Please enjoy some moderately relevant musical accompaniment to this blog post:
July 2014, Los Gázquez: Through the WorkAway website we got in touch with a French-Tibetan couple in Dharamsala who were involved in a project that interested us. Working closely with the Tibetan community in exile, they said they needed filmmakers and writers. We were pretty sure we were the men for the job and asked them if we could help them in September. For various reasons they didn’t need us in September and we were only a little bummed out.
September 2014, Jaisalmer: We befriended our fellow volunteer Simon (the guy we joined for motorbiking and grooming). Simon is a filmmaker and mentioned to us that his next stop was going to be Dharamsala to do some film work for a very familiar sounding French-Tibetan couple.
October 2014, Pushkar: Having heard wonderful things from Simon about his time in Dharamsala and still believing us to be the men for the job, David contacted the French-Tibetan couple again and reintroduced ourselves. Of course they remember us! And they’d love to have us! And could we please arrive as soon as possible? We’re not too proud to be somebody’s afterthought so we started making travel arrangements. We were just excited to have a project, a direction to remedy our oft directionlessness, and a reason to be anywhere at all. It was going to be a long haul to get to Dharamsala from Udaipur: two overnight bus rides separated by a full day in the city that just floods us with warm memories – Delhi.
The first bus ride was fine and mostly uneventful, save for some motion sickness on top of David’s mostly-under-control stomach virus. After 15 hours the bus arrived to a place on the side of the road that in no way resembled a bus station, somewhere in Delhi. We stepped out onto a dusty sidewalk, picked a direction and just started walking. The neighborhood had a vaguely familiar feeling. While standing on a street corner for far too long trying to intuit which way we should walk, a man approached who didn’t seem to be trying to sell us something. He directed us to the nearest metro station where we were thrilled to realize that we were in the same neighborhood as our previous visit to Delhi. This time around was going to be a piece of cake. Relatively speaking.
Sleep deprived and still a little sick we had some coffee before setting out on a quest for lunch and Internet. You see, we had never received a final confirmation from our hosts after discussing our arrival and we wanted to make sure they would be at the other end to receive us. We never expected it would be so difficult to find wifi in such a metropolis. After much searching we found lunch mere moments before Austin expired (which is a significant detail for those of you who know what it’s like to be around a hangry Austin) and the kind restaurateur allowed us to use his computer to check our email. We felt disconcerted when there was no email awaiting us from our hosts. We sent them another email repeating our arrival details and crossed our fingers that they’d be there.
From there we made our way to the next bus stop, which once again looked nothing like a bus stop and showed no indication that a bus might ever stop there. We boarded our bus to Dharamsala and however insensible it may have been, Austin felt at ease when she saw that we were sharing the bus with several monks in red robes. It seemed to her like a sign that we were heading toward a more peaceful destination. And what kind of person would ever harm, swindle or exploit a monk? She felt sure we were in good hands at that point.
Her sense of ease dissipated as David engaged in a typical (for us) mildly agitated conversation with a bus attendant who wanted David to pay 10 rupees (about 15 cents) for stowing his backpack beneath the bus. David had a question about this service that the man seemed unwilling to answer. This brief dialogue was repeated several times, since the man didn’t seem to want to address David’s inquiry and David grew ever more irritated. At this time Austin reflected upon how we’ve changed since arriving in India. We are way more aggressive than ever before and we are quicker to escalate (remember David’s F-bomb?) but the contradiction is that we are still as shy as we have always been. Cut to her mental landscape: an image of a small, tormented dog appears. It looks timid and pitiful and scared, its tail tucked between its legs. Clearly a survivor of recurring traumas and abuses, its eyes dart around with fearful vigilance and anytime someone approaches it it bares its teeth in an ugly defensive snarl. Oh no, thought Austin, is this what India has done to us? Will we ever recover from this affliction? Will we go onward from this country demanding with unnecessary aggression things that could normally just be politely requested? Will we continue to respond to every piece of information with a large dose of suspicion, defensiveness and mistrust? After a few minutes the bus attendant gave up on David and his 10 rupees. We had survived a day in Delhi. There was nothing left to do but try to get some sleep and hope that a friendly face would greet us the next morning.
We were successful on neither front. The bus ride was so bumpy and jolting it would have been almost comical if we didn’t feel like garbage. The darkness outside concealed the terrifying cliffs our bus clung to as we careened around hairpin switchbacks. It was not reassuring that every time the driver slammed on the brakes a metallic screech sounded, similar to the sound of brake pads that have been worn down to nothing. After 12 herky-jerky hours we arrived safely to Dharamsala and stepped out into the cold predawn morning. And no one was there to greet us.
We waited about an hour at the bus stop (which also didn’t look like a bus stop – we are noticing a theme) and then spent the next 3 and a half hours in taxis and on foot trying to locate our hosts. It turns out someone had indeed been waiting for us – at a different bus stop than the one we had been instructed to get out at (and we’d wager that bus stop didn’t look like a bus stop either). We were eventually found, offered chai, and sent straight to bed to recover from our long excursion.