Written real time while traveling….
Immediately following the race Nikki and I had a recovering day in camp followed by 27 hours of travel to arrive at the Taj Safari, Baughvan Pench National Park. We were invited as Travel writers and our article will appear in the next issue of The Outdoor Journal. In short, we thoroughly enjoyed our three wonderful, relaxing days exploring the Baughvan Pench National Park.
Upon returning to Delhi we landed in the bachelor pad of the Run the Rann RD/ editor of The Outdoor Journal. Gael is a french man living in India and working for The Outdoor Journal. In his first year living abroad he has kept life simple and well, minimal. Our late arrival and tired bodies made due with the hard marble floors by pulling out our thermarests and sleeping bags to add to the few ground pads and pillows in his back bedroom. The house is huge and clean from the daily maid and in spite of my tired brain I am unable to find sleep quickly. My lungs still angry from a chest infection brought on from racing and lack of sleep. Only now two days on antibiotics it will soon lose its battle, but not yet.
Nikki wakes first and her moving about stirs me. We are both anxious to move after so much travel. We sort our bags a bit before Gael invites us to join him on his morning walk with his English Bulldog, KeyLimePie. Unlike any of the stray dog population in India, KeyLimePie struts her stuff and passively leads us through the neighborhood and across the street to the park. Gael gives us a few stories about his time in India and he can barely believe an entire year has already past. We give him a bit of crap about needing to furnish his pad a bit and settle into a laughable conversation, the three of us quickly comfortable to speak our minds. Our day's itinerary includes lunch with Madhuri and Himraj, two more of The Outdoor Journal's staff and a shopping tour of some of their favorite spots.
A bit more time in the car is rewarded with a delicious vegetarian meal of the Southern Indian influence. Hungry runners devour plates of deep fried breads, potato & spice stuffed crepe-like platters with plenty of dipping sauces. The lassi yogurt drink is a wonderful treat and a helpful aid to my antibiotic belly. The cold coffee drink tops me off and powers me up for our next step, shopping. Admittedly I once loved shopping and believed that retail therapy had its place. Now, I chose to spend more time on trails than in malls, but there is something about buying gifts and relics from my overseas travels that excites me. This excitement, likely fueled by the caffeine, burst through when we entered a fairly priced home store. I think I provided sheer entertainment to the staff and our little group as I buzzed about looking at all of the beautiful items trying to imagine a place for them in my home or in the homes of friends and family. Repeatedly Madhuri kindly reminded me that we had many more stops to see including the old Delhi market and I tailored my purchases and calmed my pace. We enjoyed the day and each other's company. Nikki and I equally thrilled to spend the day moving about by foot rather than by car or plane.
The old Delhi market was lovely, a 20 ruppee entry fee (60 ruppees = $1US) and we wandered in to the colorful display of goods from all over India. Evening had set and the ambience was enhanced by lights, colorful lanterns and goods carefully displayed to draw our attention. Our last stop of the day and a little weary our pace slowed as did my purchases. Himraj sensing the energy lull directed us towards the food booths and took charge ordering plateful after plateful of Momos - delicious chicken filled dumplings with spicy red chili sauce. With only a few more purchases to make Nikki and I divided and reconvened at the entrance for our final tourist desire - henna. I love the Indian art and this was one item on my short list of things to do while in country. The ladies drew us in with their art books and 100 rupee price and as we sat trying to discuss what we each wanted they took hold of our arms and drew at will. Himraj tried to help explain what I was saying and my artist easily shoo'ed him away. Nothing like the drawing I had pointed out in the book, but still beautiful, she requested her 300 rupee payment. Himraj discussed with her that she originally said 100 and we settled on 200, her giving me a knowing glance as she pocketed my bills. I told Himraj that I understand I have to pay the tourist fee. And tourists we were! We ran down the street, one arm covered in paint and held awkwardly to the side, the other grasping the handles of our packages.
Susan, the lovely woman we met at Run the Rann met us just outside the market and whisked us away in her car to share dinner with her family. A hectic day for her we were thankful she made time to include us and apologized for our awkward arms and rough appearance. Her pleasant Australian accent assured us we were just fine as we climbed the stairs into her home to meet the family for dinner and drinks. She introduced us as the fast girls, her nickname since we first met on the salt flat. And we easily shared stories of our journeys home from Dholviria. Her insistent Indian husband made it impossible to stick to my preferred beverage choice of bubble water, and by the end of the evening my head was buzzing from the wine and extremely smooth rum.
Another late night arrival and not much sleep from the night before sleep came easily and dawn came too soon. Motivated knowing we had a 4-5 hour afternoon car ride, Nikki and I dressed to run and snuck out the door leaving Gael to sleep a bit more. Laps around the park after the gutsy street crossing we kept our eyes open, but felt more and more comfortable with each 15minute loop of the park's perimeter. In our running shorts and t-shirts moving at a stride, we definitely drew looks, but nothing more. We lit up at the sight of other runners and quickly passed the time before heading back for a shower and our hunt for breakfast.
The car picked us up at noon for the relatively short journey to Agra. Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal and other notable historical monuments. Our short visit allowed only time for the Taj. An evening viewing as well as an early morning audio guided tour before turning around and heading back to Delhi. A wonder I never would have imagined I would lay eyes on, I was stunned in its immensity as well as the stark contrast to the surrounding town of Agra. The grounds of the Taj Mahal are large, manicured and grandiose in all aspects. The town of Agra couldn't be more opposite. What I witnessed in my time in India was captured in this representation. There is great wealth and great poverty and not much inbetween.
My last day in India started with the view of the Taj Mahal in the morning fog and ended with a metro ride to the airport accompanied by Gael and Nikki making the transport the easiest of my entire time in India. We filled the day with our drive back, a run in the park, a quick lunch, and a photo shoot for upcoming Outdoor Journal articles. I boarded my 16 hour flight from Delhi to Newark and was asleep before take off.
Sleep when you are tired. Eat when you are hungry. Stay present in each moment. Find grounding in spite of chaos.
I found extreme thankfulness for my home and the life I have. Travel opens my mind to all that is out there, it removes me from my comfort zone and teaches me lessons that add and form my person.