Article deadlines, sketchy Wi-Fi and endless sightseeing have meant I’ve been MIA for the past week–sorry guys!
I can’t deny that India has been rough for me. My troubles began with a weeklong stomach bug, and since then my nerves have taken on a panicky sense of unease that I just can’t shake. Eating street food, brushing my teeth in the tap, watching rats dart through massive piles of trash, dirty children begging, a dog with an exposed skull–there are things I’ve seen here that are now seared into my memory.
Here’s a confession; my main problem with India lies in the fact that I am a germophobe. Dirty bathrooms, touching money and my backpack lying on filthy floors are all major stressors, and ones that some people (including poor Steve) may not understand. But, in my mind they are major hurdles to my enjoyment of India, aka the dirtiest place on the planet.
On a decidedly un-chic note, perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of our journey thus far has been the three overnight train trips I’ve endured. The heat and crowds were the least of my worries compared with the dirt and grime that I could feel crawling on my skin the moment I climbed aboard.
If you’ve ever ridden an overnight train in India, you know the drill. Two or three bunks are stacked atop each other, but during the day, everyone sits together on the lower bunk–my bunk. I could only cringe inwardly as I saw the filthy soles of my neighbor’s feet resting leisurely on the same mattress I would place my head only hours later.
The aisles most certainly have never been cleaned with anything remotely resembling bleach and run with spilled chai and crumbs from the last meal. The walls are dark with unidentified smears. But the aspect of Indian train travel that sets my heart racing and my eyes watering in fear is the toilet. Never before have I seen bathrooms more vile, with stagnant puddles on the floor and not-so-mysterious brown goo wiped haphazardly on the walls like some sort of vile mural. All I could think about was that the muck from the floor was getting on the bottom of everyone’s shoes, which was getting tracked into the train cars, where people then walked barefoot and put their feet on my mattress. To a germophobe, this is cause for extreme panic.
Steve acted as my human Xanax, talking me through the fear and trying to help me realize it won’t kill me. “Its just dirt, you can wash it off,” he would calmly say. But my mind is relentless and I’ve watched way too many Dateline specials. I drank no water for the rest of that and subsequent journeys, my only liquid being a cocktail of gin and Mountain Dew to keep me sane–desperate times you know.
I realize that this post may have undertones of elitism or of being a closed minded westerner. I disagree. India is the 33rd country I’ve visited, and my count most certainly includes some other dirty runner’s up. I’m not making any judgments, I’m just a traveling germophobe and I’ve simply never felt this dirty in my entire life, despite the baby wipe and hand sanitizer arsenal I constantly lug around in my bag.
Sorry India–I can usually hack it, but you are just so filthy and trash strewn that I don’t think we can be friends.
Note: Want to read about our travels through Varanasi and Agra? Check out Steve’s posts on these two unique places. (My take? Varanasi may be holy, but it’s the grimiest city I’ve ever seen.) I’m off to a weeklong yoga and meditation Ashram tomorrow in the Himalayan foothills, but upon my refreshed and replenished release next week, I’ll get caught up on blogs like rafting the Ganges, an Indian bathroom extravaganza (with pictures), how I became a freelance writer (thanks to Kar for requesting the idea), a guide on where to eat and drink in Yao Noi, Thailand and of course, an Ashram recap.