Hello there. My absence in posting has not been due to lack of adventures (I assure you that), but rather due to lack of consistent internet service. So, I apologize to friends and family : ) To make up for it, this will be a long entry. I did purchase a SIM card with 3G service while in Delhi, but was told it takes 2 or 3 days to activate due to security restrictions. After 5 days, I had moved on to an entirely different city, so if I was cheated by Harsh, the man in the no-name ally way near my hostel, (and I’m, pretty darn sure was) it will be a while before I catch up to him. Luckly, my new friend Swami Subash, who lives at the ashram in Rishikesh where I am now staying, has helped me obtain a working SIM through his friend. One of the many lessons that came out of this is that things take much longer to accomplish in India than you would typically expect. In this case, something that would have taken perhaps a hour, two hours max to accomplish at a cellular service store in the US took me almost full week accomplish here. On the other hand, even with being ripped off in Delhi, I still only paid about $55 for a month worth of 3G service with internet, talk time and text, and with no binding contract.
Anyway, I need to back up a few paces to Delhi. I spent two more nights in Delhi since my last post. I told you last that I was headed to meet my friend Hari Pant, who owns a small organic start-up farm in the Himalayas. Before journeying to India, Hari’s farm was on my list as one of the places I had to visit. There was just something magical that came through in the photos and descriptions of the place. Anyway, it was not meant to be that I meet Hari the following day. By the time I got through to him it was 3 pm, and I would have had to have taken at least an hour worth of travel time by metro and auto-rickshaw to where his daughter lived in South Delhi. I walked to the end of the main bazaar to the metro station, bought a ticket, and then decided against going. I would have had to travel home in the dark, and not knowing my way around down potentially unlit streets in this massive metropolis was not my favorite idea. I needed to call Hari, but I didn’t have a working cell phone. I ask around the metro station for a phone booth. Everyone keeps pointing me to the same corner, but I can’t see anything that looks like a phone booth. Finally I approach one of the little store counters on the corner and I ask the small boy where there might be a phone I could use. “YES!” he exclaims and points to the land-line phone in his lap. “Of course this is the phone booth”, I thought. I make the call to Hari who said he was thinking the same thing, that it was too late to travel, and he invites me over to lunch tomorrow. I hang up the phone and the boy looks at the call timer. “6 rupees”.
Delhi, at least the back-packer area I was in called Parharganj, was stressing me out. Very noisy. Polluted. All the locals want to engage you in conversation, 9 times out of 10 because they want your money. “Hello! Which country?” they all ask. After a day or two, or perhaps immediately, you really don’t want to respond to anyone. They’ll follow you down the street, sometimes whether you respond or not. When I do respond, and make them guess where I’m from, it’s usually “UK, Germany, Australia?” Visitors from America are much more rare, I am told. Anyway, I decided that I would be spending my last night in the hostel, regardless of SIM card status. I have 2 weeks before I have to be at Navdanya, and I thought I would use this time to head Northeast towards the Himalayas to visit the holy city of Rishikesh to clear my head with meditation, yoga and hopefully some cleaner air.
Because I had one more night in Delhi I thought I’d hit the main bazaar at night, something I had not yet done, to see the sights, get my first hot meal in 3 days and perhaps purchase some things I had not yet had the nerve to stop and peruse due to my aversion to being pressured to buy something.
The next day, I decided to check out of Hotel Namaskar and figured I’d head straight to Rishikesh via overnight bus after having lunch with Hari and his family. Of course, the hostel did not take credit cards (don’t know why I didn’t anticipate this) and was told that the nearest ATM was at the metro station, about a half a mile away. While this is not a long distance, who and what one might encounter along that walk down the main bazaar threatens to slow you down, cost you money, and cause stress. By the time I got back to the hostel I didn’t want to turn around and trek back down the bazaar with my pack to catch the metro, so it was totally worth the 20 rupees for a rickshaw ride to the metro this time. I caught some of this bumpy ride on video:
Hari Pant welcomed me with a big hug and a wide smile when I arrived at his daughter’s home in South Delhi There we sat for a while with his son-in-law and discussed my travels, Hari’s Himalayan Farm Project, and how Hari’s son in-law was recovering from a mild case of Dengue fever, and watched a professional cricket match of India versus England on TV while lunch was being prepared. I am sorry to say I did not take any pictures while visiting here, but you can believe me when I say that Hari and his family are absolutely beautiful people. Hari is an Indian gentleman, 70-something years young, who is a retired Brigadier in the Indian Army, who now practices holistic medicine. As of October 2011, Hari has purchased an aged farm tucked away in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakand. He lovingly calls this grand experiment the Himalayan Farm Project, which Hari, his family, and the hundreds of international volunteers that have already laid hands to work on the small farm, all hope to be a model farming community – showcasing organic agriculture and horticulture techniques. I met Hari online prior to making my pilgrimage to India, and he has been nothing but welcoming and hospitable in all communications. He always stressed that anything I need in India, please do not hesitate to call. I was so happy to finally meet him! I stayed for a few hours and after a couple beers, a delicious home-cooked meal, tea and lots of Indian sweets, Richa’s husband offered if I wanted to take a nap before I needed to find the bus station around 8:30 pm. I declined at first, but thought better of it after a hour or so and took them up on it. I napped for a couple hours : ) Upon waking me, Richa and her husband dropped me off at the metro station and wished me well. This is where the story gets a little crazy. According to the government website (which I know now never to trust) there were buses leaving from a station called Kashmiri Gate to Rishikesh (about 8 hours from Delhi) every hour for 24 hours. This station was closer to where I was than the other ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) that had buses to Rishikesh, so off I went. I get off the metro at Kashmiri Gate and follow the arrows and signs in English outside the metro to the bus station. It’s dark, and after fending off a man who tries to persuade me that the bus ticket counter is a ramshackle lean-to about 100 feet away from where I stood, I peer questioningly down the dark, trash-laden concrete stairway that supposedly goes to the bus station. Little did I know I was about to enter what I would imagine a bus station might look like in a post-apocalyptic world. At the bottom of the smelly dark stairwell is a un-manned metal detector. I walk through with my pack and the alarm sounds, but there is no one there to answer to, so I keep walking. There is a mob of about 40 shadowy figures ahead shouting aggressively at each other in Hindi. I walked quickly by towards what looks like used to be a bus station terminal, but is largely vacant. Only the surrounding outside platforms are lit, and there are not many people around and I see nothing that looks like a ticket counter. As I try to make sense of the seemingly randomly parked and rag-tag, aged-looking buses that are scattered about the parking lot, I was disturbed to hear a man’s screams. The mob had encircled a man who was now on the laying on ground, screaming for mercy. I didn’t see anyone kick him, and they appeared to move away from him after hearing these screams. This was my first experience of violence here, which was the disturbing part. I still needed to figure out how to get a bus ticket, so I walked around the building on the outside platforms to find more people and more buses. OK, this is it, I thought. Only, there were about six booths on the platforms each encircled by iron cages with people crowded around each one. All signs were in Hindi, so I had to ask someone. I confirmed with three people that there were NO buses to Rishikesh from this station. I had to go to Annad Vitar ISBT, which required changing three metro lines, and I had to get there before 11:30pm, when the last bus to Rishikesh leaves. Of course. OK. Fast forward to Annad Vitar. This station is a larger, louder, and dirtier version of Kashmiri Gate. People shouting. Longer lines at the “ticket counters”, more food vendors, and much more trash, and stray dogs. I almost stepped on a rat. At this point I’m nervous I’m not going to make it on the last bus. The platform furthest away, number 135, is where my buses to Rishikesh are (of course). I don’t see a government bus at this platform so I pick the newest looking bus and ask the driver if they are doing to Rishikesh. Yes. I hop on and take the second-to-last remaining seat. Miraculously, there is just enough room to jam my over-stuffed backpack into the overhead rack. Before I can even sit down the bus is staring to roll out. I smiled. I made it. This is my seat. It was meant for me. The long journey to Rishikesh cost 350 rupees, about $6.
I arrived in Rishikesh 8 hours later and waited a couple hours for the sun to come up before catching an auto-rickshaw into town. I will share with you just two more videos on this post. My next post will need to be beautiful Rishikesh and adventures in this spiritual place…