Backwaters

Day 749 – 19 March 2017

A short train from Varkala pushed us back further north into the backwaters of Kerala. Alleppey sits on the coast with a wide flat beach, but the true draw is the network of canals that link rural life to the sea. I gingerly carried my pack on an aching shoulder and shuffled along the dusty road as my pink flip flops turned a dingy brown. Jill and Mel lagged behind.

We had prearranged a hostel that appeared to be deserted when we arrived. It was the cleanest and most modern hostel we had stayed at in India so far, but oddly, there were no patrons, nor staff. The open air restaurant in the front at least provided some shade. The menu of banana, mango, pineapple, and pomegranate lassis was just taunting us as we waited for someone to appear. Finally, a short, gregarious gentleman bounded down the stairs and without taking our names, led us around to a dorm room in the back. For the first time since Mumbai, we were finally sleeping in a traditional hostel, meaning that we each had our own bed. No other bags littered the floor and the shoe rack outside was empty, save for our three pairs of dirty sandals. It was obvious we were the only people staying here.

I was ravenous so I stowed my bag and went back out to order one of those lassis. I ordered pomegranate, being the first time I had seen one on a menu. The man bobbled his head, “Sorry, we don’t have pomegranate today.” Of course. I wasn’t surprised. Not just in India, but lots of places have optimistic menus that can’t be accommodated.

“That’s ok,” I said. “I’ll take mango then.” Again, he bobbled his head. “Banana?”

“No, ma’am. So sorry”

I chuckled, knowing the answer, but I tried anyway, “Pineapple?”

“Not today. Maybe tomorrow.” No wonder this place was so clean.

Jill and Mel planned to go for a walk toward the beach and seeing as I was still hungry, I opted to join them. Today was Mel’s last day in India before she was due to fly home to New York. They were both making a big to-do out of it and, in fairness, I could definitely be accused of caring too little. I did like Mel and she was kind of an innocent bystander in the tension between Jill and I, but I had said so many goodbyes over the previous two years. It was draining and way too easy to sort of get used to it. A common flaw in way too many nomads like me, we are notoriously self-insulated from the inevitable separation, a heart not easily penetrated by such things as emotional goodbyes.

We ambled toward the beach, a wide stretch of eroded sand full of food stalls and gangly teenagers. As the only three westerners on the beach, we drew our fair share of attention. Women, men, children, and babies, unabashedly staring with wide eyes and slack jaws. I was still quite hungry as I trailed behind Jill and Mel. The smell of spit-fire corn was particularly enticing, yet we kept walking. It was sweltering outside and after walking a good distance down the beach, I decided to turn around. I couldn’t ignore the aroma of that sweet-smelling sustenance any longer.

Before I could make my way back toward the blackened corn, I ducked inside of a restaurant to buy a bottle of water. The restaurant was completely empty save for four staff members who jumped to attention the minute I opened the door. The bottle of water was ice cold, a luxury that is not easy to describe. As I flipped through my wallet to hand over ten rupees (15 cents) for the 2 liter bottle, one of the servers turned on the big commercial fan directly in front of me. And with that, I immediately pulled out a chair, sat down and asked for a menu. Ice water AND a fan? I completely forgot about the corn. Since I was the only patron, the service was bordering on obsessive. “Do you need anything, ma’am?” “Is everything all right for you, ma’am?” It was almost like service in America, overbearing, attentive, and a little bit desperate. At one point, they even moved two more fans in my direction that created somewhat of a tornado immediately over my table. I had to pinch my napkin between my thighs or it would have been whipping in a circle over my head. Through the open door, I saw Jill and Mel approaching on the sidewalk. Looking back, I’m ashamed to admit that I put my head down in my Kindle and hoped they wouldn’t see me as they passed.

Jill and Mel went to dinner that night to celebrate her last night in India. I didn’t not go because I was trying to be a jerk. I just wasn’t hungry after my late afternoon meal. Of course, this was not the right decision because it wasn’t about the meal – it was about saying farewell. However, it seemed whatever good will I could capture at that point would be fleeting so I selfishly chose to revel in the silence of a room to myself for a few hours. When the girls came back, I was just laying down for bed at our usual bedtime of 8pm. I tried to say the appropriate number of goodbyes, but we all knew the ship had sailed. I was an asshole.

Mel’s alarm buzzed early in the morning. Jill and I dragged ourselves out of bed once again to send her off in the morning dawn. Almost immediately after Mel stepped into an Uber and whizzed away, a vacuum of sour feelings filled the air. Jill and I went back to our room, only speaking when necessary. We were polite to each other, but it was obvious our buffer had gone.

We gathered ourselves to be ready for our day on the backwater canals. This was the whole reason to be here. Tourists usually rent a houseboat and spend a couple of days touring up and down the rural communities, but we had opted to take the more budget-friendly man-powered canoes. With Mel gone, I really wanted to make more of an effort with Jill. We had two more nights left with each other and there was no reason to ruin it by a bad attitude. Throughout the morning, we slowly warmed up to each other and it truly felt like we might actually end on good terms.

An auto rickshaw dropped us in a huge mass of other foreigners that were being herded around as if we were cattle. Jill and I were assigned to a “group leader” with a few other people while we were then sent off with other groups toward one of several large ferries. There was no explanation as to what we were doing, but we all followed our leaders obediently while he kept checking to make sure we were still there and yelling something if we started to stray. The ferries didn’t resemble canoes in any way so it was difficult to be sure we were even in the right place as we faithfully handed over some rupees to pay for our tickets. The ferry was definitely over capacity, lilting starboard, as we cruised through several wide rivers; occasionally one of the “wranglers” would get off, bark incomprehensible orders at his bewildered “cattle,” and they would disappear as the rest of us cruised on. Jill and I kept watchful eyes on our guy to see when it was our turn to disembark as if we would somehow miss the commotion. The river seemed to be a superhighway of ferries and houseboats, chartered by Europeans with aspirations of seeing authentic India from the comfort of a deck chair. Eventually, in perpetually organized chaos, our guy somehow located all 12 of us that were scattered throughout the boat, gesturing to follow him at the next port.

Three lounging boatmen were waiting for us. They had slender muscular arms that looked like they had been born rowing. Our boatman wore a paisley button-down shirt with the traditional South Indian masculine sarong, presumably to let the hot humid air circulate freely down there. He didn’t speak any English and communicated with us by pointing, grunting, and the occasional smile. The canoe was painted green with a yellow awning that would protect us fair folk from the sun’s rays. Four photo-snapping tourists were loaded into each.

Within moments of setting off, we had meandered into more narrow canals. Naked children splashed in the water. Women squatted while scrubbing their laundry. Cows stared. Other canoes cruised by carrying barrels of petrol or fish destined for market. Sometimes a motor-powered canoe would interrupt the placid channel and the melody of the oars pushing through the water. A gentle breeze from our slow pace was just enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay and to keep the sweat in a state of suspension. It was perfection.

Our cruise lasted about two hours, followed by lunch hosted at the home of a local family. Their teenage daughter, speaking perfect English, entertained us with well-timed humor and gentle mocking of those red-faced and sunburnt. She was assertive and seemed to relish the audience. She planned to become a doctor and move to America. Her mother quietly moved around the table serving us thali on banana leaf place settings, never speaking a word.

Our tour ended back at the main ferry terminal and Jill and I decided to walk back toward town. It was only a couple of miles and there’s no better way to get a taste for a place after all. I was in a good mood and seemed she was as well. I was due to fly to Delhi in two days and Jill would be on her way to Nepal so we talked about future plans and how much both of us had loved the south, omitting any reference to our animosity.

Later that evening at the hostel, I had heard from our friend, Donal, that he was arriving in Alleppey that day. Donal found our sad lonely hostel and immediately decided to stay across the street at a place with a much more vibrant atmosphere. But meanwhile, he came to hang out in our dorm room and catch up. We hadn’t seem him in two weeks so he told us about how he had stayed in Hampi long enough to celebrate Holi, the Hindu spring festival commonly referred to as the Color Festival, and I told him about how much we had loved Varkala. Meanwhile, Jill had lain down in her bed and closed her eyes without even greeting him. He tried to ask me what was wrong, but I could only shrug.

Hill Country

Day 741 – 11 March, 2017

After a short(ish) bus trip from Mysore to Bangalore, Mel and I booked a double bed on an AC sleeper bus while Jill booked a single on a non AC bus. Both were scheduled to depart in the evening and arrive around the same time in the hill country of Munnar. In spite of the winding and bumpy mountain roads, I slept relatively well. Morning condensation beaded on the windows but I could still make out the rolling green hills of the Kerala tea plantations. Cows, dogs, and pedestrians shuffled through the dust clouds thrown up by buses and auto rickshaws.

Mel and I were dropped off by a fruit stand on the southern edge of the small town around 7am. We had not booked a place to stay yet, but we dropped our bags at a tea house where we could order breakfast and a hot drink while we waited for Jill. The tea house didn’t have its own toilet so I went for a walk to find a place that did. The Green View Inn was two doors down on a side street. They offered me the use of an outhouse with a western toilet that barely fit the room. I had to prop the door open to have room for my feet. Besides, the lightbulb was burned out so I needed the natural light anyway. The front desk clerk possessed that wide smile and infectious good humor so typical of Kerala. I noticed they were displaying a flyer for trekking adventures so to kill time, I inquired about the cost and options as I was pretty sure that both Mel and Jill were game for a trek. The gentleman was so kind and helpful that I also asked if they might have any rooms available. He bobbled his head, “Well, yes, yes, of course we do. Would you like to see the room?”

The building was narrow but had 4 floors. Rooms were on the second and third level and a covered roof patio, free library, and meditation area were on the fourth level. The man showed me a few different rooms that cost 750 rupees/night (just shy of $12USD). I was convinced. It seemed that I should wait and check with the other two if this would be ok, but I was comfortable paying the full price myself if they didn’t want to split it. I decided that if they didn’t want to stay here, that was fine and I would just go it alone.

I retrieved Mel from the tea house and she was agreeable to the room and location. Meanwhile, a few hours had passed and we were still waiting to hear from Jill. We had each messaged her a few times, posting her on our whereabouts and plans to no avail. We could only assume that she was still en route. By the time we finally connected with Jill, we had already moved in and Mel was elbow deep in removing the box braids and extensions from her hair. Jill had been dropped on the north end of town and feeling kind of bad for not consulting her about the room first, I began walking toward the main hub of town to meet her.

I had a renewed sense for us to start fresh. She thanked me for meeting her. I was optimistic for the next couple of weeks together. I excitedly told her what I had learned about trekking and I gushed about this cute cheap guesthouse I had discovered, but I wanted to be clear that she did not have to stay there if she didn’t like it. She did not object, but opted to sleep on the hard tile floor, the reasoning for which never really became clear.

We had dinner at an oft-recommended restaurant with a delectable traditional thali. A banana leaf was draped straight on the table in front of each of us while the server spooned heaping mounds of curried eggplant, turmeric-infused okra, and a rainbow of chutneys and pickles before topping us off with fiery sambhar (lentil stew), a generous helping of steamed white rice and papadum (crispy fried lentil bread) balanced on top. There’s no point in ordering thali if you aren’t hungry. Refills are endless as long as you keep eating. We had grown adept at scooping up mounds of rice and a pinch of veggies with our greedy fists and clumsily slurping the food through our lips with only minimal mess. We laughed every time the attendant came to refill our plates and only knew to point to which accompaniments we wanted to see more of. An obviously upper class family of Indians at the table next to us, who were probably only in Munnar on a vacation of their own, ate their thali with proper utensils and looked down their noses at the sticky curry-covered gluttonous white girls nearby. Regardless, it felt good that we seemed like friends again.

The next day we rose bright and early to join a trekking group straight from Green View Inn through the tea plantations and the early morning mist snaking its way through the hill station. Our group was about 8 people, but I was feeling introspective so early before dawn and I chose to wander along alone (which I suppose only an introvert understands). Compared to the bustling city streets of the cities, the atmosphere was so quiet; only the chirping of birds and the gurgling of a shallow creek filled the silence.

Mel said she had never been hiking before so Jill and I encouraged her along to the top of our route, where our guide unpacked cheese sandwiches, pineapple, omelette, and baby bananas for us to share for breakfast. From a metal thermos, he poured steaming cups of chai. It was idyllic and hard to imagine the cacophony of city noises from so far out here.

We continued further into the valley, through tea plantations and family farms. Lazy cows and weathered dogs alike swatted flies with their tails and watched us with apathy. It was surreal to feel so isolated in rural life in such a populous country. Finally completing our trek at a sister guesthouse to Green View Inn just in time for lunch, our hosts served us steaming lentils and curried vegetables with rice while we rested our tired, dusty limbs after the day’s hike. Jill, Mel and I were in good spirits. The fresh air had really done some good.

Back in town, we separated for awhile so I could do some writing while they did some shopping in the winding markets of herbs, essential oils, tea, and home-made chocolates. Later on, we met back at the same restaurant as the previous night for more thali, where eventually the discussion turned to what our plans would be after leaving Munnar. We knew we wanted to go to both Alleppey and Varkala, but disagreed on which one first. Mel would have to leave for her flight home before we had visited both so ultimately, the decision was up to her. I briefly considered doing the opposite of what they decided so that I could be on my own again, but it would have been a blatant jab and besides, we were getting along fine as far as I could tell. Reluctantly, I agreed to take a sputtering municipal bus with sunken collapsing seats overnight to Trivandrum where we would transfer to a local train to continue one more hour to Varkala.

The next day, our last in Munnar, we woke up to a light rain. We had been thinking of hiring an auto rickshaw to take us to some viewpoints and maybe a waterfall or two, but abruptly Jill changed her mind and didn’t want to go. Mel seemed noncommittal and I was just tired of constant activities so we each went our separate ways. I spent most of the day on the covered terrace lost in my own thoughts, save for the bit of time when I indulged in a variety of chocolates at the market. When we all met at the bus station in the afternoon, I gathered all the resolve I could muster to endure another uncomfortable night on a bus. Jill seemed annoyed with me again for some reason, but I just couldn’t be bothered to care why anymore. There wasn’t a place to stow our backpacks underneath the bus so we carried them onboard and hefted them overhead to a bin over our seats. The bus wasn’t full, although we stopped several times in the night to load or unload passengers, arriving in Trivandrum just at dawn.

The three of us were the last to disembark and just as I tried to wrangle my pack from the overhead bin where it had become wedged between two pegs in the night, I felt my shoulder pop. Likely, my rotator cuff didn’t agree with the tight angle in which I was wrestling with a heavy backpack. And just like that, after two years of carrying around this beast, every unit of gravity became my arch nemesis. I winced with pain during every step as we hustled across the street to catch the next train to Varkala. My companions knew no sympathy.

The Cost of Being Cheap

Day 735 – 5 March, 2017

After several visits to the straw hut on the beach marked “Travel Agent,” Jill, Mel, and I all agreed to take a night bus to Hampi. Mel changed her flight to extend her trip. Jill convinced us all to book the lowest fare seats on a night bus with reclining seats. I had searched out a hostel that seemed to suit everyone’s budget. Things were going well.

Backpacks flailing out of the auto rickshaw, we left Om Beach for the bus station. At the bus station, we unload only to be told that our bus was leaving from a different location and that it was “very” far away. Suspicious that we were only being told it was far in an effort to garner a higher rickshaw fare, Jill wants to walk, which I would normally fully support, but we didn’t know exactly where it was, it was hot, and we had all of our belongings in tow. I wanted to hire another auto rickshaw. Meanwhile, we are surrounded within a very close proximity by about 20 drivers barking the price for a ride as Jill and I smiled at each other through gritted teeth as to whether we walk or drive. I offered to cover the whole cost of 100 rupees (less than $2USD) so we could stop debating and get moving. I’m all for saving money (and walking for that matter), but if I’m going to be cheap about something or even tolerate discomfort for the sake of it, I really try not to let my choices have any affect on other people. And therein is where the conflict began.

So far, I had made some decisions as part of this trio that I wouldn’t have made if I was on my own, but it wasn’t overly burdensome. I had been sleeping head to toe with two other girls in a full size bed with no air con. I had skipped eating at the most recommended cafe on Om Beach because Jill thought it was too expensive. I had just purchased a night bus ticket in a reclining seat (instead of an actual bed) so that we could all stay together. None of this had really bothered me up to this point, but it was beginning to compound. Don’t get me wrong; being frugal is how backpackers get by. It’s what we do. It’s how we learn to travel for extended periods of time without employment or a trust fund. In some ways, I admired Jill’s determination in sticking to her budget, but it was becoming a tiresome subject and beginning to detract from my independent experience.

Our second auto rickshaw dropped us off at a roadside bus stop. I only know it was a bus stop because there were lots of stalls selling spiced nuts and multi-colored spicy rice snacks and lots of people lugging heavy burlap sacks of something or other. A few token cows poked their noses into the stalls only to be given random scraps of plastic, which they seemed to savor with every scrawny rib protruding from saggy skin. We were told to board a small metal van that sort of resembled a bus. Except for the windows, the whole contraption was metal and I couldn’t help but think about what it would feel like to smash my nose into the back of the seat in front of me when I was thrown forward from my seatbelt-less seat during the inevitable head-on collision. Yeah, ok, my morbidity was in rare form in India. Somehow we ascertained that we would only be on this bus for a short while as we made a connection with the real bus in a different town.

Our real bus wasn’t much better and it was a learning lesson for sure. We had purchased 3 of the 4 reclining seats that were on the single side of the bus, meaning that Jill, Mel, and I would be immediately behind each other. The rest of the bus was either reclining seats on the 2 seat side with “extra” leg room OR actual beds like we had enjoyed from Mumbai to Goa. Completely my fault for not asking the right questions, but if I had known there were beds on the same bus and we all could still travel together, I would have chosen differently. As circumstance would have it, our reclining seats were so close together that when the first person reclined, all the seats had to recline and it was impossible to stand up or adjust position until all seats had returned to the normal position. Well, this is not ideal… There were no shocks and no muffler and the bus puttered along like a dead man walking. I didn’t sleep even one iota.

At one of the toilet stops in the night, we discovered that Donal, our Irish friend that we met in Mumbai, was on our same bus. He was sharing a double bed with an Indian man and was convinced that if he asked the man to trade with me, the man would do it. It was a nice offer, but I chose to suffer in my own poor decision-making. Every time we would get up for a toilet stop or coffee break, though, one man from another seat kept stealing Jill’s chair and falling asleep. I shooed him away at least twice.

By the time we reached Hampi in the morning’s bright sun, I was blurry-eyed and cranky. I had booked a hostel that I thought would be ok for Jill’s budget, but it was some distance away from the actual town, which would add to our commuting cost. I tried to ignore the passive aggressive jab since I clearly wasn’t the only one that was grumpy.

An auto rickshaw dropped us off at the edge of a brown sludgy river where we would take a broken little skiff about 10 meters to the other side before hopping another auto rickshaw a few kilometers into the rice paddies and arriving at our hostel. As I walked down the smooth stone embankment toward the river, we were followed by several local men offering a tour guide or a place to stay or another ride. I tried to concentrate on my footing because my flip flops tend to treat the wet stone like ice. In slow motion, my sandal slipped and I went down to my knees, but under the weight of my backpack, the momentum pulled me forward so that I also landed on my face. I was too tired to care so I laid motionless for a second trying to decide how to gracefully get up. All I could see were about 16 leather sandals and all I could hear was a chorus of “Ma’am! Ma’am! Are you ok ma’am?!” When I finally lifted my head, there were several hands thrust in my face offering assistance. I’m told that my glasses were also askew as if I had orchestrated the whole thing for comedic relief.

At the “hostel,” the little bamboo shack was open air as almost every domicile in Asia turns out to be. The common area had about 8 lounging cushions separated by tables so you could lay down to sleep or sit up to eat without moving from the same cushion. One hostel guest, Jeremy from California, spent almost two days straight just laying in one of these pillow beds, smoking weed, and talking to his girlfriend on the phone, “I love you. No, I love you more… no, no, I love you the most…(kissing noises)”. He told us he was planning to hop a bus to “Sari Lanka” and I just didn’t have the heart to tell him Sri Lanka is an island.

We were led up to the sleeping loft which was a room with about 6-8 thin foam mattresses, each covered with an individual mosquito net, and a couple of fans. The bathroom, back on the ground floor, was only accessible from outside. It had a toilet hole, a drippy faucet for the shower, a dim lightbulb, and an ample-sized toad that would peek his head out of the drain just when you weren’t expecting it. Now I know this sounds luxurious and why on earth would I have been disappointed, but in full honesty, the only part of this place that I didn’t like was how far it was from town and that we would have to take bicycles back and forth. In case you missed it, I despise biking and I was just tired enough to spout some venom and make it known. I was unfairly blaming Jill for the location of this place, but I was mostly mad at myself for not just making my own decisions in the first place. The tension between us builds with one concrete brick and then another.

Eventually, after a rest and refresh, we agreed to rent bikes and cycle back towards town. The countryside was dotted with rice paddies and the locals were friendly, eagerly waving to us as we rode by. There was one section of road where we had to go uphill (translated as hike a bike), but it was generally ok aside from the oppressive heat. Luckily, Hampi had its own version of the German Bakery (we were finding this to be a popular name!) and it was just at the river so was a good place to leave our bikes for the day since we couldn’t bring them with us. Back at the murky river, we discovered that just upstream there was a natural bridge if you leapfrogged over some boulders. I removed my flip flops this time before attempting any boulder hopping. Now that we had officially arrived in Hampi and had a brief rest, things were looking brighter.

The town was small and compact, famous for its collection of UNESCO-recognized Hindu temples and monuments in and around Hampi. It was touristy, but not in a flashy lights expensive attractions kind of way. It was touristy in a backpacker kind of way, stalls selling brightly-colored cheap dresses that no self-respecting Indian woman would ever wear, restaurants with lounge chairs instead of normal chairs and strong wifi encouraging people to while the afternoon away, lots of travel agents selling bus and train tickets, plenty of street food. Straight away, we bumped into Donal again. He was staying in a hostel close by and tried to convince me to change, but somehow I felt committed to my decision now and I stayed on. The mood was improving amongst my travel companions and I didn’t want to rock the boat so to speak.

In the Virupaksha Temple in the center of town, we got our first glimpse of Lakshmi the Elephant when she paraded out to the central courtyard for a drink of water. Mel was over the moon to see a live elephant walking around the temple. If you give her 10 rupees, she would bless you with her trunk after passing the rupees on to her handler. I looked in her eyes and could tell she was super bored of performing that trick so I just smiled at her, hoping she understood that I was sorry for her tiresome routine. We never arrived early enough, but every morning Lakshmi would take a bath in the river and put on quite a show for whoever was there to witness it. It was perhaps the only time she ever got to play.

Renting bikes again the next day, we sailed through the rice paddies back to our “parking spot” at the German Bakery. Jill and I rode ahead of Mel and were keen to eat egg dosas, a type of pancake layered with egg and sometimes curry, from the street vendor by the river. Plastic crates were scattered on the ground as seats at the roadside makeshift restaurant. The cook/server might as well have had 4 arms to manage such a high volume of requests, cooking, plating, and delivering them correctly in exactly the order of the queue. His chai was sweet and creamy and heavenly even while clouds of dust coated us every time a person, dog, or cow walked by. When Mel arrived, we skipped across the boulder bridge at the river to meet Donal back at Virupaksha for a cycling tour of the monuments.

The ride was hot and dusty, but it was flat and definitely allowed us to cover more ground. Monkeys watched us from the shade of the trees. Some of the oldest monuments date back to the 3rd century BC, with many more added by the Hoysala kings between the 10th-14th centuries. It changed hands several times between Hindu and Muslim rule before finally the Vijayanagara Empire took hold. By 1500, it was considered to be the world’s second largest medieval-era city after Beijing with the wealth and prestige that tends to imply, attracting merchants and traders from oceans away. Of course, these things never last and in 1565, an army of Muslim sultanates recaptured the city, beheaded the king, and burned it to the ground. What remains is 16 square miles of well-preserved monolithic temples baking in the desert.

I really enjoyed Hampi and I was beginning to think if I had more time, I would have stayed longer. I can’t exactly put my finger on what I liked so much, except that the people were incredibly hospitable and the vibe was relaxed. It turns out almost everywhere I went in southern India felt this way, but I didn’t know that yet. I had allowed six weeks in the country before I would be meeting Martyn in Nepal and then onward toward the dreaded place of HOME. I already began fantasizing about returning to India for a six month stay or six years instead of a measly six weeks.

For our last day, we tried to start early and failed. The unforgiving desert sun seemed to take on a life of its own while we did a relatively short hike to some of the closer monuments. I covered my head and it seemed to help block some of the oppressive heat on the exposed rocky path, but still the sweat poured in rivulets as we meandered in and out of one temple and then another. The most famous and extravagant monument, Vittala Temple, with its carved stone chariot, would be at the end of our loop before we would circle back toward town. About 100 school children were waiting at the entrance gate as Donal and I purchased 500 rupee ($7.50USD) all-access tickets to enter. Jill and Mel deemed it too expensive and decided to wait for us outside. The ornately carved pillars and maze of gateway towers pay homage to Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped as the deity for cattle. I had not really known that ruins such as these existed in India so I was fascinated, all the more with Donal who seemed to share my interest in the history.

In spite of the chattering and hyper juveniles inside the temple, I felt a sense of calm relief to be separated from my companions, even if only a short while. Our situation was not sustainable, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. We were relatively on the same timeframe and were planning to visit the same towns so even if I made an intentional effort to separate, we would inevitably be on the same path anyway. I felt trapped. And truth be told, I liked them, but we had different styles. So while sitting in the shade of an imposing Hindu temple, I decided the only way this would work is if I started making decisions for myself. If our plans aligned, then great. If not, that’s ok too. We did not have to be an unbreakable unit. We had come as independent backpackers and it was important for my sanity that I stay that way.