up to lately:
From Bodhgaya me, Kristi, and Christine made a whirlwind trip to Betla National Park in the state of Jharkhand. The plan had been to avail ourselves of the elephant safaris they offer (yes, riding through the park looking for wildlife on the back of an elephant), but we didn’t realize they were only offered in the morning and arrived too late in the day. We did take a jeep safari, though, and were able to see some wild elephants, at least. Our guide and driver kept encouraging them to charge us in fact, so that we could get better pictures. As we were on top of the jeep while this was happening, it was especially exciting, and we did get some decent photos. We also saw peacocks, bison, deer, and a couple different kinds of monkeys. As far as wildlife it wasn’t quite up there with Kenya’s gameparks, but the forest was quite lovely, and the elephants were fun to see.
Getting to Varanasi to reconnect with our group proved a bit challenging. Our train was supposed to leave the town of Daltonganj around 2am. We arrived at the station about an hour early only to find that our train had been cancelled. We had, of course, just checked out of our hotel, and so (like about a hundred other people apparently in the same predicament) ended up spending the rest of the night on the train platform, sleeping among our piled luggage.
In the morning we grabbed a couple of cycle rickshaws to take us to the bus stand, but ended up getting out when they started trying to take us back to the hotel we had been staying at before. As we started to walk to the bus stand ourselves, though, we were informed that the busses as well as all trains in the state had been cancelled that day due to some terrorist threat (which I still haven’t been able to find any details on).
While this all was being explained to us practically the whole of Daltonganj came to a standstill around us. Pedestrians, rickshaws, bicyclists … everyone was stopping to watch. It is not a big city and probably does not see too many foreigners, so I imagine we made something of a spectacle. Being really annoyed by the crowd, I made a rash decision and we ended up in a shared taxi/jeep kind of thing headed towards Ranchi, a city that was in the opposite direction, but had a larger train station and perhaps more travel options.
To make a long story short, we arrived in Ranchi around midday, got train tickets for an evening departure. The train, incidentally, was the same train we had tried to catch the previous night, and we passed once more through Daltonganj sometime in the middle of the night, while we were sleeping in our bunks on the train. By the next morning reached Varanasi—exhausted and a day late. It had been (and still is) the most difficult and frustrating trip of the summer.
The time in Varanasi ended up being shorter than I would have liked. It remains to me one of the most fascinating stops on our study tour. Still, with my previous experience in India I think I was particularly sensitive to the manipulations of salesmen and tourist touts, and didn’t enjoy the city as much as I had on previous visits.
Next we headed to Amritsar, the capital of Sikhism and home of the amazing Golden Temple. The temple complex is beautiful, but more impressive probably because of the spirit of the people there. I enjoy the fact that Sikhs visit the temple, much of the time, as families. I enjoy the steady, purposeful manner in which they circumambulate their temple. I love their hospitality and service, which included providing cold drinking water to everyone free of charge, and running a 24-hour cafeteria which is also free and open to everyone. This is certainly a case where I feel I could learn a great deal about righteous living from the Sikhs, despite my commitments to my own faith.
I then visited McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and therefore the capital of Tibet-in-exile. More than anything our time there represented a couple of days of rest in the cool mountain weather after a couple of hard weeks of travel. As usual, the scenery was enchanting, and, as usual, I had to leave McLeod in the middle of a drenching downpour.
And now we’re in Delhi, making final preparations for our departure. Most of us will be stopping for a few days in Taiwan on the way home. Mine and Kristi’s good friend Melinda (who has been living in Taiwan but just moved back to the United States last month) has given us some stellar advice and guidance, and it should be a fun visit.
I will be landing in Salt Lake the night of 20 August. This means, incidentally, that I will be missing my own graduation earlier that week. Yes, it is true: I have finally finished my bachelor’s degree. Unless I missed filling out a form or some other technicality, I will return home next week with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in English.
Those wishing to employ a 27-year-old with such highly marketable education credentials may contact me at my parents’ home between 21 August and 5 September to set an interview appointment.