An “Out-Of-Comfort-Zone” Experience

Independent in India         

Written by Jinty Kincaid

Here’s an out-of-comfort-zone experience if you like creating time to think and explore, refresh your spirits, and strengthen yourself.

Apart from the flight to and from India, you won’t be leaving much of a carbon footprint or spending a lot of cash, and the places in this article are not suffering, (yet), from the horrors of over-tourism. So that’s another advantage.

This journey was from Delhi 250 km by overnight bus to Rishikesh in the north of India, then right up to the Foothills of the Himalayas to a tiny place called Bir, not too far from Macleod Ganj where the Tibetan government in exile is, and where the Dalai Lama lives.

I travelled alone, with friends to visit, but of course whatever way suits you. (Armchair travel, too, why not). It’s an adventure.

The idea of the trip began when I met a lively and engaging German woman in a Buddhist centre near Arco, Lake Garda, in Italy. She told me she had a sister in the Himalayas, who, she assured me, would be delighted to meet me.

At last I had a new target. A chat and a cup of Indian tea with a stranger 6,000 km away, was just the thing to liven me up.

So I bought a map of the world, put it up on the wall of my flat and pinned a little red flag onto it, denoting the miniscule village of Bir (population 815) where the sister lived.

The tea with the sister in the Himalayas idea was charming, but I needed something else to do once I got there, so I found a three-month volunteer contract as an English teacher to Tibetan refugees and Indian teenagers.

A few weeks later, I flew from Munich to Delhi, and my first image of India was seeing, from my taxi, a man defecating in some wasteland not far from the airport in broad daylight. Things improved though, and I stayed in a homestay run by a cousin of the beautiful but not-too-popular-with-the-authorities, writer Arundhati Roy.

Also, my fellow guest at the homestay was the great great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, writer, public speaker and historian, Lucinda Hawksley. (She and I later travelled together with a driver in Rajasthan for a week).

Delhi was relatively straightforward and interesting, and included attending an Indian-Chinese trade conference with a friend from the British Council, who kindly hosted me in her elegant villa for a few nights, and her driver took us round town a bit.

After the comfort and wealth of these circles, I caught a bus, alone, (from a bus station with cows wandering around the stances),from Delhi up to Rishikesh, which is currently quite well known in yoga circles because they have yoga training centres there. But it is also where The Beatles did a course in transcendental Meditation with Marharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 60s. Which I didn’t know until a tuk-tuk took me past it and its driver muttered something about The Beatles and pointed to an undistinguishable group of buildings in unkempt bushes in the distance. ( )

The town of Rishikesh is very near the source of the River Ganges, where I met up with another old friend and swam with her in the very cold sacred river, and spent about a week hanging out with other ‘seekers’ (‘my truth is not yours’), sundry digital nomads and laid back travellers in German bakeries and other haunts.

From Rishikesh I travelled alone overnight by bus 500km up rickety mountain roads to the winter resort town of  Manali in the Himalayas. I was the only woman on the bus, the only non-Indian, and unusually, not one fellow passenger spoke English.

I recovered for a night or two from the journey in a rather grubby hotel in Manali. (Utterly freezing but with fabulous scenery). From there, I bussed it again another 150 km and arrived exhausted but delighted in Bir, at the Deer Park Institute, . My home – and where I taught English – for the next three months.

My classroom here remains the most exotic I have ever worked in.

I lived with a Tibetan family whose ancient granny spat into the wc every morning, which was the first thing I heard every day. The teenage son of the family had given over his bedroom to me, with a poster of Juventus football players and photos of his local cricket team on the walls. The electricity broke down, daily, so I used to borrow books from the little Deer Park Institute library.

It was there that I first encountered the writings of the now-famous Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh whose books I read by torchlight, lying on cheap sheets, in my host teenager’s bedroom, listening to the sounds of the Himalayan night.

MTR – aside. ( And I did have Indian tea with the sister, in her garden.)

Recommended Read: Novels from the countries I’m visiting
Recommended Listening: Joni Mitchell – Hejira

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