Friday, April 20, 2007

um, toto, where's Kansas?

Sitting at breakfast this morning in Rishikesh, it finally hit me that I'm in India, far away from work and Israeli politics and my family and my friends and responsibility and my apartment. It's true that there are cows in the streets and monkeys on the bridges and it's true that the smells of India range between the sweetest incense and the most foul, unidentifiable scents I have ever experienced. The view from Rishikesh, however, of green mountains overlooking the Ganges River, is as beautiful as I expected it to be, and I can only imagine what it will look like when I start trekking in the hills.

I haven't been alone since I got to the gate at Ben Gurion, and saw Dani, an old friend of my cousin's who I've known for years. Somehow, the two men that were sitting in my three-seater with me wanted to move, so Dani and I sat together, and over the course of the next day and a half met at least a dozen other Israelis. Eyal joined us on the flight from Bombay to Delhi, and Uri, who never told me his name, walked with us from the base of Rishikesh where the bus dropped us off up to Laksman Juhla, the highest neighborhood in town. We got to our guest house at around 7 AM and are renting two really nice rooms (except that there is only a hole, no toilet, in mine) and each paying something like three dollars a night.

I slept for really the first time since I left Israel this morning, after breakfast. I'd closed my eyes for a few hours on the plane to Delhi, but by the time we got to Delhi I was exhausted. I knew, before I even left Israel, that I didn't want to start my trip in Delhi. Delhi is like Tel Aviv on crack and so far from what I came to India to experience. The men treat women like crap, the vendors will fall you around literally for an hour until you finally agree to buy something, and yes, the cows and their excrement freely roam the streets. I spent most of my Delhi day on Pahar Ganj, the tourist street, a place I'll be sure to avoid next time I'm in the city.

The bus ride to Rishikesh, which should take about five hours, was an excruciating eight hours. Excruciating because I have never smelt such smells, have never felt such bumps, and have never had as hard of a time falling asleep on an overnight ride. The first four hours, which started at 9 PM and included a two hour "tour" of Delhi, was my real introduction to India. The streets of Old Delhi are home to hundreds of people, lying visibly on mattresses or sitting round fires and food pots. They are not lying there to get money from passing tourists. This is simply how they live. And that particular scene extends even beyond the city parameters, I'm sure to an extent I can't even imagine.

Despite the slight discomforts and the fact that I've barely seen anything, let me just say, India is amazing.

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