India 2016: What Was It Like?

I’ve been asked a lot since I have come back, “what was it like?”. For a couple weeks, I couldn’t even have the conversation. Actually, I became a recluse during that time. As I looked through pictures, watched videos, read my journals and posted entries into my blog, the picture became clearer.

In one word, it was truly epic.

I saw some amazingly beautiful things that will stay with me the rest of my life and keep me wanting come back to India again (and again).

  • Celebrating my birthday in Darjeeling with longtime friends and new friends, and the hill stations leading up to the beautiful mountain town.
  • Wishing my brother George a happy birthday from the floor of the Taj Mahal.
  • Wishing our close buddy Tony a happy birthday from a cafe in Darjeeling; and my dear cousin Julie’s daughter Eden’s a happy birthday from the rooftop overlooking the tents where we spent one night in the middle of nowhere our second night of the race.
  • Driving through and spending the night in Kanpur, the city itself non-descript other than its emotional significance – the city where my parents met 54 years ago.
  • Being sung to by a couple Indian men sitting against the side of a stone wall inside the Mehrangarth Fort in Jodhpur once they found out I was actually Indian, specifically from Kerala. I don’t know what they sang but they sang it with joy and love and I loved it.
  • Spending the night on a cot outside in the Thar Desert under a clear sky filled with stars and the moon; and waking up to the sunrise afterwards.
  • All the children smiling and laughing and running after us as we drove through their town, the highways, all throughout India. Most special was all the boys from the school in Udaipur that surrounded Derek at the City Palace; as well as handing out toys to the kids up the mountain leading up to Shillong.
  • All the new friends we met from all over the world – UK, New Zealand, USA, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, etc.
  • The sunrise from our vantage point, sitting at the rooftop of the Thamla Haveli rooftop in Udaipur, hearing the morning call.
  • Sunrise at Varanasi, as well as the nightly poojas off the banks of the Ganges at the Dashaswamedh Ghat.
  • Looking at Mehrangarh Fort from our hotel rooftop, as it stood majestically overlooking Jodhpur; and being inside it the next day.
  • Living inside Jaisalmer Fort, which gave us a glimpse into what it must have been like to live inside a fort that had been around for almost a thousand years. Having drinks with the traditional king of Jaisalmer. He had a solid moustache.
  • The terrain and scenery all along our journey… we drove through desert, farmland, mountains, rainforests, etc.
  • Any time we seemed to be in a tight situation, people seemed to come out of nowhere to help exactly when we needed them.
  • Riding a camel into the Thar Desert.
  • Dancing till the wee hours in Bombay with new friends.
  • Literally all the towns and cities we visited – Kolkata, Varanasi, Bombay, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Barr, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Kanpur, Darjeeling, and Shillong, not to mention many others – confidently knowing by the time we left that we had seen more of India than most Indians, let alone any foreigners.

I also experienced the other side, things that were not so great, sometimes life threatening things, saw things that no one should see, some that were truly scary.

  • Driving through an accident scene on the highway, only to find a man dead, having been run over by a truck just moments before. I’d never seen a scene so gruesome in my life.
  • Watching a dog literally dying as he limped on his two front paws, dragging his mangled body on his back two.
  • Dead dogs on the middle of the highway.
  • Being threatened by two people by being shown a picture on one of their phones of a man hanging, and being pointed at with a finger cutting their neck, hinting that could be our fate.
  • Being threatened by a mob in Pushkar as we knocked their bikes over driving down a narrow passageway. We eventually escaped unharmed.
  • Absolutely insane drivers with no regard for the lives of others on the road or on the sides of the road, let alone their own lives. Driving on the wrong side of the road, day or night. Driving with high beams late into the night. Running us off the road on occasion. Driving in India is a fatal sport and thoroughly hazardous to your health.
  • Our tuk-tuk decided not to start towards the end of our race, eventually leading us to take apart and put back together its carburetor.
  • The absolute shithole hotels all throughout Bihar.
  • The amount of filth aka trash and dung and shit mingled with the stench prevalent in most cities.
  • Riding a camel into the Thar Desert. I could barely walk without pain for two days afterwards.
  • Last, but not least, rather most important, finding out on my last day in Shillong after the race that a dear friend of mine had died, leaving behind a beautiful wife and beautiful two-year-old son. Life is truly beautiful, which is why it should never be taken for granted; and why you don’t let a moment go by without telling the ones you love, that you love them. I left India with a heavy heart.

Then there were things that were just annoying, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Being stared at. In reality, Derek & DaveRisner were stared at significantly more than me. Derek relished the attention (most of the time). DaveRisner I’m not sure if he enjoyed it any more or less than the attention he receives at home. He’s a noteworthy guy. As for me, most people were not sure what to make of me. Was I Indian? Or not? I looked Indian. Maybe. But then when I started talking, the locals were thrown for a loop. When I confessed I was from Kerala, I believe it helped break down a few barriers with some people. Maybe it didn’t
  • Delhi belly. It’s a real thing. And you will get it. Just “enjoy” it for what it is.
  • Menus at restaurants are a hot commodity. Once sitting down, and we ask, we’ll be given one. To get more, you have to ask again. And again. And again.
  • No one ever seemed to have change; and people selling their goods would always round up.
  • No toilet paper. Unless you asked for it, of course.
  • Indian standard time, i.e. no one was ever on time. Everything was five minutes away, when it was never five minutes away.

Despite the fact that we saw and experienced things no one did, and in some cases no one should ever have to, and while I had moments of true doubt, in no way did I ever regret our decision to come here and race this adventure the second half of our trip. It was absolutely incredible; and very life-affirming. While the first half of the trip was more my pace, even if I had known of the constant frenzy we would encounter through the Rickshaw Run before participating in it, I would have still done it. Maybe I’m a bit crazy? Maybe I’m just restless? Maybe I am trying to prove to myself that I am not an old man? Or maybe, it’s just that I’m an adventurer at heart.

That being said, my next adventure will be something different as I probably won’t ever do the rickshaw run again. I don’t need to, cos I’ve already done it, of course. I’m glad that I did it once.

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