On my worst day in India, I cried six times. It was 42 degrees and the air conditioning in my Varanasi hostel was broken, and I just physically could not sleep, no matter what I did. I wrapped myself in wet towels, I was wearing practically nothing, I kept wetting my hair and face – but everything would dry immediately, and I couldn’t stop crying out of frustration.
On my way to try to find coffee after the worst sleep of my life, a man on the streets groped me, and I screamed at him in Hindi and then cried. Next I got stuck in a traffic jam and fell into a gutter, soaking my only clean skirt in mud and god knows what. I desperately needed to find cash, so I had to keep wandering the clogged and raucous streets caked in dirt and borderline sobbing.
I tried seven ATM’s, my anxiety skyrocketing with each one that told me it couldn’t give me money. My mind raced through the possibilities: if I couldn’t get money, I couldn’t pay for my hostel and I’d have to sleep on the streets and I’d get sold into the sex trade and then my life would be ruined. Logical steps? In my mind, yes. Eventually, I found some money and decided to sort my life out, thinking it was all up from here.
Guess what! Nope. I went to a travel agent I had visited earlier in the week to buy a train ticket up to Sikkim, where I needed to catch my flight to Dubai. He had to buy the ticket through an Indian reservation system called Tatkal, so I wouldn’t actually get the ticket until 2 days before the train. I walked in, finally some hope in my eyes, only to hear that he failed, and I needed to figure out another route. This, naturally, made me cry.
Anyway, the point is that on this day I felt like shit and I treated everyone else like shit. Starving children asked me for money and all I could think about was how much I didn’t want to be bothered on this particular day. I snapped incessantly at the innocent hostel workers who were just trying to fix the AC and even gave me a refund for an unused night when I checked out. For god’s sake, I have been a vegetarian for 16 years and I deeply love animals, but when a street cow got in my way I screamed in my head “I will kill that cow if it doesn’t get out of my way RIGHT NOW.”
That sort of behaviour and attitude gets you absolutely nowhere. It’s a vicious cycle – the meaner you are to the world around you, the meaner the world will be to you.
My magical days in India were the ones where I woke up and decided that despite the oppressive heat and challenging travel, I would appreciate everything that was happening to me. When I let things roll off my back and just shrugged my shoulders at the chaos of India, good things found me – a sweet puppy would climb into my lap or a precious child would ask my name and where I was from and then not ask me for money. Or I would turn a corner and see a sadhu, long white beard and bright orange robes, smile gently at me as he walked past a temple beaming with light rays from the beating midday sun.
But this post is not about those days! This post is about the days where I really thought that I might die from crying, or the days I seriously considered booking a flight out of India.
You’ve already heard about my worst day, but there were others. These aren’t necessarily places I regret going (in some cases) but I wanted to write honestly about my experiences in India, because it was quite clearly not all sunshine and roses. If you feel depressed after reading this, please go check out my post on the BEST things I did in India; it’s a lot more positive.
I mean, I knew it was going to happen – I just didn’t think it was going to be quite so bad. I was being pretty careful with food in India, but I wasn’t accounting for the lower standards of hygiene (in general) and to be honest, I was petting too many stray dogs. They’re just so cute 🙁
After seeing the Dalai Lama speak and having one of the most amazing experiences of my summer, I went back to my friends’ hostel for a drink and some games. The six of us sat on the rooftop hanging out, and then I started to feel a pain in my stomach. I went to one of their rooms to lie down for a minute, and I’m pretty sure they regretted that offer because for the next 12 hours I spent my time sprinting back and forth between the bed and the bathroom. It was truly reminiscent of the time I got norovirus in Prague, except markedly worse. My lovely new friends came to check on me and stroked my hair and tried to convince me to drink water, which I could absolutely not hold down.
Anyway, enough said. It sucked. In the morning my friend drove me back to my hostel on their motorbike, and I slept for approximately 3 days before I felt like I could be a human.
STUCK IN DARJEELING WITH NOWHERE TO SLEEP
Darjeeling was kind of a similar experience to Varanasi in that it basically sucked except for a few bright moments where I appreciated how beautiful it was. One particular low point was another wild goose chase for an ATM that worked, but we already talked about that particular breed of hell. At least in Darjeeling it wasn’t hot, but it was almost constantly raining.
However, Darjeeling was quite expensive and almost all of the hotels and hostels were sold out. I booked somewhere without realizing quite how far down the hill it was – to the tune of a 90 minute walk on very dangerous roads. It was usually quite easy to get in a shared jeep up or down, and actually made me feel quite accomplished whenever I managed to do it successfully.
One night, though, I stayed at a cafe with a beer for longer than I realized because there was live music. I’m not talking crazy late – it was literally 9:15PM – but the share jeeps apparently stop at exactly 9PM. I wandered around, lost and a bit scared, trying to find someone, even a private taxi, to take me home. Nothing. I stumbled upon a hostel literally as they were closing the metal shutters and tried to get them to help me, but the only way they could do so was to give me a room. Luckily they had a private room so I could cry in peace.
It all worked out fine, but I was quite shaken by my lapse in judgment and frustrated that I had to pay for two hostel rooms. I slept poorly and woke up the next morning to start crying again! I made it back to my original hostel and a lovely Tibetan lady who worked there said a kind hello. Of course, this set me off and I burst into tears without being able to explain to her why. Even if she had spoken English, it made no sense. Luckily, I pulled myself together and booked the Airbnb in Kalimpong that became one of the highlights of my trip.
MY LAST DAY IN INDIA
On the way back from Sikkim in the far northeast of India, I finally felt at peace with the country. I hadn’t had a perfect week, but I was finally happy. AND THEN my rickshaw driver tried to rip me off on the way to the airport hotel I booked for the night before my flight to Dubai. When I finally got to the hotel, I spent 30 minutes trying to find someone to check me in and then was told that they couldn’t check me in. The guy refused to explain why, and at first I reverted back to my Canadian self and politely walked away. Then I realized how ridiculous that was, and went back to the desk to give him a piece of my mind. He treated me like total garbage and of course I started crying, really invalidating my badass attitude.
Basically, the reason he wasn’t letting me check in is that the app I had used to book (goibibo) had been displaying inaccurate rates. NOBODY would help me – the hotel guy was probably 19 and clearly didn’t give a shit, and when I called the booking company to try to get them to cover it, they transferred my call endlessly until I gave up. MOST irritatingly, the guy wouldn’t even let me check in if I paid the actual price. I just wanted air conditioning and a good long sleep before my flight, but instead I was in a lobby crying.
I finally threw my hands up and took a rickshaw to another place that was double the price, but not before I spoke to 5 rickshaw drivers who were trying to rip off the sobbing foreign girl, alone and drenched in sweat. Someone eventually took pity on me and the hotel I eventually checked into was fine. I left India MAD but trying to still appreciate all I had learned and seen in the past 6 weeks.