Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Holy Country: India

I said goodbye to my lovely wife in Hong Kong, as she did not want to come to India. Instead, she flew to Paris to be with her family. I was anxious to travel on my own, as Alex was the main driving force behind the planning of our trip. Once again, I was presented another challenge to face my fear and anxiety. And here I was in Kolkata on my own.

Streets of Kolkata
My flight landed on the 14th of April 2013 at 10:50pm. I went straight to the hotel to get some rest after a long flight. The room was very basic but clean. I have heard some horror stories about Indian hotels but luckily this one was fine. Although it was passed midnight, the weather was extremely hot. Obviously, I went to India in the wrong season with temperatures exceeding 40°C. I couldn't get a good sleep due to boiling heat and strange noises from the ventilator. 
Victoria Memorial in Kolkata
After the check out in the morning, I started to walk around in Kolkata to get a sim card. I managed to get one within 2 hours. An incredible amount of paperwork is a part of the daily routine in India, even for simple things. However, people are very friendly, polite and helpful. To celebrate my sim card victory, I went to a middle class Punjabi restaurant and had some dahl, roti and rice. What a divine taste! 

Mother Theresa
In the afternoon, I visited Mother Theresa’s house which was turned into a museum. She left her home and family in Skopje, Macedonia and came to India to help others. She established many refuge places for the poorest all around the world. She dedicated her life to serve humanity and help the most vulnerable. An incredible soul!

On my way to the Victoria Memorial from Mother Theresa's house, I witnessed the immense poverty in Kolkata! Families with small children were simply living on the streets and begging for help. This experience made me realise how difficult Mother Theresa’s mission must have been. I lived in different countries and travelled around but have not seen anything like this in my life. There are not just a couple of people living on the streets but whole communities. Children covered in dust and dirt, try to kiss your feet or hold your hand with the hope of a small donation. It was truly heart breaking to witness this much suffering, poverty and pain. Unfortunately, this is part of reality in India.   

My first day was almost over in this interesting city and I had to catch an overnight train to Gaya Junction in the state of Bihar to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation course. After an average dinner in a local restaurant, I made my way to one of the busy train stations in Kolkata. When I got there, I realised that my train was delayed for 8 hours and was due the next morning at 7am. I can understand 1-2 hours of delay but seriously 8 hours was just too much! Train delays are part of daily life in India. Thankfully, I was told to go to Hawra Junction to catch another train going to the same direction leaving in 45 minutes. Rather than spending the night at the station, I took a taxi to try my chances. Usually trains in India are booked out from weeks ago. Luckily, I was able to get a sleeper and happy to leave for another adventure. If you are travelling in India by train, a useful website to check out is seat 61.

It took 8 hours to reach the Gaya Junction and I slept most of the time. When I got off however I had to run to the nearest toilet due to Delhi-belly. I literally made it just in time! You need to be very careful with food in India as I have not met a single person who did not get sick while they were there. Keep smiling as it is all part of travelling! 

From Gaya, I had to catch a rickshaw to get to Bodhgaya. Rickshaw is a very common transport method where you get to meet lots of locals as more than eight people jammed in a three-wheeled cart with absolutely no space to breath. A truly unique experience! 

Bodhgaya is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment while he was meditating under a Bodhi tree. Since then this little village became a pilgrimage destination for the Buddhist and spiritual seekers around the world. After a long trip, I was happy to arrive at the meditation centre and felt excited to start another 10 days of silent journey into my unconscious mind in this holy land.

No comments:

Post a Comment