I don’t like making broad sweeping generalizations, but during this past month in India, I feel like strangers have been so helpful to me – whether it is with directions, helping me find change, or translating. Maybe it’s because I’m a desperate foreigner, but each time someone helps me, expecting nothing from me in return (except maybe friendship?), I am more cognizant of their kindness.
The epitome of my “desperate foreigner moment” so far happened at the end of our trip to McLeod Ganj, a hill station located in Himachal Pradesh in the foothillls of of the Himalayas. McLeod Ganj is named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a lieutenant governor of the state of Punjab back when the British were unabashedly proud of their empire, and is currently nicknamed “Little Lhasa” since it is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. I left work early on Friday to meet up with the three LEAP interns, Hari, Jodi, and William, and one of the PHFI interns, Nancy. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 8 and arrive at 6, but little did we know that we had to wait for an hour at the bus station, take an hour-long taxi ride in the grueling Delhi traffic to another bus station, and then endure 12 hours in a bus uphill (to be fair, the bus was extremely comfortable – I slept like a baby).
At our destination, I was immediately amazed by the breathtaking view of the valley beneath us and the cool mountain air – a respite from the dust and air pollution of the city. Over the day, we feasted on traditional Tibetan food, including momos (dumplings) and thentuk (noodle soup), visited the Kalachakra Temple, and walked around the Dalai Lama Complex.
Sunday morning, we woke up to the rains of the monsoon, but I was determined to climb Triund Hill, the most popular attraction near McLeod Ganj, where, during clear skies, one can see the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. Although some people in our group expressed justified concern for the torrential downpour and dangerous conditions of the trek, I stubbornly – and maybe a bit bull-headedly – expressed that I was determined to climb the hill. Fortunately, during the trek, the rain stopped, the trail was not overly muddy, and the view was amazing! However, once at the peak, the view was underwhelming, covered in fog (the journey is what counts)!
The next day, we took it easy, and after eating dinner, we headed off to the bus station an hour early; our tickets said it would leave at 9:30. Once we got there, mentally prepped for our 10 (+/-) hour bus journey back to the capital, we received a message that the bus was delayed. 10 minutes later, we found out that the bus was cancelled. It was also the last scheduled bus for that night, and the sky was pitch black.
In a frenzy, we asked whoever hadn’t gone home what to do; some suggested taking a taxi, other staying an extra night. In retrospect, given that it was night, we probably should have stayed another night and taken a morning bus. Finally, a lady approached us, explaining that they were looking to split a 16-person van back to Delhi. But soon after, she came over and told us with an apologetic look that the groups would have to find separate transportation.
Imagine my confusion when another man from a different group, also having missed the bus, tells us that the groups had found a 13-person van back to Delhi but couldn’t fit Hari, Jodi, William, and me. I personally was irate at this newsm but the man offered to help us find a taxi back to Delhi – and not only did he help us, but along with his friends, also negotiated for a full hour with two different companies for the price of the taxi. Part of me wondered why they were being so nice, so I asked him. His answer – “Well, first of all, why do foreigners not talk to Indians?” I was taken aback. Then he said that strangers do not usually go totally out of their way, but they wanted to be nice. Fair enough. At the end, we got home to Delhi on time, even made it to work for a few hours, and still keep in touch with the people who helped us. I believe that tough situations create friends out of strangers, and this experience proved that for me.