katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.


India Mussoorie, India  |  Sep 10, 2009
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 Monkeys everwhere! 

Day 5: Thurs Sept 10th—And we’re driving

With an early start, the gang loaded a rented bus and headed out of the hostel into the streets of Delhi.  Many of the roads were flooded due to the torrential downpour that occurred during the previous evening and early morning.  The rain was quite warm, but it was disheartening to see homeless Indians on the streets trying to find a place to keep warm and stay dry for a few winks of sleep.  Along the way, I also noticed that all the cars and motorcycles, and some bikes, that passed us were all driven by… men.  There was not one single woman behind the wheel of a car, a motorcycle, or a bicycle.   At first, I thought that is was just the sexist aspect of the Indian society by not allowing women to drive, but after a few more minutes of the bus ride and the round-abouts I realized that driving not only takes a great amount of aggression and skill, but it also takes a good deal of sacrifice to be willing to sit on the left side when cars are coming right at you.   

 After we left the outskirts of the city, we were surrounded by much more greenery… and trash.  There were many aspects of the drive that revealed the rural nature of India.  Examples include the manure huts on the side of the roads where vegetables were grown, the cows chilling on the side of the road, in the road, and in houses with people sleeping on a cot, as well as pigs enjoying the dirt puddles and moving their ears back and forth in satisfaction of their location.  The ride was a true test of one’s faith in the driving ability of our driver and the drivers that 

Driving in India requires a huge dependency on one’s horn.  The horn is used for everything, including the blinker.  I believe that there is some sort of code in that when a driver honks one loud one it means he’s coming around the corner or behind you or checking you out.  When a driver honks twice it means passing or he’s on the other side of the road.  When you hear multiple honks it means that he is stuck behind you in traffic and either just feels like honking to make the situation just that much better or that he wants to pass you (especially if it is a motorcycle). 

We passed many small communities along the way and ended getting stuck in many traffic jams.  Some truck drivers just don’t realize how large their trucks are.  There were a few incidents where a truck was stuck in the mud or a bus was submerged in a puddle (as seen in the photo).   We stayed relatively safe during the trip—except for one incident in the mountains where we were taking a turn and were going about 50 mph when an SUV took the same turn towards us.  The bus lurched to a stop and we escaped an accident by half of a foot.   It was as if we were in a James Bond film except instead of the small, sexy car we were in a bulk, Java-the-hut bus. 

If I had thought that the hectic, flat roads were bad then I misjudged what the hectic, steep roads would be like.   Once we got into the mountains the roads became much steeper and much smaller.  We switch backed back and forth across mountain sides and drainages.  Each time we crossed a bridge I hoped that it wouldn’t be like Minnesota where the bridge just collapsed from age.  The views from the steep climb were pretty amazing.   We began to climb up past the clouds, seeing many monks along the way.  It started to get dark while the roads were narrowing.  Because the roads could only fit one vehicle we all hopped out and in groups of three and four took taxis up the rest of the way.  My taxi was a “mini” mini-van and it had a little difficulty getting up one hill.  We finally arrived to Ivy Banks hostel, unloaded our belongings, and got a quick bite of dinner before we headed to our three person rooms. I am rooming with Martha and Lisa, two girls from Hobart.  


Day 6: Fri Sept 11th—Exploration

Wow.  The location of our hotel provides some of the best views in India.  Right outside our door we can see the clouds below and the Himalayas above.  Today, I explored the area with some of the group members and by myself.  I visited a cut, little Buddhist stupa not too far from where we were staying.  It was so colorful and there was a monk holding prayer beads and turning prayer wheels as he circumvented around and around the stupa.  After breakfast, I went on a longer exploration and walked 6 km into the center of town.  Known as the ‘Queen of the hill stations, Mussoorie has one main road, which often can only fit one car at a time (but that doesn’t stop the Indians from speeding or trying to fit).  The busy little town has a population of about 29,319 people.  Mussoorie has many Tibetan refugees and mountain people that live within its lines and so the population of the Indians here looks completely different than those in Delhi. The roads are grated, which is really nice when walking up and down them because the moisture makes them pretty slippery.  There is also a lot of dog poop that one needs to watch out for because it is slippery…  The adventure in town was stupendous because, even though this is a touristy spot, especially for the honeymooners, I felt like I got a better sense of India in the intimate, but hectic town of Mussoorie. There were many so many mom-and-pop shops, decorated rickshaws, food stalls (especially corn), and  around.

We had some safety lectures (apparently our number one danger is earthquakes here… not automobile accidents… hmm….), lunch (sambar, sabzi, rice, and chapatti), and some academic lectures.   We had some free time to kill, so a group of six (Lisa, Hannah, Chelsea, Kim, Rebecca and I) journeyed into town to check out our options for looking like an Indian woman. Along the way, we met a few doggie friends that kept brushing up on us.  It is quite sad seeing all the scrawny dogs around town trying to either sleep, get something to eat, or avoid being hit by a car.  One day I noticed earlier that day has a chunk of its ear cut off from something.  It was bloody and one of the saddest things I had ever seen.  There was really nothing I could do.  Anyway, back to the wanting to look like an Indian woman… so after a brief discussion we decided that a nose piercing won for the best chance of resemblance.  So, we all loaded into a little jewelry store that pierced noses and five of us picked out our favorite stud.  The man took the silver stub that we chose, and after marking our noses with a pen, used a little antiseptic on the stud and just popped it through the left nostril.  It was painless.  Then he took some pliers (small and BIG) and clicked the back onto the stud.  The process took less than a minute.  And the cost… any guesses?  100 rupees.  That means I got my nose pierced for less than $2.  What a deal!  After we were all pierced up, the six of us started to head back to the hotel, but we couldn’t proceed as planned because there was a huge traffic jam in front of the jewelers.  I guess the locals were entertained with what was going on in that store.  The traffic jam got worse when the ambulance came whizzing by and needed to get through.  Well, after we mingled our way through we made some more doggie friends and headed up to the Ivy Banks hotel. 

In the late afternoon, the whole group hiked up the Landour School, which is the first school in the world to offer Hindi as a second language.  The trek was pretty steep, especially when one stepped on dog doo lying innocently in the road.  The rain was still present when we walked up, so it was a bit difficult for some people to trek up in flip-flops.  Once we got there, we were introduced to the campus and the curriculum that we would be using for the next two weeks.  Dinner tonight was a delicious meal of rice, chapattis, and dhal.  Yum!


Day 7: Sat Sept 12th—Relaxation

Today’s theme was “Indian relaxation”.  Breakfast was interesting with puffed ball bread (puri), corn flakes, and curry soup.  After a little lesson on monsoon (wind) season, which we have missed by a few weeks, I went on a little walk up past the hotel.   It was a beautiful, foggy walk that allowed me to practice some Hindi with the CDs I have, as well as get a feel for the altitude.  I went back to the hotel, did a little yoga, and went to a themed lunch of veggie burger, French fries, and corn soup.  The afternoon was fun with a further exploration of the city.  With Hannah and Chelsea, we passed the hundreds or colorful mom and pop stores as we meandered down through the main streets.  We bought some clothes, jewelry, and snacks while we enjoyed the comfortable “hustle-bustle” of Mussoorie on a Saturday.

                Near the end of town we walked down to a “Tibetan market”.  Having assumed the market would sell Tibetan clothing and knick-knacks, we were a little disappointed to only find American clothing.  Options included Disney, Miley Cyrus, logo T-shirts (such as “I am the wonder of the world”), and leopard printed pants.   The Tibetans who worked there spoke English very well and were also listening to hip-hop from the states.  Hannah and I noted that it was a little sad to see how the culture was drowned by American trends.  The Tibetan market was meant to be a welfare market, where I guess refugees could make some cash to live on.  Other highlights of the trip to town consisted of all the cute, little (but stray) puppies we saw, a group of men pretending to buy jewelry when we went into the jewelry store, and pumping into two Australian girls who were on their gap year and volunteering in Dehra Dun at a Tibetan special need school.  We had some more great grub and then watched a famous Bollywood film, “Om Shanti Om”.  I suggest renting it!


Day 8: Sun Sept 13th – Freedom Before Midnight

Today was our last free day before Hindi classes.   It was the first sunny day this week , so everyone was quite adamant about doing their laundry.  I creatively used some shampoo to wash my one pair of pants and two shirts.  After some crepes and cornflakes, I headed off with Matt and Anna to complete an assignment that we were given a few days ago.  We were supposed to observe a site in town as objectively as we could.  There was a catch because the visual learners (moi) could only use pictures to formulate their thoughts and what they observed, whereas the verbal learners needed to use 300 words to record their observations.  We chose a construction site in town.  The workers were working hard on a building with concrete and rue bar to built a new restaurant or house.  While there I noticed people tossing white powder on the sides of the streets and in the gutters.  I guess Sunday is purifying and sterilizing day.  I also observed that many other people were doing their laundry on this sunny Sunday.  The whole town was filled with colors with everyone’s fabrics out drying.  Many families were out and about enjoying the sun and each other—some families were even playing cricket on their roofs.   Even the stray dogs and cows were enjoying the sun as they took naps.  There were also “sadhus” beggars (represented by orange cloth) out and about asking for money since

When the observation time was complete, I headed off to Gun Hill—the second highest point in Mussoorie.  I hiked up, even though most people use the gondola that is there, and saw a few cows along the way.  The hike was pretty quick and when I got to the top of it there was… a carnival waiting for me.  On top of Gun Hill are about twenty stands of carnival activities, such as shooting balloons with guns.  When I got to the top it a cloud was moving in so I grabbed a spectacular view of the Himalayas in the nick of time before the cloud moved in.  Before I went back to Ivy Banks, I visited a Jain temple, which is identified by a backwards swastika.  Jains are known for their intense respect for all animals and their naked gurus, whose photographs were up all around the temple room.  The temple was beautifully decorated with colors and sparkles. 

After lunch, word on the street in the group that a gang of monkeys were hanging out up by the internet café and so I decided to go check out that scene with Fernando.  They were not lying.  There were two different types of monkeys: Landour and Rhesus (these ones are often experimented on).  The monkeys were all hanging out in large families with the men aggressively protecting the groups.  The babies were quite cute as they ran alongside their moms and hung on to their mama’s teats.  A few of the adolescents reminded me of misbehaving kids because they were wrestling each other and falling off the sidewalls while their parents were scolding them in the background.   Some of the monkeys were so large that when they ran they sounded like horses.  One specific monkey got a little intimidating and started approached Fernando and I… but then he ran to the side wall, jumped up and started itching his crouch, like a man. 

I got up to the CharDukan (four stores), which is where the internet café lives, and began working on some schoolwork and blogging.  While I was there a lady came by offering massages to me and my friends.  She was very nice, but out of work and looking for any jobs that involved babysitting, cleaning, manicuring, or massaging.  She has been an au pair for American families in Mussoorie and took out a pile of letters to prove her validity as a babysitter.  It was an interesting form of a resume… While there, I also noticed a cute Indian boy sitting at the café across from us playing American hits.  Many kids walk around with their cell phones and play American Top 40.   Some other habits that I have also observed are how often people litter on the streets, even though there are plenty of trash cans around the town that state “keep our Mussoorie clean”.  Most of the trash that is littered is candy, chewing tobacco, or betel nut wrappers.  The Indian diet is not very healthy and most kids eat tons of sugar, such as Snickers, Milko, etc, as well as heavy oils, carbohydrates, and veggies cooked to the extreme.  Chewing tobacco and betel nuts are also habits that many Indians have and the packets are sold almost at every block.  The betel nut is a “traditional” form of getting a little buzz and red spit can be seen on the streets from it.   The rest of my day was uneventful as I prepared for my first day of Hindi…


Day 9: Mon Sept. 14th, 2008—First Day of School

                Emerging from my moldy bed with gas pains, I was ready for my first day of Hindi classes.  With my stomach and bag full, I hiked up to school with my peers.  We got to the Landor School with smiles on our faces and excitement in our bellies.   The gang was divided into three different groups, with one girl, Jori, in more advanced classes.  I am with Jeremy, Anna, and Martha—who are all from Hobart.  The schedule of the morning was intense with four sessions of classes and a different teacher for each one.  We switched from grammar, learning script, to vocabulary to learning script.  The teachers were very patient with us.  I almost felt like I was going through an assembly line because the teachers would do their thing and then shuffle us onto the next class.  So far, Hindi is very interesting, especially because of the Devanāgarī script.   At first it is a little overwhelming to learn a different type of linguistics, but I think that once I memorize how the letters are formed reading will come easy because it is very phonetical. 

After lunch, we had formal class time with an emphasis on learning ethnographic methods and discussing a book that we read about a Himalayan hunter from Mussoorie, Knowing Dil Das.  The book was a fascinating read because it elaborated on the hardships of being a dairy farmer, who had a passion for hunting in the Himalayan hills.  Dil Das’s stories reveal the hardships of being in a low caste, living in an exchange economy, and not truly understanding his place in life.  His lifestyle is still used today with men coming from villages to deliver milk in silver cartoons to families and school here in town.  The discussion got a little long and so Jori and I decided to go on a little walk to get some exercise for the day.  We headed to Gun Hill for a little workout.  Jori was wearing a workout T-shirt and yoga pants, which caused a few stares because it is considered a little “promiscuous” for a “Western” woman to wear T-shirts and such since we are known to have a certain reputation through American films.  Dinner tonight was Indian pizza and that evening was lots of Hindi studying.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to read road signs by the time I am done with this course so that I don’t get lost anymore! 

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