Saturday, 2 April 2016

A weekend in India

Before coming to India, I was assigned to work in Rait, Himachal Pradesh. As excited I was to get to know this community, I also wondered how much I would travel and see the areas outside of this village. I read all the blogs on this website to obtain as much information as I could about what my weekends would look like (in addition to information about the projects in Rait, of course). Regardless of how much I read, nothing could have prepared me for the adventures that were to come. 

Now that I have been in India for more than two months, I, alongside my fellow Rait-ians, have travelled every weekend to villages and cities near and far. Included in the growing list is Shimla, Kashol, Manali, Dalhousie, Chandigarh, McLeod Ganj, and Udaipur. 

Shimla will never be forgotten (not that any of these weekend adventures would be) because It was riddled with both the good and the bad.

During one of my first weekends in Rait, I went to Shimla with Sylvja and a friend from the Harike centre, Sacha. It was a perfect opportunity to un-wind and seek some adventure outside of the Rait. So at 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday (the last day of the work-week), Sylvia asked, "So are we going somewhere?" We looked at each other with that "oh-what-the-the-hell" look, and we quickly packed small backpacks not really considering logistics or considering; we were our the door by 630pm. Let me tell you, travelling by local bus during the night is not exactly fun. To all the future interns reading this, just know that local overnight buses will become your norm. Sylvia and I must have taken the world's worst bus driven by the world's worst driver (all of the buses in india will seem like this but, seriously, this bus was bad). With foreign smells and broken windows, we spent the next eight hours of our lives holding on to our seats for dear life. We literally could not rest our grip for fear of flying to the opposite side of the bus or inadvertently elbowing some cute, unsuspecting child. Sylvia and I also did not anticipate just how cold it would be in Shimla and on the way there. By the end of those grueling eight hours, we ended up wearing literally every single piece of clothing we had brought.

Arriving at 4:00 am with no reservations, Sylvia and I proceeded to walk the hills toward the main area. For two hours, we knocked on guesthouses door to door inquiring about availability. What made it worse was the snow. Yes, it was snowing. The two pants, two shirts, and two sweaters I was wearing could not keep out the cold. We finally found a guesthouse and slept for a few hours. With tired still in our eyes, we met Sacha mid-day. The first destination was the monkey temple. As you can guess, there were monkeys everywhere, but these were no ordinary monkeys; these monkeys were monkey thieves. Slowly creeping towards us with a nonchalant and calm demeanor, one monkey was just asking for trouble. He suddenly leaped toward my head and stole the sunglasses of my face. I wish I could say that my wonderful friends, Sylvia and Sacha, jumped to my aid, but no. They shouted and stared at me. I have to admit that my reaction would have been no better! 

Over the next 18 hours, the three of us unexpectedly went on a hike; visited some interesting and not-so-interesting temples and monuments; and nibbled on everything imaginable from coconut and peanut brittle to Chana Baturi to pizza. Finally, on Friday evening, Sylvia and I said our goodbyes to Sacha and we parted ways. We got on yet another gruesome overnight local bus back to Rait. We returned to our centre at 5:00 am with zombie eyes and strained backs (as we always do after a weekend of travel). After sleeping for a few hours, Sylvia and I went to the main market for the weekly house grocery shopping. As I was buying vegetables, several locals gathered around Sylvia and asked if she had been in Shimla the previous day. In a state of confusion, Sylvia and I pondered how they could have known that. A man came running to us presented us with the Himachal Pradesh newspaper.

Low and behold, a picture of Sylvia and I was on the front page. In Hindi, the caption read, "Tourists are enjoying the snow in Shimla" (or so we were told - I won't pretend I'm cool enough to read Hindi). Sylvia and I had no idea that we were being photographed! Being that Sacha is not in the photograph, I assume it was taken before her arrival. On one hand, I suppose it's kind of cool to be in the state newspaper, but on the other hand, it is somewhat disconcerting... We were 8 hours away from Rait yet everyone in Rait knew exactly where we were!

All in all, my weekend in Shimla was, like all the other weekend travels, unforgettable. For any future interns coming to India, don't do what I did and try to obtain as much information about as much as possible. Much of that information still won't really prepare you for this great adventure. Just know - You will be cold; you will be hot; you will be happy, you will be sad; and you will be sick. 

Just take it as it comes and have fun :)

Kelly Strautins - USA
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Rait

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