Category Archives: India

You never know who you’ll meet on a train ride

An original story
You never know who you’ll meet on a train ride- LA to Dallas.

Traveling with the church lady
Ever since “The Lady Vanishes” (1938-Hitchcock), train travelers can wonder who their fellow passengers are. I’ve met federal energy experts, devastated survivors, traveling minstrels, men from WWII Japanese prison camps, and missionaries. But you’ll also met ordinary people. As Amtrak’s policy for meals is community seating you’ll almost always wind up with a meal-mate with a story- unless she’s just some old grandma. So on one trip, just to be polite, I asked the white-haired dearies across from me what they did to pass their time (as in babysit, clean house, knit, or whatever). The dearies kindly informed me that they designed nuclear missiles for the Department of Defense- they weren’t kidding. So much for my stereotypes. Who are you on the train with?

My Kerala train story
I was once on a train to Kerela in India. I was in too much of a hurry and didn’t book a place to stay. There was a very friendly Muslim guy who was drinking far too much whiskey. He was going to his sleeping compartment, then walking around, offering whiskey to the workers (who accepted,) and then going back to his sleeping compartment. Back and forth. We talked briefly about Islam. I thought that the fasting they did was to remember God. He informed me that the fasting was to remember the poor, not God. My comment was — why not just eat a little bit and give the rest of your food to the poor instead of gorging promptly upon sundown. The extremely poor don’t get to gorge ever! We talked about spirituality, meditation, Islam, travel and other topics. He told me that I was on the wrong path doing meditation. I wonder if that was a subtle hint from the brighter world about what was going to happen to me in my spiritual group which indeed did go sour. But, the best part about meeting this weirdo (who was kicked off the train by the guards for being a nuisance) was that he gave me the phone number for a very clean and affordable hotel in Ernakalum (near Kochi) for $20 a night. I booked from the train, and they were only one kilometer from the rail station which made for an easy and affordable cab ride!

Tweets
(1) Traveling with The Church Lady? When this 93 year-old isn’t serving cookies she’s designing nuclear
missiles for Raytheon. #ttot

(2) During a long and soothing train ride I met a sweet 93 year old lady, Mrs. Higgins, a Nuclear missile designer. #ttot

(3) Meet Mrs Higins, a Sweet 93 year old Church Lady/ Nuclear missile designer
#ttot

A virtual reality Indian restaurant

A virtual reality Indian restaurant – culture shock not included.

We all love to travel, but sometimes we don’t have the time, money, or freedom to do so. Imagine a virtual reality travel theme park where you can enjoy attractions from around the world right in your city! Wow, what a concept!

Going to the theme park
Imagine that you park, and go in the main gate of the theme park and you can go to a restaurant in one of a dozen different countries, or visit other tourist attractions, or go on scenic rides. Well, I know what I want to do — I want to go to have Indian food at the Taj in India! 5 star all the way, buddy!

Going to India
The problem is, once I’m in the theme park, I need to get to India somehow. India is within the theme park, but you can’t just walk there. You have to choose some mode of transportation. There has to be some kind of boundary that you cross where the sounds, sights, and terrain suddenly change. You could take a virtual plane, train, boat, or something else. I’m going to take a cab to India in this blog entry, just to make this blog entry different from my other virtual reality entries of which there are several by now.

The cab ride
So, I get in a very American cab. The guy greets me in very American English. In real America, cab drivers are normally Russian, Pakistani, Iranian, or from some immigrant group. But, for the sake of virtual reality, we’ll make him a red blooded American. The guy drops me off at a location with a concrete road surrounded by 20 foot tall concrete walls. I walk down this road. There is an L in the road after 100 feet. I turn a 90 degree corner and have to walk another 200 feet. I go through a glass door. I see India in front of me. As I get closer, I hear more honking. The honking gets louder. I notice there is a sudden burst of heat. Heat is better than a monsoon or tsunami which would be a little hard for a theme park to approximate. I walk closer, and hear the police man dressed in an authentic tan outfit with red ashes on his forehead. The police man is having a very loud and convincing contrived argument in Telegu with a rick shaw driver who is nodding his head back and forth trying to explain how his parking spot is perfectly legitimate.

The rick shaw ride
I get in the nearest rick shaw. I ask him how much to go to the Taj Restaurant. I have to bargain with him to get a good price, and he only accepts rupees by the way. We finally get going, and have to pass by several large Indian trucks that are decorated the same way trucks are decorated in India. The trucks honk with their very abrupt high pitched honk. Then, we pass another rick shaw whose horn sounds like the type of horn a circus clown uses in America and I start to laugh. Then, we have a near miss head on collision with another rick shaw followed by some different types of honking noises. Finally we make it to the restaurant.

The restaurant
The restaurant is very nice on the interior. Coming in the door you hear the honking sounds. If you had to come to this restaurant directly from an American atmosphere, there would have to be some transition to take you to the entryway where you could hear honking and see rickshaws, etc. The windows of the restaurant would be TV screens with dramatic views of different parts of whatever city you were pretending to be in. On one side of the restaurant you might see a busy street in Mumbai. On the other side you might see some famous landmark, building or structure that is famous like Gateway of India.

Ordering my meal
I ordered some lamb kabobs. The waiter warned me as if it were a dire emergency that the lamb dish was dry. I almost had a heart attack. My lamb kabob would be dry. What to do? Nothing! I like it dry! The waiter reciprocated my near heart attack, but having his own heart attack when I tried to pour my own water. Then, I saw the wine list which was purely authentic Indian wines. India has become a great country for wine in the last decade by the way. I ordered some wine from Nandy Hills in Karnataka. The meal ends when I order the rick shaw cake. I get a phone call from a guy who explains how my rickshaw had a terrible accident and ended up in a ditch filled with liquid chocolate.

In a nasal tone with a thick South Indian accent.
“Dear respected sir, your rick shaw had a most terrible accident, but thankfully, the driver was not harmed. We will repectfully deliver the remains of your esteemed rick shaw to your table at once! Kindly make space on your table.”

I devour my mini rick shaw. The cake was delicious. The yellow part of the cake was cardamom cake, while the rest was made out of different types of chocolate. In real life, nobody has invented a rick shaw cake, but maybe one day they will. It would probably be expensive, but when converted into rupees, it might sound a little more affordable.

So, concludes my virtual India adventure. Next time perhaps I’ll go to virtual Tibet and get virtual altitude sickness if it is possible to get that!

In india, men get molested too

I read a lot of blogs about business and travel. When I visited India, I heard many accounts of groping. It is a serious problem. The blogs I’ve been reading indicate that men get groped and molested too.

It happened to me
I remember one time I hitched a ride on the back of a pick up truck in India. I had to lean forward so I wouldn’t fall off, since I was hanging on to the tailgate. There was a guy to my left and another to my right. They interpreted my leaning forward as an invitation to grope me. I was very offended. I had to jump off the truck because my accommodations were there. Had I been wearing boots and had I known which one of them had groped me, there would have been a fist fight or shouting match. I don’t tolerate this type of violation of my personal dignity.

Being followed
Girls are followed in India a lot. Girls can’t go to the park alone during daylight for fear of being followed by rowdy guys. It happens a lot to people I know. Once, a friend of mine took a rickshaw home and the driver tried to follow her inside. She started screaming. The guy went away, but this is an example of what Indian girls have to put up with on a daily basis. In my opinion, it’s time for kung-fu and pepper spray!

I witnessed it at a gas station
But, there have been much more serious violations in India. Normally, groping happens to women, but I witnessed some low class guys at a gas station grope their friend. If someone bends over in India, it is a custom of untouchables to put their hand up the person’s rear end. Both parties at the gas station thought this was funny. To me this is a violation of someone’s dignity. Those guys thought it was amusing due to their animalistic sensibilities.

A much more serious case
Women get groped at train stations so much, that in many cities, women ride in gender segregated cars for their protection. Women can ride in the men’s compartment, but men can’t ride in the women’s compartment. But, I read in the paper that in Mumbai, an American couple were visiting the beach. A dozen rowdy locals held the guy while they molested his girlfriend for several minutes. The molesters ran away after a while because they thought the cops were coming.

The rape capitol of India
Molestation and groping are very frequent all over India due to the sexual frustration and general lack of manners. But, in Delhi, rape is very common too which is how Delhi got the reputation as the rape capitol of India. Even for men, Delhi is quite dangerous as scamming, and violent robbery of foreigners is common.

Seku-hara (the Japanese pronunciation of sexual harrassment)
Long time ago I read that in Japan, they have yet another very bizarre sexual practice. Japan is the motherland of unusual sexual practices, but I had never heard of this before. I don’t know if they still have this, and I have never seen it myself. I would not personally visit a place like this, but it was interesting to read about. They had a bus that you get into. They had a bunch of girls wearing some sort of outfit. In Japan, they like school-girl outfits a lot which sounds perverted to Americans. In any case, guys can pay a fee to go in the bus and sexually harrass these girls who get paid to be molested. As barbaric as this practice sounds, it is consentual which is a lot more than I can say for the Indian system. I feel that Indian guys are very frustrated because sex is so taboo in India. I feel they need a safe and consentual way to satisfy their desires. Dating is not socially acceptable for most Indians unless they are affluent and live in Delhi, Mumbai, or parts of Gujarat that are liberal. As a result, many Indian guys go to prostitutes and get AIDS as 90% of prostitutes in India have AIDS. It is a very sad reality. As perverted as seku-hara in Japan is, you don’t get AIDS or other diseases from it, and it is relatively harmless. Maybe India needs something like this to decrease the molestations.

There is not much you can do to protect yourself.
If you visit India, there is no way to protect yourself. If you go to any railway station, there will be people pushing you and touching you as a routine part of daily life. Groping can easily occur in a crowd and you won’t know who did it. India is a crowded place. All I can say is, stay away from vulgar looking people. Try to keep a distance from people in general unless they are your friends. Brahmans hate being touched — you can imagine the hell they go through in daily life in India. They have to take a Ganga-snan (Gangee’s bath with a few drops of authentic Gangees water.) every time someone touches them to purify themselves.

If you go to India, go to nice places during times of nice weather. Try to protect yourself from scams and groping. You can’t 100% protect yourself, but if you are always looking for the signs of bad behavior, you might spot it before it is too late. Good luck, and enjoy your trip. Don’t go during the monsoon season. Torrential rain is much worse than groping.

The quintessential India experience

It is so funny how travel broadens our minds. I remember as a child seeing completely Americanized second generation Chinese Americans and thinking of them as Chinese! Now, after traveling to Taiwan and living there, I see the very same people as pure blooded Americans! I remember my first trip to India. I had spent a lot of time with Indians in America. But, being in their country gave me culture shock for a while. The class of people you encounter in India is substantially lower than the people who are here. If you are Indian and have made it to America, by definition, you are middle-class even if you are a cab driver. The same guy back in India wouldn’t drive a rickshaw if his life depended on it!

I remember having a nice meal at the Radisson.
A five star oasis of cleanliness and manners in a smog infested raunchy boulevard in Southern Chennai. I remember seeing these Indian-Americans walk past the pool wearing shorts speaking English in a loud American accent. There is such a contrast between Indians, and even those who have lived in America for twenty years! If you want to experience the real India, don’t stay at an American hotel chain. Sure, you will still be in India, and the staff will still have Indian habits and manners, but it is not what real India is.

Stay at a regular Indian hotel — a nice one.
Experience being able to order a breakfast of freshly squeezed pomegranate, orange, or mango juice. Experience toast with jam. Have cornflakes with warm milk, but only have that once because it is horrible! The best part of India or breakfast in India is the chai and the coffee. Sure you can get either in America, but American chai has too much cinnamon and sweetener, and never tastes authentic. Madras coffee is very smooth, and no Italian macchiato or latte can compare. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but the real India experience has to include Madras coffee. It’s on the required tasting list!

Enjoy other Indian beverages
You can get Coke in any country, but the Coke in India is much sweeter and tastes so good. After you’ve had Indian coke, you will never be able to drink American Coke again — it will taste very bitter. Enjoy fresh sugar-cane juice by the side of the road. I read that street food will no longer be legal soon in India, but enjoy it wherever you can get it! Indian wine is actually up to par with American wines, although no match for Rhone or Bordeaux. Many of the Indian wineries have paired up with European wine makers, and their wine actually resembles the part of Europe where their partner is from even though the grapes were grown in India.

Drink water from a metal cup
But, don’t let your lips touch the cup. Recently, India is into wasting paper. But, traditionally, people would share the same metal water cup, and not touch their lips to it. It requires good aim, otherwise you will need to change your shirt!

Take a rickshaw ride
Smart people in India take a cab. Rickshaws try to rip you off, tamper with their meters, and are a headache, while cab drivers are much more civil and their companies have a reputation to protect. Rickshaws are also dangerous by the way, so don’t die on my behalf because you liked my article. But, a rickshaw ride is a quintessential part of life in India, as well as of life in many of the other nearby countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. The experience of trying to communicate with the rickshaw wallas, bargaining, and having near-miss head on collisions throughout your trip are part of what makes India India! You should miss it for the world!

A bus ride says it all
Figuring out which bus to take is a real hassle in India. The buses are typically very rudely conducted and you have only nanoseconds to jump on and squeeze in. Personally, being a sardine is not my style, but this is what life is like for people in India. Do you want to experience India the way the locals do or not? Keep an eye on your wallet too. If you get pushed, always assume someone did it on purpose to distract you while they relieve you of your wallet.

2nd class local train rides
I like to travel first class on the train in India. You mingle with a better class of people, plus you have more room. During rush hour you have to squeeze even in first class. I think they need a new rail system in Mumbai. People hang out of the open doors of trains in India over tall bridges. Once in a while someone falls to their death. There are no safety precautions in India. Life and death of a human seem to be held as valuable as if a rodent lives or dies. Maybe in a few decades they will change their attitude. But, if you travel 2nd class, you can experience the sardine reality of existence that a normal urban Indian experiences regularly, especially if they live in the exciting and bustling city of Mumbai!

Dysentery and food sickness
You haven’t experienced India correctly if you haven’t had vomiting fits, blood in your bowel movements, or some other horrible gastro-intestinal disorder from something you ate. Sure, I drink bottled water, but something always happens. I blame it on potatoes. I always get sick from cooked potatoes, but never from samosas with potatoes. Odd. I once went to the bathroom completely without toilet paper (as the locals generally do) because I had to go all of a sudden due to food sickness. I experienced the real India. I didn’t like it much, but it was part of the traveling experience.

Try Indian street food
Indians love their street food. Even if they become millionaires, they still love the sensual pleasure of biting into a samosa chat, pani poori, or other local foods. They are always very simple, generally unhealthy, and everyone loves them.

Sleeping in a long distance train
This is a part of India that many of the locals don’t do simply because the few rupees that it costs to travel are more than what they have. Traveling first class is expensive, but 3rd class non-AC is not an expensive class to travel in. You see the poor people up front and get to know them in this class. When I say poor, it is not like poor in America who enjoy all types of pleasures unimaginable in India. Poor in India is dirt poor. Their skin tone reflects bad nutrition. They look unenthusiastic and tired. They will probably not have much to say either. It is bearable, but not a side of India that I like to spend much time in. For daily life, I like upper middle-class India. It suits me. People are more like me even if they don’t look like me. The types of jobs and lifestyle they have matches me better. 3rd class non-AC brings you to a very depressing and real version of India. You meet people who are not from the poche city that you are staying in. It is a different world. And traveling is about going into different worlds, even if they are not pleasant worlds. The best part of waking up in a long distance train after having a comfortable sleep with the soothing rocking of the train is to hear the calls of chai walla. “Chai, chai, chai, garam chai, achaya, chaha, ocha, chai, 5 rupees chai!” They say the world chai in all the dialects in a song. I immitate this song all the time!

Summary
There is the side of India that I am more familiar with. The world where affluent people go to their high-tech jobs, drive tiny new Hyundae cars, go out to eat, and generally speak English. Then, there are other sides of India, poorer and less pleasant sides. The “real” India could be rich or poor, but if you have not experienced a ride in a 2nd class train in Mumbai, used a squat toilet, or gotten dysentery, then you have not experienced the quintessential India.

Hey bubba!
Welcome to India, buddy!

(In Pune, everyone calls everyone Bubba. Maybe they had a past life in Georgia or Alabama, you think?)

You might also like:

Traveling to India — Hazards you are not thinking of
http://blog.meander411.com/2014/04/20/traveling-to-india-hazards-you-are-not-thinking-of/

A trip to Kerela with mishaps, elephants, and miracles
http://blog.meander411.com/2014/04/10/a-trip-to-kerela-with-mishaps-elephants-and-miracles/

Room service in India costs pennies, but in Vegas, it can run $70

I was reading a blog about what the average cost of room-service is in various cities in the United States. I don’t know what the figures mean since I don’t know what people ordered. Costs were around $68 in the more expensive cities for room service in the United States. But, I have lived in India before, and room service is not expensive there!

India is the land of headaches and noise pollution. Tasks that would be easy in America such as crossing the street, or buying a banana, can require aggressive behavior in India. Just to buy a bottle of Fanta, you might have to visit four different stores. The first will be out of Fanta, the second will have a clerk who is absent, the third will have Fanta, but will not have change, and the fourth will satisfy your craving.

Me: “Do you have orange soda?”
Clerk: “No!”
Me: “What is that over there?” (pointing to an orange soda)
Clerk: “Fanta!”
Me: “Fanta IS orange soda!”
Clerk: “No, it is Fanta!”
Me: “May I have a Fanta?”
Clerk: “20 rupees!”
Me: “Done!”
Clerk: “Sorry, your bill has a small rip in the corner”
Me: “Go to hell!”

But, in India, certain pleasures are very convenient and lightening fast. Indian culture is based around the concept of having servants — something alien to American culture in 2014. Having servants can work for you or against you depending on how inept or careless your servant is. But, if you have reliable help, you will be in good shape.

I enjoyed countless meals delivered to my hotel which cost me $2, not to mention sumptuous breakfasts including chai, Madras coffee, cornflakes (don’t let them bring you warmed up milk, insist on cold), toast with marmalade, and more. Chai is 10 rupees which is 25 cents, Madras coffee 25 cents, toast same, juice, about the same. The juice is freshly squeezed. If you had the same thing at Jamba Juice it would be US$4 for 12 ounces, but in India you get 6 ounces for 25 cents.

Breakfast: day 31
(ring ring)
Me: “Hi, I’d like to order breakfast?”
Clerk: “Omelette?”
Me: “No, for the last 30 days you keep offering me an omelette. Eggs have high cholesterol, and therefore I can’t have omelettes. Is there anything else you can recommend?”
Clerk: “Scrambled egg!”
Me: “I just got through telling… NEVER MIND. Please send up Chai, Toast, Pomegranate juice, and corn flakes with COLD milk.”
Clerk: “Anything else?”
Me: “No thanks!”
Clerk: “How about an — OMELETTE?”
Me: “For the last time… damn it… never mind. No, that will be all!”

Breakfast: day 32
(ring ring)
Me: “I would like to order breakfast!”
Clerk: “Omelette?”
Me: “Everything just went black. Did we just have a power outage?”
Clerk: “Power out… Omelette?”

Note to readers…
“Welcome to INDIA!!!!”

In India you can get great food for pennies, fresh juice and rich aromatic coffee for pennies too. Get your clothes washed by the village aunties for pennies, and if you are lucky they will actually bring it back at the appointed time without you having to harrass them. If you have a flight or bus to catch, don’t trust the locals with our laundry. It might be like pulling teeth to get it back on time! With the exchange rate for Rupees at 60 Rupees per dollar, India might even be cheaper now than it was when I was there. Sure, there are headaches, but you can live like a king for pennies.

Me: “Forget about Vegas — Start thinking Bangalore…”
Clerk: “Omelette?”

Traveling to India — Hazards you are not thinking of

When we think of India we think of the Taj Mahal, (or as I call it, the “Tajma Hall”). We think of Red Fort in Agra; We think of the beautiful Himalayas; And we think of the backwaters of Kerela. In real life, most of India is nothing like these fabulous places. Most of India is a flat rural place with a few overpopulated teaming cities mixed in. But, traveling to India has its hazards too. Are you prepared?

Hazard #1: Lost Passports
When we travel to India, we are warned about pick pockets, con-men, and food poisoning. But, the most common hazard in India is giving your passport to a clerk at a hotel or airport. It is not that they are “trying” to lose it — it just happens out of carelessness. On two occasions on my last trip, the airline personnel dropped my passport on the floor. They couldn’t find it after shuffling through their papers. When you get out of your rick shaw and arrive at your hotel, the first thing they want is a photocopy of your passport. So, the hotel clerk hands your passport to their runner (normally a boy about 18 years old who looks like he hasn’t a clue) and the gopher boy takes it to the neighborhood photocopy place. But, what if he loses your passport? Then, you will be stranded in India for the rest of your life! Don’t let your passport or personal belongings out of your site for more than a nano-second in India — even with trusted professionals!

Hazard #2: Dysentery
Sure, we have all been warned of bacterial maladies that happen to wary travelers in Asia. Vomiting, Dysentery, and what I call LBS — Liquid bowel syndrome are all common in India. The trick is to know what to do. India is actually a much better place to get sick than America. It is very affordable to be really sick in India and help is around every corner! Cipro (ciprofloxacin) will kill any infection known to mankind. But, do you carry it on your person before you get sick? Do you know how long to take it? Cipro only costs pennies in India but a course could cost $100 or more in the USA. Wherever you get it, you might consider keeping it on your person just in case. In India, roughly half of all tourists get sick. How long they remain sick can vary, and the severity varies too. Even Indians returning home after five or more years of bacterial acculturation in America often get upset stomachs. I got very sick in Bangalore, and we just went to a neighborhood pharmacy. I got a consultation and holistic medicine for about US$3 without any waiting in lines. If you had to go to an emergency room in the USA, you would pay $1000 after an eight hour wait. India has its problems, but if you want medical care, it is sometimes not a bad location.

Hazard #3: Where you eat and what you eat
Foreigners are paranoid about getting sick, and avoid many places they could eat. It is unpredictable where you are going to get sick. I started out being careful. But, after a while I got more adventurous on subsequent India trips. I started eating street food and drinking regular untreated tap water. Nothing happened. Later I learned that my stomach didn’t like potatoes unless they were in a samosa. Interesting fact. I survived train food, street food, and tap water, and then got violently ill eating food that one of the ladies in our spiritual group cooked. It was a potato dish. That was the one day that I wasn’t carrying toilet paper on my person. Big mistake. I used a squat toilet with no toilet paper for the first time in my life. It only took that bacteria 15 minutes to make me violently ill. I was freezing in the air conditioned train and couldn’t stay awake. I guess these illnesses are part of the spiritual cleansing. That is what they tell us. I lived in any case.

Hazard #4: Walking on a side walk.
For those of you who feel that crossing the street in India is risking your life — you are right. Indians, however are cool as a cucumber when attempting this treacherous risk — after all, they believe in reincarnation. If they get run over by a truck, they will get infinite second chances! I was ran into by a motorcycle on a sidewalk. Luckily he was in parking mode, but he crashed right into my side. I guess he doesn’t know how to gauge distances — or maybe he was hungover. Luckily I wasn’t hurt.

Other Hazards
Keep your wallet in your front pocket and keep your hand on the pocket in the train. If someone pushes you, keep that hand on the wallet and let your body crash into the soft bodies ahead of you. They won’t mind — they are immune to that. If you forget about your wallet, the pickpockets and molesters will take it. Watch out for floods. Keep an inflatable boat on your person at all times. You never know. Also, if you see 200 Hindus about to confront 300 Muslims armed with sticks and knives — run fast!

A trip to Kerela with mishaps, elephants, and miracles.

It was 2007. I had to go to India to go to a huge spiritual gathering in Tirapur. Most Indians don’t even know that Tirapur exists. But, it is the garment capital of India. If you make T-shirts, you need to be there. So, I flew to Chennai (Madras). I spent a few days at the ashram meditating. Then, I flew to Hyderabad to meet with a programmer. I had fun there. I saw Char-Minar which is a great monument in the middle of a street. You can walk up the stairs and get a view of the entire neighborhood. I saw Gol-Konda which is a great Islamic fort. Then, I saw a few museums and then went to “Filim City”. I’m not sure how it is spelled, but they pronounce it that way. There were endless gardens of all types so that they could film movies there. Indians need gardens for the love scenes where the guy chases the girl around a tree in a garden (cultural note of the day). Then, I left and flew back to Chennai and got a train going to Kerela.

I was in such a hurry, that I hadn’t booked a room at a hotel where I was going. I didn’t learn the local geography either. I didn’t know the name of the town where the train station was. Ernakulam — now I know. Kochi was the metro I was going to. It is also spelled Cochin like the word for pig in Spanish. It is a city shaped like San Francisco, and Ernakalum was where Berkeley would be. It’s after you cross the bay bridge near the Taj Hotel.

So, there I was on a night train, going through uncharted territory deep in the heart of Tamil Nadu. I didn’t know the names of any hotels and hadn’t thought about it either. That was dumb. Some hotels are affordable and nice while others are impossibly expensive. In any case, there was an Islamic guy in the same quarters that I was in. He had a bed across from me. He was engaged in some activities that were not condoned by his faith. He kept getting out of his bed and walking around the train. He would come back, and then disappear and then come back. I am always afraid of being robbed, so my valuables stay under my clothes in my money belt and my huge bag stays securely under the bed. It would be hard to remove without being noticed. The manager of the railway car started to be bothered by this crazy guy going in and out and in and out. The Islamic guy was drunk on whiskey and offering whiskey to the staff of the train many of whom were accepting his gift.

For those of you who don’t know about “currency” in India. There are various types of currency of different levels of acceptability. Dollars are appreciated. Rupees are the norm. But, whiskey is a prized commodity even more valuable than cash, especially imported whiskey!

We talked about spirituality and religion. He told me that I was on the wrong path. Meditation is not the wrong path. I don’t think there is a wrong path. I told him that at least I was on a path! We talked about fasting for Islam. I thought they fasted for God, but they fasted for the poor. My opinion is, why don’t they just give their food to the poor if they care so much about the poor. But, Muslims fast by day and gorge by night. A silly Ramadan habit that makes no logical senses and doesn’t do anyone any good — especially not the poor who are the ones who are supposed to be “helped” by these traditions.

Putting aside my quarrelsome nature and how I debate religion with everyone under the sun and moon, this Islamic guy gave me a few phone numbers of affordable hotels. He saved my rear! I booked a room while still on the train. My sim-card was working! I paid only $25 per night and stayed at a very clean place with excellent Kerelite food.

I toured the city, saw the docks where the fishermen go out. My long lost friend was standing right there! Was it Lucas? Let me take a closer look. Yes! Yes, it was Lucas. It had been five or ten years since I last had seen him. We talked a while and then talked about which train he was taking to the gathering. We were both in the same spiritual group.

Then, I got up early the next day for a tour of the mountains. My cab ride didn’t come at the appointed time. We saw spice gardens in the hills. Then, we saw the high mountains and animals up there. I made friends with an elephant named Laxmi who ate 200 bananas per day! She was six years old and very adorable! We saw a bunch of tourist sites in the mountains, got badly rained on, and returned to the hotel.

There was a bus strike in Kerela when I desperately needed to get out of there. I was planning on leaving by bus, but couldn’t. Luckily, but the grace of god (god seems to do more miracles in India for regular folks like me than he does in America) a special train was organized to travel East. I booked a ticket on that train and I was the only one (almost) on the train. I got off at Coimbatore. From there, I booked a hotel, had a beautiful tour of the gardens and lakes of Ooti in the hills, and got a cab to take me to my spiritual gathering.

My trip to Kerela was a sequence of mishaps, bad planning and miracles. India is a pain in the neck, but I love many of the people, and I love that god intervenes more in daily life in India. Everything is chaotic in India, but somehow everyone gets where they are going in the end through divine intervention — if necessary!