Category Archives: travel essay

Tips for NRI’s Traveling Back to the Motherland: A Series (Part One: Until Now)

Dear Readers,

The next few posts are aimed at Non-Resident Indian’s looking to go back to the motherland.  But really, it’s for everyone who knows what it means to be a bridge.  In this era of American-supremacy, I know I for one am still learning how to come correct in other countries.  We must travel, see more than our isolated island existence permits.  Traveling pierces through facades of comfort.  And surely, we can each become travelers every day, in our daily lives, through doing something new and uncomfortable and daring every day.  It is a time of recall, our mother countries have issued a draft.  Can you hear it?  Warriors, we are needed for the war has escalated, the battlefield has entered our bones, armed borders etched across the faces we see in the mirror.  It is time to go back to roots, and clear the day for our ways to shine.

Read on, for the political poet’s take on traveling back to roots.

Tips for NRI’s Traveling Back to the Motherland: A Series

Part One: Until Now

Tip #1: Leave the family circuit and travel India–if the tourists can do it, you can too. 

Tip #2: Balance your bargaining instinct with generosity.  Don’t be afraid to contribute to the local economy, you are not a failure if you lose out on a few rupees. 

 

If I left it up to my relatives generally, and Mom and Dad specifically, I would never be face to face with my mother country.  Instead, India would always be handed to me on a plastic, flower stamped tray, hot chai steaming, biscuits gleaming, a role all carved out for me in the ivory of my cousin’s weddings, loving new nieces and nephews, hand made sweets in my mouth, and kum se kum four meals a day without ever having lifted a finger. 

 

Until now.

 

In this past month, I learned a few lessons on traveling adventurously and comfortably as a solo woman trekking through India.  “Tips for NRI’s Traveling Back to the Motherland: A Series,” is meant to be informative and funny.  The list reflects my own political leanings, class standing, and goals.  With that, I’m gonna pass these tips along to you, my Indian-American sisters and brothers who are proud to be, not sure how to be, are so beautifully, Desi. 

 

Tip #1: Leave the family circuit and travel India–if the tourists can do it, you can too.

 

Until now, I’d never traveled alone in India for more than one night and two days.  and I’ve been to India eleven times.   But this January I traveled solo through India for a month.  I’m an unmarried, 30 year old, desi woman, who speaks well-accented but tutti-futti Hindi.  And I am a survivor of sexual violence, so taking chances is not something I do lightly.  Alone, I navigated blue toned trains, government buses color coded by state, chrome delhi metro, black and yellow auto rickshaws, sea green with purple trim cycle rickshaws, cavernous white maruti vans, silver four-door sedans, and proud golden camels to get to Old Delhi’s Juma Mosque, Amritsar’s Golden Temple, Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj’s Monastaries, Banasthali’s Hanuman Mandir, and Jaisalmer’s Jain Temple and sand dunes.  Just me, myself, and God.   

 

Traveling solo in India is one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself.  But the pull of family, wanting to see them, them wanting to protect you, can make it hard to venture off.  The one night and two day trip I mentioned earlier?  It was my first solo trek, a simple overnight jaunt down the well-worn travel route from Delhi to Rishikesh. 

 

As I clawed my way out of the web of family obligation and guilt towards the bus station, no less than five uncles and cousin brothers accompanied me On To the bus, whereupon they shouted messages between me and the over worked bus driver regarding my safety and how I was from America, and that I was going to Rishikesh but had never been there before thereby endangering me far more than I had ever anticipated.  The bus was actually moving, en route, before my gorgeous male relatives hopped off, and one by one began to wave at me through window bars, heaving out a few last mortifying messages my way as the bus careened through traffic towards the mountains. 

 

The trip to Rishikesh was magical.  I arrived at night, when it seemed a cloud had descended over the inlet.  A monkey and I walked across the narrow bridge to Rishikesh, where, because it was late, I quickly decided on a place to stay.  The next morning, after treating myself to warm dollops of scented oil after a cold shower, I chose not to visit the string of temples, and hiked up around the curve of a misty green mountain, with a fresh river ganga on my left.  When I got tired, I hitched a motorcycle ride to Neel Kanth, a Shiv Ji pilgrimage site. 

 

Ten years ago I traveled the world on a ship, making solo treks across countries I’d never been to before.  Train rides in South Africa through White wine country to Colored townships, crammed buses rumbling through eastern Kenya, hiking over bat caves in Malaysia, witnessing the aftershocks of war in Vietnam-it was an adventurous and confidence building experience. 

 

And yet, exactly one year ago, post-Rishikesh trek, I was back to wondering how the hell to get my Cha-Cha Ji’s permission to walk five steps down the lane to do something death defying like buy my own Bisleri or make a phone call at the STD stand, alone!

 

Until now, my trips back to India have been a revolving door of relatives homes, train tickets shoved in my hand, cousin brothers valiantly waiting for at the bus stand, I was rarely alone.  India for me has largely been spent in-doors.  Under the fluorescent light of my temporary bedrooms I’d peer in the mirror at my face, and affirm to myself, “I live on my own in the States, and I know how to travel.”

   

To be fair, every situation has its good and bad.  The upside of being inside the home, is that I get to bond with family, women members in particular.  The down side is, staying inside just isn’t me, especially not if I’m traveling.  Result being, I rarely feel like myself in India, and moreover, the country I spend so much time thinking about, framing myself around while in the States, ends up feeling like it’s a world away, even when I’m right there. 

 

This year I was at a place in my personal, spiritual, and political development to put the halts on the in-the-home pattern.  Yes Mausi Ji, you can still put “homely” as a description in my Bio-Data, but your ‘lil niece is outro.  How did I do it?  First off, I didn’t talk much about my plans to anyone, especially my parents.  Second, I made liberal use of the relatively new E-ticket option on the Indian Railways website (http://www.irctc.co.in/), which made getting around a breeze.  Third, I was willing to rough it, spend occasional days on crowded buses, pressed up against brothers and sisters who were both friendly and shady.  Just like here. 

 

Fourth, I gave myself permission to rest, indulge, go wide and go deep.  Wide, as in I went far.  From Delhi, to Chandigarh, to Amristar, to Dharamshala in the span of four days.  Deep, as in I stayed in Dharamshala for a week.  I established patterns, formed a temporary community.  Stopping by to visit the young folks running Moon Peak Café with its museum lighting and Radiohead soundtrack for breakfast, talking to them for a while about Bjork, trading mixes, then, after a walk watching gold and silver monkey’s dance with Tibetan prayer flags in the street, I’m speaking to the same young mama from yesterday begging not for money but for milk, I give her money with from the small arsenal of 10 rupee notes I have in hand for people who ask, contemplate such things as guilt and compassion, and in this head space, hit up the Namgyal Café tucked into the Dalai Lama’s monastery, with its ghetto superstar owner and his long black hair, he walked me to the bookstore, held my hands, looked in my eyes and said my hands were cold, we stared across chance, he owns that café, they got this steamy thugkpa soup with mushrooms and tofu and eggs to die for. 

 

Deep.  As in I saw certain people over and over and, in that way, learned more about them, and let them see something of me.  Expanding through width, and then resting through depth, made trekking more sustainable.  Just like here.  



Tip #2: Balance your bargaining instinct with generosity.  Don’t be afraid to contribute to the local economy, you are not a failure if you lose out on a few rupees. 

 

I know, bargaining is in your blood.  Your mom still tries to bargain with the Macy’s department store clerk like they’re the sabzi walla announcing wares in the pink river colony dawn.  But please, don’t go back to the motherland and be all stingy.  It’s more of a headache than its worth.  Why plague every money interaction by fear and suspicion that someone is cheating you?  Lighten up, live a little, give a little, you can afford to be generous here.  A bit of generosity goes a long way these days, as tourism sweeps through drought with promises of candy rain, you can easily, and cheaply, distinguish yourself from tourists coming in to get high, get laid, and make a killing in the market.    

 

But remember, while you are not a failure if you pay a bit more for your rickshaw, hotel, scarves or bangles than your relatives whose pay scale is different than yours–you Are a failure if you consistently pay the Ungraij/Engraj (translated as “English person,” though generally used for all white-ish foreigners) rate.  Folks did try to sucker me, and the persistent sale of all things drained some magic out of the grand pilgrimage sites I visited.  I was praying in Jaisalmer’s Jain Temple when a priest began to ring a bell before me.  Paisa, he pointed to a slot in a steel box, here.  Oh, I responded, yai bath hai (so that’s the main point).  Tourism puts everything on the auction block.  I talked to the priest later on.  He leaned against one intricately framed door, peered at me from the milky light eyes of age, and broke down the differences and similarities between Jain and Buddhist deities.  Dude was cool. 

 

Do bargain, do stand up for your right to be treated as a human being and not just a dollar sign.  Don’t take it bargaining too seriously, too much of the time.  In the towns I visited, particularly McLeod Ganj and Jaisalmer, towns with a burgeoning population of tourists, Israeli travelers had a bad rep for being ruthless bargainers, and this was not conducive to warm interactions with hotel, food and transportation providers. 

 

Bargaining is a glorious and necessary economic Indian language, another splash of vibrancy in our culture.  Even when I was tired and my Hindi wasn’t all that, I rarely accepted the first offered rate.  Ladies, if it was at night, I not only accepted higher rates, I also paid extremely keen attention to my gut instinct before placing my body in anyone’s hotel, restraint, or rickshaw.   

 

The longer I was there, the more sense I had of what things actually cost.  To get a feel of what rates generally are, pay attention to how much basics like groceries are, and don’t be afraid to ask.  Or be afraid, but ask anyway. 

 

Stay tuned for more of Tips for NRI’s Traveling Back to the Motherland: A Series.  Part Two is called, “Kryptonite,” I’ll touch on NRI guilt, and anti-guilt responses that work. 

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back one: india shorts

Dear Readers,

Back from a deep sea dive, month long alive in India.  I’ve been dancing with jet lag, thinking and thinking about how to share with you, the reader, the feelings, adventures, life lessons.  It ain’t no cliche to go to India to revive your soul.  That shit is for real.  But you gotta work, stretch, extend your hand to bhagwan, the spirits, and they will reach back, full flowers through briar patch of tourism is a real road to travel, god’s footsteps, the whole nine.  I’m telling you.

In the next post, Back #Two, I will have tips for NRI’s traveling back to the motherland.  Smile, we bout to get candid camera in this piece.

How better to evoke the capitalist crashing ancient world lasting experience of immersing in India than through poems, shorts, to be exact

This is Back #One, take a sip of this water, burnish silver your golden sun.

15 lakhan puri

the green birds and their sounds

i will miss them

the red land and its sun

i will miss them  

the tears and their smiles  

i will kiss them   i will kiss them 

when i see them again 

the beloveds who would stand up for me  i will greet them  

again 

*

god on the corner with hoes

   

god on the corner

shiv ling an exquisite sculpture

dick rising, sun gliding up

pussy spread, moon crying, fuck  

shiv ling an exquisite rupture

double toned

poured over

milky shoulder

exposed

god on the corner with hoes 

*
indian love
 

it’s a stern love we have

a love that pulls hair

bares teeth

raises a backhand to

thapar, japhar, chapair

a love that sways like cars between the lines

dances into oncoming traffic

no look

love hands

a story of future present past

assured is india

love’s driver  

melt crash 

*

poem while sari shopping with moms and 3 mausi’s: #1

four sisters

brim over

bring over

another pattern in this color

another color in this pattern

sari shop

train stop

singing and singing their songs 

*

poem while sari shopping:#2 

your hair

your dupata

you’re sitting all wrong

u.s. born daughter

apparently gone too long 

*

poem while sari shopping:#3 

blue is the hottest flame

jaisalmer with only love to blame

at the gateway strain for privacy

gaze I drop it

finger my locket

a capsule of your hair

his voice

our lair 

*

poem while sari shopping:#4 

india is piss stained

rose printed napkins

stuffed in my pocket 

india is piss stained

rose printed napkins

no dust bins in the bathroom 

so india is piss stained

rose printed napkins

stuffed inside

hush the rush legs spread wide the ride

out of pocket

india

you are receding 

out of the corner of my eyes 

*

i wont look at you

india i wont look at you

look

just look at you

i am already burning inside

i see you

don’t doubt it

tonight together we glide 

*

jaisalmer dunes 

sand river

stream weaves

around me

she creams

a ream

of paper   

— 

Alright dear readers, this was the latest from your fav journalist with a twist, NaxaL, political poet and I know it, and I want to hear your good writing too, holler at me, and stay tuned for Back #2, with hilarious tips for NRI’s traveling back to the motherland.

Peace,

N/rs