For eight and a half hours, the car ride was completely silent. No more than maybe 10 words were spoken between us on our ride from the finish line in Jaisalmer to Jaipur. The activities of, not just the last 3 weeks, but really the last 9 months, finally catching up to each of us. It was as if we were being pushed into almost a numbness that required immediate reflection as the driver took us in his white 4-door TATA Sedan to catch our flight back home to the States.
Amazing, how different India looks from inside the comforts of a car verses the 3-wheeled rickshaw. It is almost as if we have already stepped away and are now looking at the country through an aquarium glass. For two full weeks, we have not just traveled through India, but were actually part of it. The rickshaw and everything that encompassed traveling in this manner allowed each of us to actually be an organic part of the country. Not until this very moment did I realize what a wonderful gift that was. and how much I already missed it.
All of our senses are overwhelmed - our entire body covered with bruises and dirt from the challenges we just overcome …I’m almost fearful to close my eyes, because it immediately enables a random memory to once again put me back to the whirlwind they called the Rickshaw Run… Initially, I thought this whole thing started with a friend I have back in New York City, that told me about theadventurists and her experience with their crazy challenges for charity. But now with deeper reflection, it wasn’t really my friend that brought this to be… I mean yes, she absolutely steered us to the opportunity, but personally I have been searching for these types of experiences for a much longer time. An experience that, not only allowed me to truly give back to something I personally really felt indebted to, but also to push myself to the brink of exhaustion, confusion, terror, sadness, happiness, and just the unknown… and, then, hopefully to safety return back to a state of normalcy. This is what they must mean to truly live.
Closing my eyes once again, the memories flowed… Our clutch, why did we fix our clutch! I am still sure there was nothing wrong with our clutch. And now with this new clutch, I can’t get it into 2nd gear! Of course, that is not a problem I can just skip to third, but now I am in a damn circle... cars, pedestrians and cows flying in and horns honking from all various directions and I really need to find 2nd gear!! “You’re coming in at 6 o’clock and leaving at 3!” I hear Joanna yelling at me from behind! “Why are you yelling?"I scream back! “She isn’t!” yells Danny, "just get through this!” My head down, my hands white-knuckled on the accelerator and clutch, my foot lifted so I can reach the brake pedal that is way too high in the air and just driving like I have blinders on through one of the many stressful circles or road diversions we went through on this journey. You immediately learn not to ever stop, nor to look at anyone as you navigate through, by the off chance you catch someone’s eye, which would allow them to convey possible negativity of your driving skills, completely enabling to throw you off your objective... Don’t need that right now….
"Would you people like to stop for Chai?”, I heard our driver ask us. Each of us shaking our head “No, not right now, thank you.” Chai - what an amazing statement that drink has in this country… Always served hot, and in a small cup. Sometimes you paid for it, sometimes it was just offered. Sometimes it was heated on a electric stove, but more often than not, it was being served on the roadside and being heated by wood or charcoal fire. Each time, it was always a little bit better than the last. Although, also each time, you hesitated sipping this milky concoction in hopes that it wasn’t the final trigger of Delhi-Belly....
I remember telling Mila Kiratzova, of TheAdventurists team, on the second day of being in India, how much fun this adventure has already been, without even starting the race yet. There were so many things we had learned over the last 9 months of preparation… Meeting our team at ArtsConnection, learning that raising money for charity is absolutely not as easy as one may think!...Hours of watching Youtube, taking notes as we went along on different things we should remember or purchase to make this journey just a bit more bearable...Website design, short film creations, press releases all in the hopes to raise awareness/money for our charities…The endless glasses of wine and conversations with anyone that would listen, just trying to prepare ourselves for this adventure. For the last few months, it had consumed us and (thankfully) our friends, family and work associates cared for us, just enough to continue listening a little bit more about this trip.
"That isn’t a horn! That is a freaking melody!” I heard one of us say as, once again, we were being over taken by one of the many "Buses of Death" that traveled these Indian Roads. Immediately, your hands would once again go into that white-knuckled grip on the rickshaw steering bar, and the tension in your neck and shoulder would be guitar string-taunt as you waited for this Steel Bus that has just played the most obnoxious 15-second air horn right into your right ear, as it barreled down on our little rickshaw. Always passing close enough that, if you just put your hand out, you could feel the hot steel of the bus side pass by. After about seven days on the road, I really think I understood the melody that blew from these intermittent scares - it was to give the hundreds of cows, sheep, and goats enough time and alertness to get out of the road before they may meet their ultimate doom on the grill of one of these speed monstrosities. Although, it is probably more for the safety of the driver of the bus. It became very well known to us that, if anyone ever killed or harmed one of these sacred cows that populated the India country side, a very harsh punishment was the retribution, which usually meant death. A few times, at some of the check points, the buses slowed down just enough that you could peer inside the blacked out windows that were open to give some sort of air conditioning to those inside. From the windows, always you were given the same look of misery, dark faces worn from the exhaustion and, I am sure. the heat inside. It seemed they no longer had the energy or any reason to flash a smile, just an empty stare.
"We will stop here, I need some chai and you can purchase water," said our driver as we pulled up to one of the many roadside truck stops that we have witnessed on our trip. Noticing that this particular stop was a bit more modern then most that peppered the indian roads (it had a fridge in one of the huts offering cold water! This was a luxury that we had really come to appreciate on this trip). It was these type of stops that really became special to the three of us. The stops always offered a different view point of India and most certain an experience or something would happen that would make each stop special, in its own different way. First, the curious stares of the elders and, then, the children (always a bit more adventurous and daring) would begin to circle the rickshaw, hands out - trying to shake our hand - and learn our name, guessing which country we were from, till we helped them through it. Curiously with our life in Saudi Arabia and our global travels, we knew that, being American and getting closer to the Pakistan border, we were putting ourselves at an unnecessary risk by broadcasting that we were from the States. So, as we did get closer to the finish line (next to the Pakistan border), we kept that information close to our chest. When asked if we were Australian, we all usually happily agreed.
Back in the car, with cold water, salted potato chips and cashew or butter cookies, we were back on the road to Jaipur. These three items really ended up being our daily consumption as we traveled through India. We usually left the more adventurous Indian meals to the evening. The days just brought so many stresses and nuances that eating was the one thing none of us really wanted to risk. I was pretty sure that my bout with stomach issues arrived from the Coffee Day sandwich, I had somewhere earlier in the trip. In hindsight, it was not a very bright move having a sandwich with mayonnaise in the middle of nowhere india. You can promise yourself that there were not many Indians that would order that sandwich, so who knows how old that mayo was. I knew better than that, but after 7 days of the same food options, a chicken sandwich just sounded amazing….
Again my eyes closed, this time bringing me to the beach south of Goa. What an amazing place that was! It was like last resort. We had just caught up with Roel and Bryan again, passing them on the streets. They too were searching for a hotel in this no hotel area. They had decided to bite the bullet and just continue further north, looking for the next town hoping to find possible lodging there. Conversely, we turned back in hopes that one of the earlier places we had passed along the way would offer lodging. All of us agreeing, initially, that Ecostay sounded like a no electricity, no plumbing, type of facility and that was not at all what we wanted! Now that the sun was beginning to set, things were a bit more stressful and our reluctance for this type of non-comfort facility was overcome by the desire to just to find a safe place to spend the night. We turned on a dirt road and traveled another 2 kilometers to the beach curious what we would find at the end of this road. It opened up to a slice of heaven. Approximately 7-10 people were working the grounds and the entire time we were there, they were all doing anything they could to make sure our experience was amazing - hoping that we would write a review about their new hotel on the beach on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor really was review of choice in India. Many times, we were asked by various hotels/restaurants and lodging areas if we could please recommend them on trip advisor. I remember going back to the room looking at the wall with 12 light switches - This was common. Everywhere we stayed always had at 5 to 12 light switches and you would hit each of them just trying to find the one that actually worked and turned on a light. More times then not they really were never connected to anything and the light switch you were looking for was next to bed or other wall.
All of sudden, after we realized we had been in the car for now almost 5 hours and not one word had been spoken, I nervously pointed out that the driver must think we really do not like each other. Not one of us were talking at all. I suggested, which I know is true, that we were all lost in our thoughts. All of us let out an exhausting smile, agreed, and immediately went back to our thoughts…
"Really? that is a shaman?” Danny asked. “I don’t know," I replied, "I think so, he is some sort of priest.” We were able to peer into the temple as we walked by. His beard was long and grey, as was his hair, he had a huge amount of beaded necklaces around his neck and his face was painted with a bright red mark on his forehand. He was gently applying red marks to those that walked in to greet him. The activity can be summed up to: take your shoes off, walk into the temple, pay the shaman a donation to the deity he was presenting, and then you would bow as he would gently put a red mark on to your forehand. I immediately was uncomfortable with the scenario. Not that I didn’t believe it was a beautiful process, but it was one that I had no knowledge on, and me entering the temple and replicating the actions I saw others performing made me feel it may be considered a type of mockery. I think it would be very similar to a buddhist going into a catholic church and taking communion. With that, I tried to observe these religious happenings, but not really partaking, forbidden by ignorance in what was really occurring. Also, I am pretty sure my own religion would be a bit curious as to what I was doing. No reason to have to explain to anyone what that was about, so I just took a picture and moved on.
"Stop Stop Stop!” I remember saying one morning on the run. “What is going on there?” Down the slope, you could see what appeared to be possible rice fields and next to them 30-40 women and young girls digging in the dirt, creating more - all of them wearing beautiful bright clothing, but the work was hard and it was so hot outside. I grabbed my camera and headed down the slope. At the bottom, I was greeted by two Indian men. Neither spoke English, but with the smiles I was given, I could kind of make out what was happening. These men were managing this group of ladies, young and old, to create these rice fields. More times than not, we saw this type of gender inequality being displayed in India. Women are absolutely the work horses in the demographics we were exposed to. I motioned that I wanted to get closer the ladies to take their picture. The two men made it very clear that they wanted their own picture taken, not the women. I, immediately, went into the vogue photoshoot scenario allowing the men’s ego to be raised, to see themselves in such pictures. Finally, going back to my original request to get closer to the women. With a slight nod they agreed, and I was off to take more pics closer to these beautiful women that were working so hard to get their task complete. As I walked up to them, I once again was greeted by curious stares and some smiles, although not once did the work slow down or stop. I looked back up to the slope and I could see Danny making sure of my safety, I nodded at him and began walking back to the rickshaw. As I reached the top I saw another rickshaw, with possibly another 12 women inside, drop them off to work in the fields.
"Look at that car”, I heard someone say on one afternoon through the countryside. Here comes a jeep of sorts with possibly 5-7 men on the inside (with heater) and on the roof, in the bitter cold of the Indian desert morning, were 9 women sitting cross-legged, going down the highway! Unbelievable! ...but not uncommon we saw this sight so many times through our weeks in India.
Finally, pulling into Jaipur, we are being greated by 1000’s of kites being flown from the rooftops and grounds - from men, women and children alike. How fitting our last days in India is also during the national kite festival! Every city in India is flying these homemade diamond kites. It peppers the sky like confetti as if wishing us a final farewell! "It is so beautiful,” I hear Joanna say... We actually saw so many beautifully amazing things on this journey. Our minds go back to the ruins, waterfalls, beaches, rainforests, elephants, temples, churches, wells, caves, faces of the people. It was incredible.
We also saw poverty like we have never witnessed: Whole towns without anyone wearing shoes...Children breaking into tears when giving something just as simple as a pencil or baseball cap... Whole towns without electricity or inside plumbing... Women carrying dried cow feces on their heads to bring back home to burn and try to heat the home... Whole villages that were just tents, or even, teepees made from straw. India has shaken us all to the core. It made us experience and feel the pain from some of the stares and handshakes, but then, it embraced us with wonderful hugs and hospitality, all in the hope to learn our name and possibly know what country we were from.
Thank you India!
Thank you theadventurists!
Thank you to all of our friends and family!
And, finally, thank you to my teammates, Joanna & Danny!!