Thursday, June 27, 2019

Not Everything Goes According to Plan

“Impatient on road
Patient in hospital”
-road sign on the Mumbai to Pune highway 

It started relatively simple: we’d land in Mumbai, grab our luggage, find our shuttle driver, and head to Pune (a 4 hour trip). We’d get here by 7am, have breakfast, and just enjoy the day. It became a series of misadventures that still brought us to Sangam safe and sound. 

First, we arrived an hour late due to a delayed takeoff from Dubai. When our driver found us, he seemed to forget where he parked, so we went up and down elevators until he seemed to realize that we were already on the right floor. 

Second, the shuttle was too small for us and our baggage, so we had to pile up our suitcases all around us with barely enough room for all of us to sit. Our driver wasn’t interested in helping us get the bags in the shuttle (and to be fair, we had a lot), but one of our girls handled it wonderfully! 

It was 5am when we began making our way through Mumbai. People were just starting to come out for work, lining up at bus stops. It was busy traffic, but we seemed to move through the city pretty quickly. I found myself getting emotional. I was finally in India!

Soon we were outside the city and surrounded by trees and mountains and sporadic high rise apartment buildings. The sun came up as we were nearing one of the mountain passes. The highway was full of semis, buses, and cars, and it was slow driving. 

Finally, around 8:30am we made it to Pune in what was a heavy traffic day. It seemed like Sangam would be just around the corner. We were in real India traffic in Pune with people, bikes, mopeds, rickshaws, cars, buses, and trucks all competing for space. It was more entertaining than terrifying. People were confident, no matter their transport, and it was clearly an offensive/defensive strategy that worked for almost everyone. 

We noticed several groups of people marching, men in white, women in saris with potted plants on their heads, Orange a dominant color. After an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the street, indicating that the road ahead was blocked. He hopped out and went to go discover the problem. 

For the next 45 min, we were in a limbo state in a hot bus, waiting for him to come back and turn the bus back on so we could have AC. Trapped by all our bags, we were getting hot. The staff at Sangam eventually were able to come help our driver figure out how to get us there. It took over two hours of sitting in the bus, then driving around, until finally he dropped us off at the same place. We would have to walk our bags to somewhere a rickshaw could pick us up. 

More Sangam staff came to help with our bags as we crossed the crazy road. They weaved us through the back areas of homes and buildings, bringing us to the main road. 

The Palki festival was in full force and there were easily tens of thousands of people. We weaved our way across the road and through the marchers to where the rickshaws could pick us up. One of the Sangam staff told us that it was a saint day, and people were coming from all over. They start at one temple outside Pune, walk through town, then walk another 14 days, ending at a final temple. 

We were a novelty and many people wanted to take a photo with us. It was so hot, and we were so tired, and the Sangam staff politely told everyone no. Kenya, one of the other chaperones, is from Puerto Rico, and she said it just felt like a normal day to her, but she said all the rest of us were red faced. 

Finally, the rickshaws came, and we took turns getting ourselves and our luggage to Sangam. It wasn’t a long ride, but we weaved through the masses of people walking, resting,and eating. Our drivers just honked their horns the whole time and laughed. Once at Sangam, the staff showed us our rooms so we could use the bathrooms, change, and cool off. We all hadn’t been drinking much water because we weren’t sure when we’d get to a toilet. 

Sangam is a pretty property with a courtyard feel, with a pretty garden and pool in the center. It felt like an oasis on such a hot day. Thankfully, Ashley and I had requested an AC room, which we were immediately thankful to have. The marchers and music continued throughout the afternoon, providing a peaceful soundtrack as we settled in. 

Rice and samosas for lunch were delicious, and we had a brief orientation about the table rules for getting food and cleaning up. It’s a Girl Scout place after all! 

We told the girls they couldn’t sleep until after dinner, so many of them hopped in the pool to cool off. We all lounged in various states of jet lag. At 4, they served chai and a snack, which were also equally refreshing. I tried to elevate my cankels, but I ended up nodding off for a minute. 

We met more people at dinner, but we were all fading fast. The girls went straight to bed, and most of them slept a good 10-12 hours. I tried to Skype or FaceTime with Todd, but it was all a little spotty and the mosquitoes were active. By 8pm, I was asleep under my mosquito net, thankful for sleeping in a bed after two nights on a plane. 

Tomorrow we officially start the planned program, “Essence of India.”

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