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February 05, 2005

Roller Coaster

The highs and lows I am experiencing in this country are pretty dramatic, and I can completely relate to the "love it and hate it" impressions I've heard about India from others. But sadly, I think I more often find myself hating it than loving it, more often frustrated than content, sad not happy, weak not strong.

So many things contribute, and it's all wearing me down. The people are truly very friendly, yet almost to a fault. I feel like everyone wants a piece of me--from trying to get me to take their rickshaw to a simple "Hello! Good Morning! What is your country?" While waiting for the night bus the other night, someone asked me my name, my country, and whether I believe in God! I just can't indulge every question, can't take everyone's picture, buy every postcard, fill every empty hand.

And the staring. It's constant, but particularly bad on buses, where I'm a sitting duck and the people have nothing else to do. Thankfully, it doesn't feel at all threatening or sexual like I thought it would. I understand they're "just curious" and they clearly haven't gotten the memo that people don't like to be stared at. What I think makes it so difficult is feeling that I can't respond the way I want to, which is to give them my meanest big-city glare, and even ask "What the HELL are you looking at!? TURN AROUND!" But, I've been told men may think it's a come-on if you return their stare, and I've found that children often ask for something or just keep saying hello, hello, hello if you acknowledge them. So unless it's a woman or teenage girl, who I feel I can smile at, I just pretend I don't notice, ignore the eyes, keep my head down, feeling meak, weak, and shy, everything I'm convinced I'm not deep down inside. I put my head in a book or stare out the window hoping they will get bored, but every time I look up there are still eyes on me.

In addition to this, in many other ways I feel I can't be myself here--I have to pretend I'm not a modern, independent, brave woman--I lie constantly--Yes, I'm traveling with friends. Yes, I'm married. Yes, I live with my parents. I'm forced to act in ways I don't like. I give people short, terse answers and am generally unfriendly. I often ignore people entirely when they talk to me. I have blinders on to all the poverty and filth.

Yes, there are highs mixed in with the lows. I really enjoyed Jaisalmer in particular, and even got some cooking lessons from the owner of the rooftop restaurant above my guest house, and met some good people there. Here in Udaipur, I took some yoga classes from the owner of the guest house. And, I'm trying to do some meditation on my own, in preparation for a 10-day Buddhist Meditation retreat I'm planning to do in Thailand at the beginning of March. But most of the good things seem to revolve around finding some measure of comfort and have little to do with being in India--a familiar movie on TV, Italian food, cool fellow travelers, Internet around the corner, rooftop restaurants that allow a chance to observe and escape humanity at the same time, running into travel friends from South America(!)...

So, I'm traveling differently here now. Moving less, relaxing more. Trying to somehow be in the moment and not just be yearning for Thailand's beaches. Trying to find peace and comfort wherever I can. Avoiding hassles is impossible, but anything to minimize them--like as few more local bus rides as possible!

I have just 11 days left, and it doesn't seem worth the hassle to try to change my ticket, so I'm going to stick it out. Today, I head back to Jaipur to see some friends, and then...I'm not sure yet, but the goal is to seek happiness here, no matter what form it takes. If it means doing nothing but yoga all day, great. If it means eating pizza and reading on the roof, fine. I've finally learned that I can't push myself here--India's pushing hard enough already.

Posted by Amy on February 5, 2005 09:26 PM
Category: India

I like the honesty of your entries, and your writing is excellent. I guess that for every travel high there must be a travel low, so just think about all of the highs that must be in store for you over the next few months! And, when in doubt, go find an Irish Pub. :)

Posted by: Fred on February 5, 2005 11:38 PM

Hi Amy,

Glad to hear that you are taking the time to focus on yourself and recharge. Yoga and meditation are both excellent ways to do that, and I wish you good luck in your practice. Have fun seeking out the Up and avoiding the Down. :)

Posted by: Sandy on February 6, 2005 12:12 AM

yeah, traveling in india is definitely rough. it's for sure the most difficult country i've experienced so far. but overall, i'm really enjoying it. maybe you should go chill in the himalayas? that could be nice and relaxing! we're going up to mcleod ganj in a few days....

Posted by: vlad on February 6, 2005 02:19 AM

Now that I have been in India and Jaipur for one week I get some of what you mean. Even though I am Indian, and no one should mistaken me for someone else, moment I step out of the hostel there are 10 guys asking me where I want to go this morning, afternoon, evening. They just do not leave me alone even after I tell them in Hindi to go away! Plus the garbage and traffic on the road just drives me crazy and sad. Its surprising & sad to see we Indians have absolutely NO pride in our cities to keep things clean not for tourists, but just for ourselves. Its driving me nuts...

Posted by: Subodh on February 6, 2005 10:45 PM

Amy -- I love the honesty. Rarely do I hear anything negative about a place. Thanks for giving a clear picture. I'm happy that you're trying to keep a positive attitude, though. That should help you over the next week or so, and meditation and yoga are awlays a good way to stay focused and clear-headed.

Posted by: Marketa on February 7, 2005 10:05 AM

heh, my girlfriend's thoughts on staring:

Posted by: vlad on February 7, 2005 11:44 AM

you're a champ, amy, and one of the bravest and strongest and most independent women i know! hang in there, and do exactly what you need to do to keep your head clear. you'll come out the other side even stronger for it.

Posted by: mia on February 7, 2005 04:51 PM
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