Our last Indian train ride we took in style. We rewarded our adventurous selves with an upper class air-con car for all our brave and dirty dealings with the sleeper classes to previous cities. Well, partly a reward. In reality, my mother put her foot down and demanded a car where we didn’t have to eat sand and smell toilets and man-sweat. There were sheets, warm from the dryer!!! And pillows, and blankets, and the beds were bigger, and there were windows that closed. Actually, the windows didn’t even open because this was an air-con class car, which we shared with a nice young Korean couple. That’s right! We only shared it with two other people. Not 10. 2.
As exciting as this car sounds, we made a logistical mistake in choosing it. This train ride took us to the foothills of the Himalayas. In case you didn’t know… the Himalayas are the world’s highest mountain range. It is cold up there! Brrrrr!!! We were not hot enough to need air-con and we couldn’t open the windows for warmer air, because they didn’t open and there was no warmer air. The grass is always greener in the other train car…ummm…you know what I mean.
Luckily this was only a five hour train ride. We were in Dehradun by 5:30am and ready to wander the town for a cup of coffee.
Dehradun has all the delights and annoyances of a tourist town. More so than the other cities we visited because Dehradun is small. The whole town seems affected by tourism. Beggars were more insistent and bitter. There were more Western restaurants than I had seen before. I am sure Delhi had a Pizza Hut, Dominoes, etc., but it was so large that they weren’t primary attractions. Dehradun was like re-entering America at the end of an incredible Indian adventure. It was rather like when we went to Nice, France after touring the Italian and Monaco countrysides. For all it’s modern Western traits, Dehradun is missing one quintessential Western experience for the Western tourists that it caters to: the coffee shops don’t open until 9 or 10 in the morning!!!
WTF? We had to wander around for four hours waiting for coffee after a 5 hour nap (in place of sleep) on a freezing train car, almost two weeks bumming around India with poor diets, showers, and sleep, our backs hurt from carrying our packs, and have I mentioned that I NEED coffee in the morning to function like a normal human being and not a screaming blob of angst (whatever that might look like). Needless to say, I may have behaved in a way that was unbecoming and I may have misrepresented future American tourists. I apologize. I took it all out on my mother, not on the poor people of Dehradun who had to witness crazy coffeeless lady. Sorry about that, mom. Truly, I am. At a peaceful moment during my crazy, we sat in a park near a woman meditating. There were pretty flowers and guys playing cricket. It was nice. It would have been nicer with coffee.
Our guest house was operated by descendants of a Royal Family, who clung proudly to their heritage. They displayed their status in photographs on the walls. And if you took the time to listen to their stories and their lineages you soon realized that the important family members are really their 2nd cousins. But their distance from any real monarchical power or status in no way diminished the exorbitant $25 charge for the worst room we stayed in the entire trip. Our room at the Sawa Niwas Guest House in Varanasi (best room EVER) was $10. And it included good company, the expertise of the family, and an amazing location. The Palace Hotel in Jaisalmer was much pricier (w/ an ACTUAL royal family living in one wing of it), but it was an incredible hotel with a restaurant and a museum. This place in Dehradun was the house of a pompus local and the nicest people in it were the two servant men. Needless to say, I don’t recommend it. I will not bash it directly on this public blog, but if you are taking a trip to this region of India then you needn’t stay in Dehradun anyways. I promise you that it is much better to stay in Mussoorie.
Mussourie is about 12 km straight up the mountainside. From there you have easy access to hikes and views of the bigger Himalayas (on a sunny day, which it was not). It is perched on the top of the “foothills” at about 9,000 feet about see level. The drive is amazing. A 6,000 foot climb in 6 miles from Dehradun. And as you climb you can see a distinct change in the vegetation. The trees change. The animals change. The clothes people wear change. The farming changes (to step farming)! And suddenly you are at the top. Just the top of this “hill”, which is still higher than most mountains that I have ever seen. Mussoorie is a gateway into a different world. A world that, much like Pakistan calling to me in Rajastan, has to wait for another time. Mussouie is a must sea place. It is my second favorite place in India. The art and culture are distinctly different than the other provinces we visited. And the area is highly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
The final day of our journey took us to the Forestry Research Institute in Dehradun. An incredible complex that houses six museums completely dedicated to Indian forests and land use. It has large grounds broken up into distinct and themed arboretums. All based on certain ecosystems throughout India. It was incredible! I am such a nerd!!!
Then we took a plane back to Delhi, basked in the glory of the New Delhi Radisson, and boarded a plane to NYC. It was over. But at the end of it all, when I was exhausted and didn’t think I could cram any more adventure into my little brain…
…I sat near a very interesting person on the plane. I think my life is the better for it. But that is a story for a different time and place (and this isn’t the place).
Here ends my adventures in India. Until I get back on a plane (still have to hit Southern India and Sri Lanka). Or until I remember something else that I forgot. It will happen. I already have a planned blog post for random things I left out. It was an intense trip and I only skimmed the surface of our experiences.