Yin and Yang. A Buddhist Inspired Reflection in a Hindi Haven

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I was told that I would either love or hate India. I didn’t expect to experience both emotions in nearly all that I do, throughout every day. It’s as though India kisses my cheek one minute and slaps me across the face the next. Surprisingly this manifests in an odd sense of peace. I think it comes from this new confidence that even if something awful is happening, you will be surprised and delighted with something beautiful if you just keep trucking. A good example is my recent trip to Rishikesh over the Christmas holiday. Many of you have seen the pictures but didn’t hear about the start.

When Mumbai-based Acumen Fellow Joanna and I joined the mob scene at New Delhi Railway Station the afternoon of the 25th we realized a little too late that the WL on our sleeper car railway tickets unfortunately did not refer to Wide, Lower Berth. It meant waitlisted. It also meant we were SOL on XMAS day. After an hour of unsuccessful finagling, we decide to hop a taxi to the bus terminal and try our luck. Here is where India is awesome. Thirty minutes and $8 got us water bottles, Tomato Tango potato chips, and front row seats on a dingy “semi-deluxe” bus up to Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas. Narayana Palace, Ganges River, here we come.

Nine hours and three male-only bathroom breaks later, the bus pulled over to the side of the road, seemingly at the end of the line.  No station signs, 1am, no English. The driver and a man on the side of the road kept shouting “Itibdi!” “Itibdi!” Itibdi did not show up on our map, in our guidebook or in our Hindi-English dictionary. We just sat there, pondering our options. Suddenly the man from the road leapt into the bus and shoved crinkled piece of paper into our faces that read “Miss Heidi.” Ahhhaaaa! We were saved! The driver we had booked from the hotel had actually waited three hours for our delayed bus and was there to whisk us away to our mountain retreat. We gathered our bags and walked over to our car, exhausted but relieved.

As we walked, the sound of scraping metal and plastic on asphalt whipped our heads around. The bus was gone but we saw an overturned motorcycle hurtling down the road behind us and its erstwhile rider slamming into the concrete barrier that formed the center of the deserted town’s sole driving circle. The wall was unlit and surely the cause of the incident. The men that appeared on the streets that night ran to the scene but the motorcycle rider lay still, crumpled against the wall. We froze. It was pretty clear we had just witnessed a fatal accident. For anyone that’s read Shantaram or seen a car accident in India, it’s known that things can get ugly quickly in these situations. As sad as it is, due to ambiguous liability laws and inconsistent policing strategies, strangers will often scatter in the case of emergencies. I hate to admit that I was all for a quick getaway but my traveling partner, Joanna – an Acumen Fellow placed with an ambulance company called 1298 – held back. She had just been trained in first aid and wanted to help. My approach to safety here is to keep as low a profile as possible. Being older and bossier, I won. Were this a woman or child being injured, I’d like to think I would have chosen another course. But, being that it was the middle of the night and that we were the only non-Indians and females in sight, I couldn’t see anything but bad results from inserting ourselves in the middle. At a minimum, we did confirm that there was a hospital in the town before we got in the car and locked our doors. We moved away, but sat stunned, feeling shaken and conflicted.  That silent reflection was quickly broken when our driver suddenly turned around and shouted “Merry Christmas!!”

“Umm. Right” we replied. “Merry Christmas.” Our vacation had begun.

We never found out what Itibdi meant.

For more on our trip please see the clip below.

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4 Responses to “Yin and Yang. A Buddhist Inspired Reflection in a Hindi Haven”

  1. joannaharries Says:

    Heidi, as hard as our Christmas day story is to hear again, I am so glad you captured it, it is an experience we will not soon forget. I’m just so thankful we were in it together.

  2. James Wu Says:

    Powerful story Heidi. Thanks for sharing. Joanna, I would love to hear the story from your perspective!

  3. Jim Harries Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story about the start of your Christmas adventure in the “land of extremes”. Everything I’m reading about India seems to confirm what you’ve been experiencing first hand. I hope it better prepares me for my own trip there, soon to commence!

  4. TZiPi Radonsky Says:

    Heidi, almost as good as being there! Thank you, for the words that so clearly gave me a picture of your journey north and then the u-tube! Brought me closer to a place where one can only feel totally alive..there is so much love and so much reality it is amazing how much the heart can hold, Yes I love India and I hat India and would come in a skinny minute! blessings of joy, TZiPi

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