Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Quick Note on LGBTQ Rights

It is not worth applauding someone when he says he's not going to (openly, vocally) roll back one of a marginalized group's rights.

It is worth noting, however, that there are queer immigrants, refugees, Native Americans, low-income individuals, and young people who are already paying the price of new policies and appointments.

Don't expect me to be grateful that you vowed to protect me from foreign threats. In fact, stop using my name to enact discriminatory policies that are a danger to our national security.

We see you.

We stand in solidarity with all queer people.

We are more than marriage.

And you best believe we know how to resist.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


I am not a snowflake.

I didn’t march on Saturday because I believe I’m special or deserve special rights. As a matter of fact, and I think I can speak for a lot of women when I say this, I marched because I know I’m not unique. I’m not special. My experience of discrimination as a woman is common. That’s why I’m concerned.

Maybe you think this is an exaggeration. Maybe you haven’t experienced discrimination or violence. Maybe you think you don’t know anyone who has experienced discrimination or violence (as an aside, if you know more than two women and you think this, you’re likely wrong). Maybe you find it hard to believe it’s really that prevalent if you haven’t seen the numbers.

So, to start, here are some numbers, just a few, from the World Health Organization’s 2013 report on gender violence, which we read for class this week and which refueled the fury fire that is my brain these days:

·      “[O]verall, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. While there are many other forms of violence that women may be exposed to, this already represents a large proportion of the world’s women….
·      Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. In some regions, 38% of women have experienced intimate partner violence….
·      [G]lobally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.”

To personalize this, just in case you’re one of the people who thinks they don’t know a woman who has experienced discrimination because of her gender, I’ll tell you a little bit about my experiences with gender discrimination and violence, moving from things that some might say are no big deal to things I hope people recognize are absolutely messed up, wrong, and scary. This is not a comprehensive list but one that came to me quickly and made my palms sweat while I typed. The point of this is that I am not exceptional. Today I sat in a room where every single woman responded yes to the questions, "Have you been catcalled?" and "Do you think about your safety daily?" when our professor asked. 
Just as a brief aside, I know that some people who know me who read this will think to themselves, no man would be interested in/attracted to her. I know that because I have been told that. Honestly, part of the reason I have come to appreciate my masculine aesthetic is that it makes me less attractive to many men. It also makes me incredibly nervous, because some men don’t like that I am not living my life for them. I’ll leave aside instances of discrimination based on my sexual orientation for the moment but maybe keep in mind how much the list would grow. Imagine how it would grow for a woman of color,  for a trans woman, for a woman experiencing homelessness. 

I have been:
·      Yelled at from cars (everything from a honk and indistinguishable words to vulgarities). This experience has created a tendency to flinch, frown, or turn away when someone speaks to me from a car on the road in order to avoid conflict or danger. Unfortunately, this means that even when it’s just a friend, my heart is racing until I recognize them.
·      Catcalled, in several languages and on several continents. Under the best of circumstances, I keep walking and try to ignore it, feeling only a little annoyed. Under the worst circumstances, which I consider to be when I am alone on a street or in a rural area at night, I try to walk as fast as I can and hold a key between my fingers just in case. Generally, when walking alone at night, I try to call someone. I am often tempted to drop a pin or to run. Some of this might be fear leftover from a violent robbery in which my gender also played a role, but more on that later.
·      Put in advanced classes where the men in the room had to meet a lower standard to get a seat than I did. I know this because they were given the majority of the spaces in the class and many of my very brilliant friends who were women didn’t make the cut, though they would have if they were men. (I went to an all-girls school across from an all-boys school, and students would often cross the street to take classes not available at one or the other.) The theory was, apparently, that we were lucky to have access to the advanced classes at all.
·      Told that maybe the reason there aren’t more women in positions of power or in leadership roles is because they aren’t very good at it and are overly emotional. To combat accusations of being overly emotional or not strong enough to be a leader, I try to make my arguments as sterile as possible, linking to statistics (see above) and articles and avoiding as often as possible the personal narratives that for some reason make me less rather than more qualified to discuss an issue that has had a huge impact on my life.
·      Corrected, when I said that I had been harassed by men. After all, I was only talking about unwanted touching. If there wasn’t penetration, it didn’t really count.
·      Made aware, over the past several months, that many of the men in my life whom I love very much and who I think love me not only think it is normal and acceptable to say things like “grab them by the pussy” but have stood by and listened to other men say those things, voted for a man who said those things, and worst of all, have said the same things themselves. This has made me so incredibly sad and anxious that I’m awake writing this at 2am instead of sleeping. I don’t really know how to look those men in the eye anymore. What have they said about my friends? My family members? Me?

Moving to the more violent end of the spectrum, I have been:
·      Followed by two men I didn’t know who kept asking if I wanted a ride from them as I waited to hail a cab. When I declined, they followed the cab that took me home.
·      Grabbed: on the subway, on the street, at a club, at a restaurant, at a formal, with friends, alone, at night, in the afternoon, on a train. From my hair to my thighs, I have been touched without permission by total strangers and sometimes by friends, one of whom then had the nerve to ask me not to tell his wife.
·      Robbed, violently, by five men. I watched, face stinging where I’d been hit, and prayed to God that something would happen before the men whose hands had begun to wander on my date’s back could rape her, working to figure out how I could pull away from the two men who had me held against a fence. I had never been so happy to see headlights and still often can’t get my heart to settle when I have to walk home on deserted streets.

I have never wanted or needed an abortion. I have, however, had to help loved ones figure out how to navigate archaic rules about Plan B and abortion in my home state and elsewhere.

I have not been raped or sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, I’d need the fingers and toes of several people to be able to count the number of women in my life who have been. And those are only the women I know about.

I marched because women were vilified in so many ways in the last election cycle. I marched because of the words he said but also because of the policy proposals that either abandon pretense and rest on devaluing women (see, e.g., eliminating VAWA grants) or that pretend to be about protecting women but ultimately lead to more violence and more deaths (see, e.g., the reinstated abortion gag). I haven’t even touched on economic policy, education, immigration, criminal justice reform, or so many of the other topics but they all motivated me to march as well.  Hopefully our presence sent a signal that we are here to stay and we are exhausted and we are angry and we are committed to calling, marching, yelling, and running for office. Yes, the office you currently hold.

I am not a snowflake. The women in my life who marched are not snowflakes. I bet we all wish that we were, that we were special and unique and that our experiences of violence and discrimination made us different instead of making us part of a much larger group.  If we are all snowflakes, as so many of you insist, then get ready, because we’re a fucking snowstorm and we’re coming for you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues have been part of my life since I picked up a copy of Eve Ensler's printed version of the play during high school.  When I was a first year at Rhodes, I went into Blount Auditorium with some friends and watched and laughed really hard, even though my face was probably beet red the whole time.  For the next three years, I had a speaking role in the Monologues and it was always a favorite part of my year.  Participating provided such a good opportunity to meet new and amazing people and to push myself personally (stage fright and Southern sensibilities made being on a stage for the purpose of talking about vaginas doubly challenging but also insanely fun) while being part of a movement that, while it might be complicated and problematic in terms of what it is trying to do by stretching the play globally and what is saying about women, is also doing something that is undoubtedly important.  

This year, the fabulous Andrea Tedesco asked for student submissions to the monologues so I wrote something about vaginas and me.

Thanks to Andrea and all the cast and crew for making a vagina safe space at Rhodes.  I wish I could have been there to see it!

I love talking about vaginas.  Academically, socially, politically, in a large group of people or over dinner with friends, I am all about a good vagina conversation. I love my vagina and appreciate all vaginas and want them to be comfortable and have all the rights they deserve.    

But getting here was a process.    
If I went back five or ten years, things would be different.  Back then, I hated my vagina. I hated my sexuality.  I was insufferable, angsty little lesbian that I was.  

I wish I could go back for a minute, catch myself holed up in my room, wearing a terrible puka shell choker and reading bad fanfiction.  There would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer box sets on the bookshelves (some things never change) and Nirvana on the stereo.  There would be posters of muscled men on the wall, God help me.  

I would tell myself this:

Now, I know you have all the feelings but you don't have to let them turn you into some miserable monster.  The family calls this room the cave for a reason; you're the scary thing that lives down here. 
So check yourself.  Appreciate the people in this world who love you.   

One day those awful journal entries will be nothing more than a good laugh and a slightly shameful blush as you read them aloud to your girlfriend. She'll laugh with you and beg to hear more and you'll hide your face in a pillow but turn the page and keep reading anyway.   

When you finally tell them, your friends will still love you.  Some of them already know, and they're just waiting on you to say it.  No, there's no magical gaydar, but I will tell you that there are only so many times that you can talk about sleeping with a woman before it becomes obvious that it's not a passing interest.     

There will be rough patches.  For all their good intentions, our friends and family will not understand some things. They will hurt your feelings, over and over. 

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." 

"I'll pray for you."

Things with Dad will get worse before they get better.  He will say: 

"Gays deserve what they get from AIDS.  They brought it on themselves.  Monkey fuckers."

His wife will say, 

"I hope you can change."  

You'll get stronger and learn that Dad's wrong, absolutely, and that you have no responsibility to keep pretending like he isn't spouting hateful bullshit.  You will always love him but it won't always mean that you have to hate yourself a little, too. 

Talking about sex and your own sexuality will not always be so painful.  It will eventually be something you love.  You'll spend lots of time talking about vaginas.  I know it's hard to believe.  

You will get asked the following question at least 50 times, sometimes from drunk friends at wine night, sometimes abashedly, over coffee. 

"Okay, I just have to ask, how does scissoring work?" 

You don't know now, and you won't know then.  It doesn't work, outside of porn.  Maybe for members of Cirque du Soleil?  Anyway. Your friends will be briefly disappointed and move on to questions about strap ons. 

Then there's this.  

"Just don't be one of those lesbians."  

Of course what she means, what they all mean, is don't be butch. 

Unfortunately, we are.

Fortunately, we are.

I want to tell you now, because it's important: 

There is more than one kind of woman. 

I know it feels like you're failing, all the time, but you're not. You're just different, scary as that is.   

There will be at least two awkward haircuts on the way to what our brother calls the "soldier look," but one day you will leave the dorm room in a blazer and button down and feel like your clothes fit your personality.  Finding clothes for your body type?  Another issue entirely, but don't worry, that will work out too.  

In time, you will come to own your butchness and to love it, and women will find it attractive and pull you closer to them by the tie you're wearing, picked as carefully as any pair of shoes or earrings.  
You'll fall in love and it will not be like the movies, but what movie ever told your story anyway?  Even when it ends, you'll be grateful for every moment.  She'll be smart and funny and beautiful and she'll get you a bowtie for Christmas.  Yes, bowties are cool.  Better, she thinks they're sexy.  

On that note, you will not live in abstinence forever.  

College will be rough at first but you'll leave a different person, a better, kinder person, and you'll be forever thankful to the people who helped you get there.  You'll stand on a stage with a bunch of lovely feminists and talk and yell and laugh about vaginas, of all things, and somewhere in there, you'll feel like a whole person instead of a broken one. 

It seems impossible to love yourself at this moment, I remember, but try, just a little, to get over yourself.  It is possible to give the love you have to others. Thank them and love them and eventually, you'll love yourself too. You'll be fine.  You'll be great. 

Trust me.   

Third Quarterly Report

This is my final quarterly report!  The next time I interact with Watson HQ it will be at Rhodes for the conference.  I can't believe this.  I can't believe it has been nine months already.  Time is passing so quickly now and in just a few short months I head to Canada for my final stop before returning home. 

Below is my third quarterly report, sent off to the Watson Foundation as a summary of my months in India and my transition to South Africa. 

To the Watson Foundation,

Hello from Cape Town! 

I arrived here a few weeks ago, but when I last wrote from Delhi, the Indian Supreme Court had just issued its ruling on Section 377.  The ruling reaffirmed the validity of 377, the piece of Indian code originally introduced by the British that criminalizes any "unnatural" sexual acts.  In theory this would apply universally to heterosexual and same-sex couples engaging in anything other than procreative sex but in reality it is clear that the intention of the law is to effectively criminalize same-sex relationships. 

Being in India during and after the ruling was such an educational experience.  Every week there were protests and meetings about how to proceed or how to challenge the ruling, and I was able to attend a variety of discussions throughout the city, including a national meeting held in Delhi and attended by activists and community members from across the country.  While the intention of the ruling seemed to be to shame same-sex and non-traditional couples, it brought many queer people and their allies out of the closets and into the streets.  

The privilege of witnessing queer India rise up and fight against the 377 decision is difficult to articulate.  Friends dressed in black with rainbow bandanas, belts, and arm bands distributed leaflets and told their stories. Groups marched and gathered throughout Delhi and around the country.  At Mumbai Pride, the first celebration since the ruling, there was a huge turnout, and I was so shocked and excited to see the mass of people stretching further and further back as we walked the streets.  Being able to watch the community mobilize and to listen to the conversation and attend the meetings and marches that accompanied this mobilization taught me so much about the strength, energy, bravery, and determination behind a social movement and protest like the one happening in India now.  I was able to listen to some of the major debates, about everything from how to support and include people of every socioeconomic status to which language should be spoken at meetings that included multiple regions to whether or not there was an imperative to speak against a major political party, which had many supporters in the queer community prior to 377, because the party supported the ruling and spoke against queer rights.

In between meetings and marches related to 377, I spent time at TARSHI (Talking about Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues).  I loved working in that office.  The work that they are doing is so important and the opportunity to learn from them was fantastic in itself.  On top of that, the people who work at TARSHI are incredibly intelligent, progressive, and kind and talking over lunch with such an amazing group of people was a highlight of my day.  My last day at TARSHI was really sad for me.  All of the people, the things they taught me, and the conversations we had remain with me; the office also gave me a gorgeous gold ship bookmark that is carrying me forward on my journey.  

In addition to work with TARSHI and 377-related activity, I attended meetings of an LGBT social group and spent time with many of its members regularly.  I found a strong community of people in Delhi, for which I was extremely grateful.  Between the queer community I met through pride, 377 events, and the social group, everyone at TARSHI, and the unbelievably generous group of people, mostly Fulbrights, that had me for Thanksgiving dinner just a few days after I arrived in the city, I had a strong support network and was able to learn so much about queer life in Delhi and in India.  Through more structured interviews and through everyday conversation, I heard a variety of stories and opinions about coming out, relationships, and thoughts on being queer in India since the Supreme Court decision. 

Although I spent most of my three months in Delhi, there were some fabulous side trips as well.  Three friends took me with them on a pilgrimage to Mathura and Vrindavan, sacred sites in the life of Krishna, and I went with them to various temples, dancing with a really nice family at one aarti and learning how to offer prasad at a temple famous for the magical eyes of the deity.  Vinay, Abishek, and Chitrang introduced me to a ton of delicious street food (I miss Indian food so much) and sent me home with a statue of Krishna in his childhood.  We also went together to the Taj Mahal.  I visited Varanasi and met some new people via a Queer Couchsurfers group.  We ended up back in Delhi together at a 377 protest.  I also made a trip to Rishikesh and Haridwar and, in a very small world moment, met a friend of a friend from Delhi on the street and spent the afternoon with him and his wife and friends.  

My last three weeks were spent in Mumbai where I attended Pride and some of the events leading up to the parade as well as a performance of the Vagina Monologues, which was a really interesting experience.  I have been a part of the show at home for the last few years and seeing the show in an Indian context made clear how much of it is, as one friend put it afterward, "really American."  Mumbai Pride was much bigger than I had anticipated and there were several after parties and a week's worth of events leading up to the march, including a great short film screening and a sort of open-mic night that showcased all kinds of Indian performers.  Mumbai also brought a visitor from home; Mimi, one of my best friends and college roommates, came to visit.  It was so good to see her. 

So much of India was beyond description.  I already miss the friends I made there and I learned something new every day.  At the same time, India was without a doubt the most challenging place I have been so far.  There were cultural differences that I anticipated but there were many conflicts and interactions that I did not.  These ranged from the practical, like finding safe and clean housing, to the extremely personal.  I became hyper-aware of my gender presentation.  Because so many things in India are gender-segregated and because I am somewhat masculine in appearance, I regularly dealt with questions bordering on harassment as I tried to enter the metro or train through the women's security or even just walking down the street.  I identify as butch and am comfortable falling somewhere in between normal standards of feminine and masculine appearance, but it has never been the case that this presentation has made me stand out in the way that it did in India.  I have never considered myself gender non-comforming, but now I do.  These interactions regarding my gender have made me think about gender and physical presentation in a whole new way, and I am still working through my thoughts.  One way of doing this has been writing; I had a piece published by a queer blog in India and have found writing to be an important outlet for working through various personal and political issues (not that they can be separated).  

Living in India also made me aware of poverty and urban development in ways that I had never been before this year. I will never again take things like potable water and reliable electricity for granted. There is a serious concern in Delhi about women's safety and when I was not with friends, it was not uncommon to experience harassment.  I was told by my landlords, roommates, and friends to avoid walking at night, even the very short distance between the metro and my apartment. There was one particularly scary experience, where a car stopped beside me at the metro and, when I declined a ride, followed me in an auto for a bit, that made me totally sure that following the advice of my friends about walking alone at night was a great idea.  I was sick so regularly that it became a normal part of life.  (In fact, I brought a bacterial infection with me to Cape Town but a doctor's visit and lots of antibiotics fixed it for good.)  I also had a number of housing issues that led to me hopping around the city quite a bit.  Still all of these things were important learning experiences and I am grateful for the new perspective and for the ways that I was challenged and pushed to find new solutions or confront totally foreign situations.  

A few weeks ago I said goodbye to India and arrived in Cape Town, where I found a happy and unexpected home in a local hostel and an internship at Gender DynamiX, a non-profit working on queer issues, with an emphasis on transgender and intersex issues, something that has come to be much more personal to me since India.   The city is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever been and just walking outside seems too good to be true.  

Cape Town Pride was smaller than I anticipated and gave me a chance to speak to many groups and also to ask about some of the tensions here in the community, including many built around race and gender (the parade is often seen as very white and very male).  Additionally, with the recent legislation criminalizing same-sex relationships and queer identity in Uganda and Nigeria, there are a number of important conversations happening here about how to react and support queer Africans.  I am privileged to be able to listen to these conversations and am still working through how to be supportive without overstepping my bounds as a visitor.  

Overall, the past three months have been some of the most challenging but also some of the most formative and impactful of my Watson year so far.  I am a different person than the one who left Memphis nine months ago and I feel that regularly.  I continue to be amazed every day by the people and organizations working under the banner of queer rights and am hoping to stay, as one of my favorite English teachers recommended, a sponge ready to absorb and try to process as much as possible in the beautiful and complicated world around me. 

All the best from South Africa,

Sarah Holland Bacot 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Week Thirty Three: Mumbai Pride!!

The flight to Mumbai was short and easy, and there were some beautiful views along the way.  I landed around sunset and took a cab to my hostel/hotel in the city.  This was my first introduction to how big Mumbai is; the cab ride took a very long time and I got to see a diversity of housing, businesses, and sights as we drove and waited in traffic. 

I arrived at the hotel exhausted so I ate dinner and headed to bed to get ready for the next day.  

On the way to Mumbai 

Landing at sunset.  Apparently there is something about the pollution that makes Mumbai sunsets particularly beautiful.  Ironic but they are incredible here. 

The next day I explored some and then headed to a pre-Pride event that was a combination of films from the queer festival here, Kashish, and a panel on 377.  I should note that somewhere around 5 hours was spent in commute.  Did I mention how big Mumbai is? 
The films were great.  Here is a trailer for one of my favorites: 


I wish I were able to attend the festival in full.

The panel on 377 was also excellent and included representatives from diverse backgrounds who were related to the ruling and the fight against it in a variety of ways. 

One of my favorite speakers, whom I had seen a few times before, is a mother who has been a named party in the case for several years. She always speaks very passionately and frankly.  There were also speakers from some of the LGBT organizations in India, activists, professors, and others.  It was a great introduction to Pride festivities in Mumbai and it gave me a chance to see a considerable amount of the city.  

The train station

At the film series

The 377 panel

The next day I explored on foot and started researching and emailing organizations here and also in South Africa!  It is time to get ready to go, which I really can't believe.  Cape Town is my last majory stop before home, meaning I am weeks away from the last leg of my Watson journey.  I have incredibly mixed feelings about this and I am working through them but right now it's my goal to enjoy exactly where I am and where I should be. 

I was really looking forward to Friday night because a group of us had tickets to go see Dirty Talk, a pre-Pride event with a happy hour and a bunch of performances from musicians, actors, and comedians.  In a super delightful coincidence, Sara and Rohini were both in Mumbai visiting and Eliza works here, so we all met at the Three Wise Men, where the even was set to take place, and grabbed some drinks before settling in to watch.  

The bar was packed.  It was crazy and there was definitely not enough room.  We ended up sitting on the ground in front of the stage, which gave us a great view but also left me a little nervous because it was prime space for audience interaction a la Sydney and the drag show in Cordoba. 

In the end it was fabulous and funny and there were a number of great acts.  My favorite was probably the comedy group that ended the show.  There were definitely a fair number of jokes that went straight over my head culturally but the ones I understood were very funny, and the ones I didn't were a huge hit with people who knew what was up. 

We grabbed dinner after the show at a delicious schwarma place in Bandra and then I headed back for some pre-Pride sleep!

Walking around the city

Opening act

Gay India version of If You're Happy and You Know It

The host

All the pictures reflect my awkard angle, ha. 

Mumbai Pride started at around 3pm on Saturday. Early that afternoon I had brunch with Kavya, Eliza, Sara, and Rebecca.  Afterward, Kavya and Eliza and I took a train and then a walk to the starting point.  The crowd was massive, much bigger than in Delhi and much more than I was anticipating.  It was really exciting to see such a big turnout at the first major Pride event since the 377 ruling.

We marched for several blocks, and there were representatives from many organizations and many different places, including Delhi. Partha was there, which was fantastic, and I can't believe I forgot to get a picture of the two of us but I did manage to snag some pretty great ones of him dancing during the parade (see below). The march was inspiring and fun, as they tend to be, and it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between Delhi and Mumbai in terms of the way they celebrate and protest.  

Many of the chants with which I am now familiar didn't make an appearance, and I am not sure if it was because of the celebratory atmosphere or because those things change regionally. Those that were used were confined to a very small portion of the crowd.  Maybe it was size that made getting united voices so much more difficult.  

The march ended with a bit of a whimper in the middle of traffic but there were a few places where the party continued, and we visited at least four of them, including Cafe Ideal, the beach, Cafe General, and Liquid (the club where the official after-party was held).   
I love a good Pride day.  Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough how invigorating those days are. Especially here in India, where same-sex affection of a romantic nature is restricted to the extent that I generally see it only in all-gay groups or most commonly, on Facebook groups meant only for the community, these days are a chance to create a safe space, however fleeting. 

Always music, always dancining, love it, love it

Partha Dancing


Passed this appropriate advertisement on the march


With Kavya and Eliza

On the beach after Pride

By the time the after-party began we were a little tired and not sure whether or not to go but I thought I would at least go for a little while, and I am so glad that I did.  There were openly affectionate couples everywhere.  I saw couples making out, which is taboo even between straight couples. (I once had a friend showing me some pictures of vacation and he and his wife were leaning toward each other in one, as if to kiss.  His friend looked at me and laughed, "They were pretending to kiss! In public!" I am not sure what the equivalent would be at home, not that I believe there should be one, but it was an interesting adjustment in perspective.) 

The crowd was skewed male but there were a fair number of lesbians as well, definitely a more balanced representation than what I generally experienced in Delhi.  It was overwhelming in the same sense that every crowded club is, but I was not annoyed by it the way that I generally am because it was so great to find that space and just be there for a little while.  We didn't stay terribly long.  It was ridiculously loud and impossible to talk or really meet new people in any meaningful sense, but it was a great way to end the evening and it definitely introduced me to a new aspect of queer life in India. 

We said goodbye and I headed home, really excited to wait for Mimi to get in for a visit early Sunday morning!

This week I am particularly thankful for: 

1. A new city and a new chance to experience Pride and its impact and importance

2. The Fulbrights for continuing to be so awesome and providing me with a totally unexpected and totally fabulous community of great, interesting people

3. Safe spaces 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Week Twenty Nine: The New Year, Haridwar and Rishikesh

Unfortunately, I started this week in sickness.  It seems to have become a semi-regular thing.  I think I became overconfident after avoiding sickness for so long at the beginning of my time here.  Anyway, on Monday and Tuesday, I headed to work at TARSHI.  Again I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoy working in that office with such cool people.  For the most part I help Shruti and Anisha where I can with various things. 

Although I didn't do anything particularly exciting on New Year's Eve, I did get to see a friend that afternoon and eat some good food that reminded me of home before chilling and watching movies by myself that night.  


The temple in Malviya Nagar near my apartment.

As a sort of New Year celebration, I headed to Haridwar and Rishikesh, both holy cities near the base of the HImalayas and on the Ganges. I took an early train from Delhi and arrived at my hotel early in the afternoon. The view was gorgeous. 

The river from my hotel

It was a short trip so I headed out as soon as I put my stuff in the room, walking to the river and Har Ki Pauri, the ghat that is famous and holy as the site of a visit from Lord Vishnu, who left a footprint there.

Haridwar is awesome in part because it is so beautiful and not touched by smog in the same way as Delhi.  The river is mostly clear and the sky is blue and walking through the city was a really nice change from what I am used to in the capital.

View down onto the river

Cow enjoying some treats from a local stall

At the Har Ki Pauri ghat

Cows at the ghat

The river

Ghat from one of the bridges

From the other end

I walked around for a bit on the river before heading toward Mansa Devi and Chandi Devi, two temples in the mountains.  I wanted to return to the river for the aarti that evening and see the temples that day before heading to Rishikesh the next morning.  

I took a cable car to the see Mansa Devi first and then hopped on a bus to drive over to Chandi Devi where I took another cable car up the mountain.  Photography is not allowed past a certain point, but both temples were beautiful and beautifully located.  

Heading up 

Cable Car Selfie

The temple

A little closer

While I was wandering, I met a student from the engineering school who was also traveling solo, so we spent the afternoon talking and making the second part of the trip, from the top of Mansa Devi to Chandi Devi, together. It is always nice to find someone else who is traveling alone or who is interested in going to the same places.  

We had a tea and talked before heading our separate ways. 

I made my way down to the aarti but along the way I ran into Praveen, a friend of a friend from Delhi who happened to be traveling with his wife and friends at the same time.  It was such a nice surprise to run into him and we planned to meet up in Rishikesh, where they were staying and where I had intended to spend my day anyway, the next day. 

In the meantime, I headed back to Har Ki Pauri and watched the aarti, the religious ceremony that takes place along the river.


In the river


Someone's pooja

Someone offering pooja

The crowd on the other side of the river

On the side of the river where I was sitting

The ceremony

On the river


Offerings waiting to be sold

On a bridge over the river

I headed back to my hotel after the aarti and did some reading before bed.  

I woke up and took an auto to Rishikesh, which is about an hour away. 

Rishikesh was even more beautiful than Haridwar and walking through the city and along the river made for a great day.  I spent a lot of time exploring and visiting various temples and ashrams, of which there are many.  

View of Swarg Niwas from the cafe where I had breakfast

Not too shabby

View along the river crossing the Lakshman Jhula Bridge

Bathing in the river

On the bridge.  I carried my luggage with me that day and was glad I packed lightly. 

Baby monkeys are the best

Cow crossing


Great view

Cow crossing part II.  

I spent a bit waiting here because Praveen and I had trouble catching each other.  Eventually I headed across and began walking down with plans to meet up later in the day. 

Some of the sights along the way: 

Swarg Ashram, which is massive

I spent some time resting and watching these cows play fight

And also this sneaky dude, same as above, try to steal from the vegetable vendor.  He never managed to do it but he was persistent and adorable. 


Cow on the Ganges

Beautiful view from the bridge

I trekked a long, long way down to try to find Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ahsram, where The Beatles made the White Album, and although I thought I found it, turns out I did not.  I was directed by a monk who told me that the place had been closed for a long time and his directions were very helpful but apparently I stopped at the ashram just before the one I wanted, sad day.  I will not put the random closed ashram selfie here because it is mildly embarrassing but just know it exists. 

Finally I made my way back up to find Praveen and his wife and friends.  We sat and talked on the beach before having chai and street food.  Unfortunately we talked a little too long and I ended up missing my train because our car got caught in traffic and the train was running on time (never a guarantee).  

Praveen was super helpful and found me a different train back and helped me to, errrr, talk my way into a better compartment and seat.  This involved Praveen telling me to look downtrodden (and explaining that begging and bribary are generally effective in this area) while he spoke to a train official about me being a lady tourist.  It worked, thankfully, and although I paid more, I was happy to be able to be in a position to sleep.  I was even happier when, horror of horrors, some virus/food poisoning/curse for bribing my way up in the world hit me and I was a sick, gross, fevered mess and extremely happy for access to a Western toilet.  

Despite that, it was a beautiful trip and overall a fabulous way to start the New Year and continue my adventures. 

This week I am thankful for: 

1.  Everyone who made this year what it was and helped me through many major milestones, including graduation and leaving for the Watson. 

2. The fact that it really is a small world and I got to spend more time with Praveen and his lovely wife and friends. 

3.  A chance to see the Ganges and be close to the Himalayas