- Kahlil Gibran
A week ago I flew from Leh Airport in Ladakh to Delhi. Airport security was tight and chaotic, and they didn't allow any hand baggage, unless you said you had an expensive camera, like I did. They insisted that batteries be removed, but didn't check that they were. My lip balm crossed a line, though, and was confiscated. You know how when your lips are chapped it's almost impossible to blow up a plane. I was a little grumpy because they took my special chapstick with collagen that makes my lips look like Angelina Jolie's. I sat in the departure lounge, thin-lipped, suffering in silence.
There was a large group of Indian military in the waiting area. Rules of behavior in India are almost the reverse of the norm at home. Men and women rarely touch in public, but men will walk arm-in-arm or holding hands. Two young soldiers sat across from me, almost on top of each other, talking intimately with their faces close, laughing and holding hands. I've seen soldiers act the same way in San Francisco, but it was Halloween and they had their butt-cheeks cut out of their trousers.
Delhi is the usual steamy madhouse that I've come to know and tolerate. Late one night I was walking back to my hotel and ended up on a road that dead-ended at a railway station. I had the misfortune of asking directions of an old guy with white hair and alcohol on his breath. In formal English, he said, "I would be pleased to show you the way out. But you must realize that I do so at my own risk. And as I'm a poor man, perhaps you could then help me with a few rupees." It turns out I was the one taking the risk, because as I said I didn't need to pay for a guide, he mumbled, "Well, I could also do this..." and he grabbed a handful of the family jewels! I was shocked.
"I can't believe you just grabbed my nuts!"
"What happened, sir?"
"You know what happened, you asshole. You just grabbed my nuts! You can't go around doing that to people!!"
"Oh, I'm sorry sir. I'm just tired."
"Well, I'm tired, too, but I didn't just grab your nuts, now did I?!"
I'm making it sound a little more fun that it really was. I threatened to take him to the police, but I didn't mean it. I knew they would just beat the hell out of him and then extort a bribe. But it changed my perspective for a while. Every time I saw a white-haired old man walk close to me I'd think, oh, you better not grab my nuts! That's not a normal, or healthy, response to white haired old men. I don't know what kind of ManMusk I'm exuding these days, but I was approached by men two more times in the next two days. And I don't like it! I'm looking forward to being back in San Francisco where people's gay-dar is more finely tuned.
A few hours ago, I bought an on-line ticket to fly home tomorrow morning, via five days in Paris visiting my niece Courtney. My vacation, if that's what you call it, isn't quite over, but my time in India is. In the eight months I've been here, I've found myself overwhelmed, happy, despondent, conflicted, agitated, loved and loving. I don't get that same level of stimulation and inspiration at home, but maybe only because I'm not looking hard enough. I met a young American here who dove into the sea of Indian experience and didn't even get wet. All his experiences bounced off his thick insular skull, to be evaluated with it's-right or it's-wrong, it's-good or it's-bad. I'm happy to say that this isn't my problem while I'm here. But though I claim that I'm constantly trying to figure things out, it occurred to me recently that maybe I like not understanding, and it's the confusion that thrills me.
I can't really put it into words what keeps me coming back to India. I'm not being difficult - I just don't know how to express it - not even to myself. Much of my travel motivation this trip had to do with these newsletters. I really feel, right or wrong, that I'm not just traveling for myself. I'm traveling and writing and photographing and sharing for anyone that is moved by these letters. And that inspiration has the same quality as love, in that it doesn't diminish as you give it away. So, for anyone who's been moved or inspired, I'm REALLY happy that you were. I wrote them for you.
Too much love,
There are eight photos below:
This river is cutting across the Zanskar road. The water gets high in the afternoon as the snow melts higher up, and this day it brought down a load of large boulders. The jeep is stuck in the stream, but is sitting in the road, which continues to the right of the photo.
The village of Likir after rain and snow fell the night before.
Young monks at Likir Monastery.
A view of upper Likir, from the monastery.
This man was cutting wheat with rest of his family. The goggles are made of metal and leather, and look like something from World War II.
A woman in Leh wearing a traditional Ladakhi hat.
A view of Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Someone who was here 27 years ago said that there wasn't a single tree back then - they've all been planted since then.