Thursday, March 21, 2013

Connecting with Other Travelers

With Natalia from Brazil
Another top reason why I love traveling: the connections formed with other travelers. After a year and a half abroad, I feel lucky to have friends (and places to crash!) all over the world.

A common theme throughout my blog has been my many treasured experiences hanging out with locals in nearly every country I've visited. While the insight and adventures local-style remain unparalleled, I often neglect to mention this other monumental aspect of my days as an independent traveler: other travelers!

Reflecting on my past travels, I associate the places I've visited with the people whom I shared the experience with. When you're traveling solo, by nature some encounters are brief (ie: a conversation at the train station with a Swiss gal, one day exploring Bangalore with Henry from Austrailia) while others lead to lasting friendships (two weeks in Vietnam with Krista from Canada last year who I still remain in touch with).
Sleeper bus in Vietnam with Krista (Canada) and Hannah & Catherine (UK)
All of these communications, both short and lengthy, leave an impression on me in one way or another, be it about the individual's own country, culture, ideals or perspective. I often find myself pondering statements or ideas that fellow travelers left me with, all of which help to solidify my own knowledge and perspective. I've learned as much from other travelers about the world as I have from traveling in the countries where we meet.

Just a few weeks ago, Dag from Svalbard, Norway blew my mind when I heard he must legally carry a gun outside in case of a polar bear attack. In addition to countless more random trivia about this little island that is halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Dag and I debated a range of topics regarding India vs the West. In a conversation about gender roles in India, something that is often on my mind here, Dag offered me a new perspective that opened my mind to the idea that it isn't as black and white as I previously thought.

One challenge of solo travel is not having anyone to digest the constant flow of information with (hence incessant journaling and blogging), so these more meaningful relationships with other travelers help to better understand where we are and what is going on around us as compared to our respective countries
Exploring Hampi's unique landscape with Brits
Constantly meeting other travelers and having the standard “how long have you been traveling?” conversation can, frankly, be quite exhausting. While plenty of travelers pass by without exchange or with the minimal standard traveler rapport, timing always seems to work out so you have company (if you so choose) wherever you are. And occasionally, when things are working out well and destinations align, it's easy to forget you came here alone as new travel buddies make the long bus and train rides much less painful. 

And then there are the times that you end up in exactly the right place at the right time and meet people who will transform your trip and possibly even become an important part of your life. It is these genuine relationships formed while traveling that offer the most valuable kind of bond. The best thing about the friendships formed on the road is they are often of the unlikely type; people of differing interests, personalities and probably social circles in respective countries. It is the special circumstances of travel, unlike any other situation of life, that bring all walks of life together regardless of age, religion, country, sexual preference, politics and hobbies. (Though, it's fair to say that the vast majority of independent travelers are of a particularly liberal mind-set).

Shachar & Dana (Israel) in Rishikesh
And so is my reflection about such meaningful connections after a memorable few weeks with a gang of five. I met and beach bummed with Dana and Shachar earlier in my trip down south in Gokarna, so I was happy to find this one-of-a-kind couple again in Pushkar. As individuals they're artistic and accepting, and together they foran honest love that the rest of mankind should strive for. 

Gilad in Dharamsala
I decided to join them and their other Israeli friend, Gilad, on a bus to our next destination, Rishikesh. 

Meytal in front of the abandoned
Beatles ashram in Rishikesh
As fate would have it, the only other tourist on our bus was another Israeli solo-traveler, Meytal. (How I keep finding myself in the company of Israelis in India, I do not know...) 

Meytal quickly joined the pack and for two weeks we were inseparable in our explorations. The dynamic of five worked well, allowing the couple space as they pleased, individuals to take time out as desired and at least one to speak English with the non-Israeli.

Myself, Meytal, Gilad, Dana & Shachar in Rishikesh
For one week we lazed by the Ganges River in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. Daily activities included but are not limited trekking, yoga, meditation and a whole lot of eating and laughing.
Ganga (as they call in India) River in Rishikesh

Eventually we moved on to Dharamsala, further north in the Himalayas and home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan community in exile. We stayed in the quieter village of Dharamkot, where the scenery never stopped taking my breath away. I enjoyed learning about the Tibetan history and community, more meditation, trekking and a whole lot of hanging out in nature
View from above of the village of Dharamkot(on the right)

Playing cards in nature
Travel, in all its glory, breaks down petty social barriers and brings unlikely suspects of friends in "real life" together in a beautiful and real way. Even though I was the youngest and only non-Israeli of the lotMeytal and I agreed there was a reason the group of us got together – we were on the same wave length.
Us minus Gilad
After having such phenomenal company, it was sad to say goodbye (though we will surely meet again in Israel). My soul sister Meytal and I took the overnight bus to Delhi, where she stayed to catch her flight home and I carried on to Agra to check out the Taj Mahal (only to break up my trip to Varanasi.)
Cow in our hotel lobby: so India!
Trekking in the Himalayas 
Up, up we go!
Nature hang out is the best kind of hang out
Good morning from the Taj Mahal today, March 21, 2013

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