Five days ago, the 31 of us all got on different trains to begin our independent studies throughout northern India. At 5 a.m. Saturday morning, I got on a train at Gaya station with about 10 others. Twenty-eight hours later, I got off again in Dehra Dun with only two other students, Maiia and Taylor. Suddenly we were hundreds of kilometers from the Burmese Vihar, without any grown-ups. I wonder how old you have to be before you stop thinking about being with the grown-ups.
The next morning I woke up at six and left the little guest house where we’re staying in one of the Tibetan colonies. I knew where I had to go and how far away it was, but I had no idea how to get there. While I’m in Dehra Dun, I’m supposed to do field work at one of the Tibetan monasteries in the mountains. The first morning I was very lucky and somehow I landed in the right place. Before I got to Dehra Dun, my expectations were pretty low, namely because everyone says it sucks, including the Lonely Planet guidebook. So I walked out into the street early in the morning with a map I’d copied from the internet and low expectations, and for a few minutes it looked like I wouldn’t even be able to find a rickshaw.
All of the shops were closed. The street in the Tibetan colony was quiet. I could hear the sound of engines in the distance, but I didn’t know where I to find them. Then some engine sounds came closer and an autorickshaw appeared — it was large and blue, unlike most of the tiny yellow autorickshaws I’ve encountered so far. The driver saw me watching him and waved me over, so I got in and found myself facing a beautiful Tibetan girl about my age, wearing two pigtails and a school uniform. I told her that I was from America and she told me that she was going to school. Then we were off down the loud rough road and I shouted “how much?” in Hindi to the driver through the window, because many times the drivers will try to overcharge foreigners at the end of the ride. He said “Ten rupees!” …about 20 cents. OK. And so we drove fast and bumpy through Dehra Dun, and it was true that it was very ugly.
As we drove along, we stopped frequently and picked up students along the road — college-age kids with glasses, books and sweater vests. At least half of these were girls. And although Dehra Dun was ugly, there were many things I saw out the rickshaw window that comforted me: Girls going to school, girls wearing sweater vests, girls walking alone, girls walking alone with boys, people on motorcycles actually wearing helmets, girls driving motorcycles and girls holding onto boys driving motorcycles. You wouldn’t see any of these things in Bihar. Maybe I’m brainwashed, but seeing these things made me relax.
After a while, I was alone in the autorickshaw and the driver kicked me off and told me which bus to get on. The bus drive was exciting, because it was fast and bumpy and I could look out he window, and also because ugly Dehra Dun was rapidly turning into a beautiful range of mountains. I had to pay very close attention as I looked out the window, because I still didn’t know where I was going. Luckily, this monastery had a sign. On the buses here, there isn’t very much automated stuff. One man stands in the aisle and collects money, and when you want to get off, you stand up and they let you off. It seems to work quite well.