What to Do, Kathmandu?

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Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

“What to do, Kathmandu?”

My guide smiled at me over our steaming bowls of vegetable soup. He’d shown me around Kathmandu’s famous Durbar Square and shrugged as if the question encompassed all we’d spoken about. His struggles to make ends meet. His conversion to Christianity. His attempts to be an honest guide in the midst of touts and scammers.

I smiled back and looked at the buildings around us. We were sitting in a rooftop café by the Square, looking at the intricately carved wooden structures and the remains of ancient buildings destroyed by the earthquake that shook the Kathmandu Valley in April 2015.

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Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

I wanted to know what Kathmandu would do. What anyone could do in the face of such odds. Continue reading “What to Do, Kathmandu?”

In the Shadow of the Taj

Monkeys chasing each other across rooftops.

The smoke from your cigarette.

The curtain of the night falling behind the Taj, its shadowy silhouette.

God is close.

Allah moves across the face of the stone, never seen, but always present.

Prayers called up to the night sky, shouted and sung from speakers like megaphones, echoing across Agra at sunset.

You say you wish they’d be quiet. That prayers are meant to be whispered, shared only between you and God.

A chorus of prayers.

A family of monkeys. A mother sliding down a wall to scoop up her child, who looks too afraid to climb.

In the street, a little girl plays with a yellow balloon, dodging motorbikes and the big, dark puddle in the middle of her street.

You tell me the Taj was more beautiful years ago. That now the pollution gets in the way.

You tell me that not all Indian men are like what they say but to be careful in Delhi.

You tell me about a French woman you took to dinner and showed around for three days and how she asked you to come see her in France and how, when her plane finally left, you couldn’t believe she was gone.

How you refused your family’s proposals for arranged marriages, put it off by getting degree after degree, and finally just said “no.” You were sent out from your family’s home. You only talk to your mother now, occasionally. Still, your younger brothers can’t get married until you do.

You say we are different. We are both different. That’s why you talk to me. That people here all go in one direction, but you go the other.

You believe in God but are not religious. When a bell rings—a Hindu sign for good luck—you don’t pray like your friend, but you place your fist to your chest and then to your lips, the same thing my friend did whenever we passed a Hindu temple on the road.

You say we are all connected. That race and religion can’t keep us apart. We are different, but we are connected. Continue reading “In the Shadow of the Taj”

Impressions of Agra: From the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort

What do you say about the Taj Mahal?

It’s beautiful and mystical and a monument to love.

So I’ll let it speak for itself.

taj-1taj-3taj-6In the meantime, I finally rode an autorickshaw (a couple of them, actually, all around Agra). Did I get ripped off? Probably. But I was mostly able to negotiate. I also rode a cycle rickshaw (which I took to Chimman Lal Puri, this amazing hole-in-the-wall eatery by the Jama Masjid mosque that was recommended in the Rough Guides India guidebook I had).

And, more importantly, I saw the Agra Fort. Continue reading “Impressions of Agra: From the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort”

Going Solo in Bangalore

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Photo by Boyeon Han

Finally, the time came when I had to say goodbye to my two wonderful traveling companions: my dear Korean sister Boyeon and my new Indian friend Roshan.

Roshan got as as far as Bangalore (with a stopover in Mysore to take in a couple sights), and then we both saw Boyeon off at the airport. And then I was alone at the quiet hostel I’d selected (for its quietness), though Roshan told me if I needed anything he was just a phone call away.

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Photo by Boyeon Han

And finally solo, my confidence suddenly left me. I wandered around Bangalore the next day (and found a lovely coffee shop, managed to get some antibiotics at the pharmacy to cure my Delhi belly, tried to get a SIM card and failed, and got some delicious Middle Eastern food at a nearby eatery). I mean, all around a successful day. And yet.

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Palace in Mysore

I was afraid to take an autorickshaw (popularly known in India just as “autos”)—not because of their potential lack of safety but because I’d heard of plenty of foreigners getting ripped off by the drivers and didn’t want to deal with haggling, with deciding if a driver was gaming me, with trying to force someone to turn on the meter.

I tried desperately to book a train ticket to Agra (my next stop), but the online booking systems of several different sites seemed to be trying to thwart me.

And it seemed quite likely that someone had rifled through my backpack at the hostel while I was out exploring earlier in the day.

My one reprieve after all of this was my sisters’ friends, John and Alison, who live in Bangalore with their two young kids and had invited me over for pizza that night. Because, you know, when you’re a solo traveler, you’re never really alone. Continue reading “Going Solo in Bangalore”