Hello! I am in India! Specifically, Darjeeling in Northeast India, in the armpit of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. Here is a map to help your visualization:
India is somehow exactly what I expected and nothing like I expected. When we crossed the border of Nepal, even after a few minutes, the scenery and landscape was just so Indian. Probably the next thing that came to my mind as I peered through the window of our jeep as it went careening down the road, using road rules as a rough guideline, was that it was really quite nice. I don’t know how many Americans who arrive in India for the first time would describe it as “nice.” But Americans who have lived for two months in the sprawling, polluted metropolis of Kathmandu in a country that effectively has no government, would and did.
I had never thought extensively about the lack of government in Nepal. I guess I just assumed that’s what a third world/developing/predominantly rural country looked like. But now, after being in India a mere week, I know that Nepal is what a third world/developing/predominantly poor and rural country without a government looks like.
Since the Maoist Revolution in Nepal officially ended in November 2006 with the signing of a peace treaty, the interim government has failed repeated times to agree upon a constitution. The country is fractured and still healing from the devastating civil war, which took more than 15,000 lives and left families broken and fragile. This history of heartbreak and hardship only fully hit me once I stepped across the border and into India.
India is a land of western toilets and public service announcements on leprosy and clean drinking water, of hot water and electricity all the time, of trash cans and road signs that say things like “drive slow – make today accident-free!”, of billowing advertisements for orchid fairs and paragliding festivals, of intellectual gatherings in bookstores and environmental movements, of tea leaves and street lights and correct English. It might surprise you that all of these things resulted in a little smoldering flame of culture shock in the pit of my stomach.
That little flame was a more than welcome change, especially when since it manifested in a hot shower and soft mattress. For the past week, we’ve been shuttling from lecture to lecture, seeing monasteries and museums (and Mt. Everest from the plane!), and mentally preparing for our upcoming month of independent research. For some strange reason, I really feel that I’ve learned more this past week than I have the entire rest of the semester. Everything I’ve seen and witnessed in the past two months is finally falling into its rightful place in my mind and it’s really gratifying.
Sikkim, the state that we were in for a few days, has a heap of religious significance related to one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important teachers, Padmasambhava (usually referred to as “Guru Rinpoche”). He is said to have visited Sikkim in the eighth century and deemed it a “beyul demojong (“hidden valley of treasures”) along with converting the demons of Sikkim into protectors of the Dharma (sacred Buddhist teachings). I gotta say, I must be a lucky girl because I’ve now been to the “hidden valley of happiness” (Tsum Valley) and the “hidden valley of treasures.”
Tonight is my last night in Darjeeling, marred a bit by the fact that I’ve picked up a nasty cold. Then, I will be leaving at 3am in the morning to catch a train to New Delhi, where I will connect to another train to Patankot and take a bus to Dharamsala. The whole ordeal will take around 48 hours. I am looking forward to the adventure almost as much as I’m looking forward to having a solid block of time to read the book I just bought (Shantaram, a 900+ pg novel set in Bombay). After those forty daunting hours of travel I begin my ISP (Independent Study Project), a massive field study undertaking, after which I am expected to produce a 25-50 page paper and half-hour presentation of my findings. I am researching the politics of reincarnation and (fingers crossed) might be able to weasel my way into joining an audience with the Dalai Lama!
I leave you with the best poster ever, which hung on the wall of my village homestay in Sikkim (it’s the only picture you’re getting for now since it took me ten minutes to load):