Posts Tagged ‘Sleep’

North Tour: Howrah to Nagpur: Not the end – not yet, anyway

May 30, 2011

I leave India June 8.

Since I published my last entry, I’ve done a substantial amount of writing. I have 22 blog entries in the queue, some of which have been there for some time, and many of those can be split further into several entries. Many are over 1,000 words long. Chances are I won’t publish everything here in the coming days. But I’ll put up plenty of excerpts. Rest assured, I haven’t stopped writing, and I won’t stop for a long, long time.



Saturday, 26 March

NAGPUR: Friday was supposed to be the last day of the tour.

We were supposed to have left the day before at 8 p.m. We were supposed to have arrived in Nagpur in the mid-afternoon, greeted by searing summer heat. We were supposed to be all alone that evening, sitting at home and feeling sorry for ourselves.

Indian Railways, however, doesn’t always place much importance on prompt train timings. Thus we got, though not quite a day, at least a little more time together.

Even for a tour where nearly half the wakeups were before dawn, 2:30 a.m. seemed a ridiculous time of day for a wakeup call. But you have to do what you have to do when your train leaves at 5 a.m. After stowing my suitcase beneath the seat, I made my bed as quickly as possible.

I’m pretty sure I was asleep before the train even began moving.

I was awoken again at 10:30 for breakfast. Nikolas and I, the two gobblers, ate the leftovers from the other compartments, of which there were plenty.

I was back asleep within half an hour.

Sometime around four, I decided the opening and closing of the door next to my bunk would make falling asleep for the fourth time that day impossible. Sadly, our bunks were in four compartments of three different cars, a fact most agreed to be mood-dampening. I made my way between them for a couple hours in search of good conversation, occasionally finding some, but always in a group of five or less. We were 13. Why couldn’t we all stick together on this night, of all nights?

Then it happened.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but they were of laughter, not sadness. My face was contorted, but from hilarity, not rage. I don’t even remember what was so funny. But we’d managed to all fit in one compartment, someone had just told a joke, and my smile was in temporary paralysis. It was like being intensely tickled; I was laughing so hard it hurt.

I never wanted this train to stop. We had just an hour until 11 of us got off. Serenity and Olivia would stay on and continue to Jalgaon and Nasik, but for everyone else, Nagpur was our last stop. I knew I still had a day until I’d say goodbye to everyone here but Anaïs, Brii and Franzi for either a month or an indefinite amount of time. But that didn’t make getting off the train any easier.

Nagpur wasn’t as hot as I’d expected. Saket-dada was waiting on his moped to drive me home. I arrived home sometime after midnight, and it was as if nothing had really changed.

But the tour wasn’t over yet. Not really, anyway.



North Tour: Darjeeling: Just an ordinary, everyday beautiful hill station

April 24, 2011

Friday, 18 March

DARJEELING: I feel like I’ve been here before.

First came Ooty. Then came Munnar. Already on this tour we’ve been to Dharamsala, Manali and Rishikesh. All high in the mountains of different parts of India. From the Ghats to the Himalayas, each hill station we’ve visited has something to offer.

Now I’m in Darjeeling, and I’m getting a strong aura of déjà vu.

The rides to each of these places have generally been the same. From foothill to peak, a long winding road takes us on a journey of at least 100 kilometers that would take about a fifth the distance could our jeeps or buses safely traverse 45 degree inclines. India’s hills and mountains are all home to spectacular panoramas, and the views from our rides up never cease to amaze. We’ve grown accustomed to rickety jeeps on gravel roads, potholes that appear to have come courtesy meteor showers, and turns so sudden, sharp and steep, the intimacy between you and your neighbors is unavoidable and inevitable.

But although today’s car ride dropped our jaws, it wasn’t because of the view. Moreover, our eyes were often closed, and our minds were typically turned off. We weren’t unimpressed by the outside view, just more deprived of sleep than spectacular things to see. The thin clouds below us blocked most of it anyway.

Darjeeling’s familiarity, however, doesn’t make it any less pleasant a hill station to visit. I’ve yet to go to one in India that I don’t like.


North Tour: Jaisalmer: Once upon a camel

April 17, 2011

Friday, 4 March

JAISALMER TO JODHPUR: Riding a camel isn’t like riding a bike. It’s not like riding an elephant. It’s not even that much like riding a horse.

I’ve ridden them all in India, and something about camel riding is just different.

Perhaps it was the setting of our rides this evening: barren wastelands of sand and dust, a bit too interspersed with bush and weeds to fit the Saharan stereotype, but nonetheless quite devoid of oases. Perhaps it was the length of the journey: over two hours allotted for two rides – much more than was given when I rode an elephant and a horse on separate occasions this year. Perhaps it was the camel’s distinctive rocking gait, one that requires an abundance of leg strength – especially when that gait turns into a trot.

It’s not for everyone.

But if you like riding a camel, you’ll probably love it.

The sun set just before I embarked on my second camel ride Thursday evening, and it rose just before our ride this morning. We saw both sunrise and sunset in the desert, the sky’s great ball of fire intensifying the thin shadows in the sand. The landscape, dotted with footprints, tents, and a few other creations of man, was just another average, everyday, mind-blowingly breathtaking sight. We actually missed the start of sunrise this morning, choosing to return down the sandy plains early due to the chilly desert wind. Never did I think I’d ever leave a desert because it was too cold.

But our other experiences from the last two days have more than made up for today’s deficit of early morning beauty. I was so tired during last night’s dance and musical performance that I dozed off with my Cubs hat over my eyes. Minutes later, I was awoken when my hat was stealthily stolen by Amanda. Soon thereafter our group was dancing and singing Munni Badnaam in a circle with a guy wearing makeup and a dress.

I guess those five minutes of sleep helped, because I had the energy to get through the songs intact. Having not been to a legitimate dance or party since discotheque night in Goa, the surprise dance was a welcome one. Another outlet for my dance-frustration had been found.

We slept in the desert last night. Sand was our floor and canvas tents were our ceiling and walls, yet none of us awoke scorpion-, spider-, or snake-bitten. Before calling it a night, we laid on the ground in a group and just gazed up at the stars. Though our knowledge of the sky’s constellations was far from complete, we found The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion. Like on the houseboat in Kerala, the visibility of the stars was striking, providing a rare kind of sought-after solitude. For twenty minutes, we just laid in the sand, staring.

I can think of only one word to describe the view, the same one I can use to describe many things on this tour. Beautiful.

The day after, too, was full of moments I never want to forget. A goat, which strayed into our path this afternoon, was allowed to wear my Cubs hat – the significance of which only Olivia was able to comprehend. (Have I single-handedly lifted the Billy Goat Curse? Oh yeah, I don’t believe in it.) Ten of us sat on two pedal-boats in a spectacular Jaisalmer oasis while Nikolas and I pedaled for half the group. (It would have been a more difficult task had I not been so practiced in giving exchange students rides on non-motorized vehicles.) For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant where I ordered a pancake with Nutella but was instead brought a (delicious) crepe. Not that I’m complaining.

What I want to remember the most, however, is Thursday night’s camel ride.

With the camel walking, not running, our bottoms weren’t yet worn out, and our pace was slow enough that we could enjoy the view. With Anaïs and Amanda on camels in my wake, I looked up at the sky in foreshadow of midnight’s stargazing. We’d just had an outstanding recess in a particularly epic sandbox – posing for pictures while jumping in the air, chasing each other shoeless around the desert, and running down the dunes so quickly our legs would become too fast for our bodies and we’d faceplant quite comfortably in the soft, cool Rajasthani sand.

Something about that camel ride was special. The sky darkened over the course of the ride, fading from pale blue to dark blue to black. Occasionally our guides would mutter amidst themselves, and our camels felt the occasional urge to sneeze off the flies blanketing their necks. Otherwise our ride was tranquil, its peace uninterrupted but by the predictable dull clang of our camels’ bells.

It was the kind of moment I came to India for. And the kind of moment I live for.

I was living. Somewhere in the Rajasthani dunes, life was just as I wanted it to be, and in the moment, nothing could have made it better. Forgive me my simile, but while I was atop the camel, I may as well have been atop the world.

That’s why I’m so happy in India.

Because I’m living the moments. And I’ll always have the memories.


North Tour: Jaipur: A pretty cool place

April 17, 2011

Tuesday, 1 March

JAIPUR: The thing that everyone seems to forget about deserts is that at night, they get really, really cold.

Falling asleep at 1 a.m. without a second of sleep debt is harder than you’d think. So when that sleep is interrupted by chai-wallahs a mere three hours later, it’s a disorienting and disgruntling experience.

My first thought when I woke up this morning: “Why am I awake?”

My second thought: “Wow, it’s really cold.”

You don’t need air conditioning in this weather, but at least AC Sleeper cars come with blankets. Most of us having forgotten our own, we used scarves, hats, jackets and each other’s body heat to help out our metabolic systems. The chai actually warmed us adequately, but in doing so it became impossible for us to sleep. By 4:30 or so, we realized any attempt to fall back asleep would be fruitless, so we kept each other company until arriving in Jaipur around 6.

I guess we got off to a pretty good start in acquiring sleep debt.

But who needs a full night of sleep with the first day of sightseeing ahead?

From camels to snake charmers, Jaipur is the kind of city that makes you think of Indian stereotypes. Perhaps it’s because of them that so many foreigners are attracted to Jaipur. There’s no scarcity of outsiders here, either in the monuments we visited or on the streets we’ve driven by. We sprinted to the back of our bus and gawked the first time we spotted a non-Indian walking the Jaipur streets. (Our reactions to seeing foreigners are no better than those of Indians, na?) It didn’t take long, however, for us to realize spotting them would not be a rare occurrence.

Actually, Jaipur probably attracts so many foreigners because there’s so much to see here. Our sightseeing began with a huge wind palace – not as monumental or large as Mysore’s, but impressive in its own right. We found an assortment of impressively accurate astrological equipment at one site, including the world’s largest sundial (adorned with about 100 live pigeons).

At night, we ate a traditional Rajasthani meal and watched several performances – including dances and puppet shows. Once, I was called on stage to dance. I flailed my arms and shook my body in the least awkward dance I could muster. At the very least, it was an outlet for some of my dance-frustration.

Our tour was not off to a bad start.


The Nagpur International Marathon: Why I woke up at 5:55 on a Sunday

February 1, 2011

The list of things that can get me out of bed at 5:55 a.m. is a short one.

Were the Chicago Cubs baseball team to play in the World Series 12 time zones away, I’d wake up early for that. Once in a lifetime experiences like sunrises on houseboats are also effective motivators to pull off the covers before dawn. And cats jumping through my window, as I discovered last week, can be very effective alarm clocks.

Add Sunday’s Nagpur International Marathon to that list.

The shade of sky outside matched my still dilated pupils as the alarm on my watch went off just before six a.m. Save Jojo and Diana, our two dobermans, no one in the house was yet awake, and going on the texts I exchanged with Anaïs, no one else was awake in her house either. I walked up to the roof and watched Nagpur wake up as the contrast in the sky slowly increased. The air was unusually still, and the early morning cold was a refreshing contrast to the afternoon heat. It was a time of day I wish my consciousness occupied more often.

Nonetheless, I had very little time to spare as I rode off towards the marathon’s start with only a general idea of my destination in mind. On a normal day, the trip would have taken about 15 minutes, but the detours I was forced to make did little to expedite my journey. By the time the time I spotted Anaïs, Franzi, Jakob, Mr. Khatri and their matching yellow T-shirts an hour after my departure, the marathon had long since begun.

This was the third time in three years a marathon was being held in my city of residence. Champaign-Urbana has hosted the Illinois Marathon the last two years, and my classmates have been active in each as participants and volunteers. I wasn’t able to attend the annual mega-event last year, as the day doubled as National College Decision Day, tripled as the day of an important Rotary conference, and quadrupled as my Senior Prom. But I did bike the 26.2-mile course for fun.

Some things about marathons are just different in India.

I think it’s safe to say the Illinois Marathon will never have race-side performances like those we were a part of Sunday morning. A group of middle-aged men in yellow T-shirts and baseball caps stood in a group by the course and cheered – or, should I say, laughed – the runners on. Somehow the four of us ended up in the middle of the Nagpur Laughter Club, spurred to join them in exorcising, exercising, exhilarating laughter yoga.

Amidst the laughter yogis was a group of sari-clad teenage girls performing a traditional dance of their own, who somehow managed to pull off stunts and dance in rhythm while stealing not-so-covert glances at the four foreigners in front of them. We were forced to join them with stunning suddenness, musically accompanying them with either metal shakers or the clapping of our hands. It was just another one of those moments that exchange students seem to have so often in India – the kind of moment that makes you think: “How did I end up here?”

But while such moments occur with regularity, my reactions to them are no longer the same.

Since arriving in India, unusual events have been occurring unannounced and unexpectedly on a regular basis. While life here crawls along persistently, interesting things continue to pop up on short notice every few days. This pattern of traveling with scant preparation has been a constant throughout the year. At first I was frustrated by India’s unique approach to time – trips to temples, cross-town visits to family members and Rotary events early in the year caught me off-guard, and thus I found it harder to enjoy them.

Until I got used to them.

As we were instructed at July’s Rotary conference, the best answer to give when asked if you want to do something is usually “yes”. Because if the answer is “no,” the next question will just be “Why not?” Arguments against doing something often take more effort than the event itself – causing one’s laziness to backfire. If you say no, the experience is lost, and you can do nothing but ask, “What if?”

That’s why I was awake at 5:55 Sunday morning, despite having slept only three and a half hours that night. That’s why I spent an hour on my bike that morning to see the marathon with my friends. I was only going to say yes.

And why not?


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