I’m going to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful driver, Sanjeev. His English was limited, and so was our Hindi, but somehow we managed to communicate. A smile goes a long way. He helped me find toilets, suggested nice dishes to eat and always seemed to have a happy mood. On the way to Haridwar we stopped off at a place to eat. There was a small cart outside with a glass cabinet containing various sweet treats. Sanjeev wanted to buy some for his children and offered me one to try. The first was a roll shaped, sesame seed tasting, sweet, sticky treat. The second was a coin shaped sesame seed snack. Both very nice.
After an exciting week of adventure we finally arrived at Haridwar. The most spiritual place in India. A woman at the hotel arrived with a tray holding a pot of red powder, we each had a bindi painted on our forehead. After a week of being the odd one out (the only woman) and having a mattress on the floor of a shared room I was upgraded. I got my own room with a king sized bed! It was huge! We washed and changed and went to find a beer. Luckily our hotel wasn’t in the centre and so beer wasn’t too hard to find. On the top floor of the adjoining shopping centre we found “Captain’s Cavalry”. It was empty and didn’t have the best atmosphere, but we each had a magnum sized budwieser strong. 5 ft 2 me was pretty drunk after one. A Czech woman and Italian man joined us. They were going to the conference too. It seemed all the foreigners needed booze. We ate tea at the hotel, joined by Dan Stowell, a researcher originally from up North but working in London. He had a lovely falafel type dish and let me try it. Everyone I had met so far was so friendly, it made me less nervous about my first conference experience! That night I didn’t sleep too well. There was a mosquito sharing the room with me.
Joined Michal and Tomasz for breakfast. There was banana! I had this with some Indian style porridge. This is essentially very sweet, very milky semolina. It’s lovely and cosy. I went with Pawel.S to register for the conference and then we had some time to kill before the first talks. The conference hall entrance was lovely, there were bright orange and pink flowers strung down from the arch way and some women were painting flowers on the steps. I love all the colours here. It can’t help but make you smile. The conference began with a long introductory session. Various things were said in Hindi and English. At one point a candle was lit for the Goddess of knowledge. We sat through lots of interesting talks and ate more curry for dinner. In the afternoon me and the Pawel’s decided to go on a tuk tuk adventure. We found a keen driver who offered to take us to the centre for 50 rupees each. We sat in the tiny vehicle and made our way through the streets of Haridwar. It was dark by that point so the candles and lights from the small stalls were reflecting of the shining jewellery for sale and highlighting the heaps of bright flowers piled on the pavements. It was incredible. It reminded me of a flippogram, everything was just whizzing by so fast and colour, noise, smells were transforming before your eyes. Magic. Pawel. R described the scene as “a state of constant festivity”. We found a restaurant to eat in and had no clue what to choose. Luckily there was a man in there that spoke some English and so he ordered for us. Various sauces arrived with the specific, accompanying breads. Masala doha was the best. A huge triangle shaped crisp filled with potato. All of this was washed down with a delightful lassi drink. To a get a tuk tuk back to the hotel we had help from a group of guys who found us another cheap deal. People are so friendly. The interior of a tuk tuk is a delight. Curtains, decorated lamps, patterned ceilings. We had a great adventure.
Another day of interesting talks was had. Some amazing research on human acoustics and the perception of height and attractiveness. In the afternoon it was my poster session. I was really nervous because there had been a printing error with mine and it was twice the size of everyone else’s. I faced the situation with humour, it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I’m glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! For those of you who don’t know, a poster session is where a number of participants pin up a scientific poster on their research. Other delegates are then able to walk around and browse the posters and ask any questions. It’s a brilliant way of brainstorming various ideas and to highlight key aspects of your research. I was approached by lots of lovely people who were all extremely interested in my duet matching research. It gave me such a boost in my confidence. I bloody love science! I can do it! After the poster session there was a cultural evening where a local school performed various dances and songs for us. Each dedicated to a different God or Goddess. There was even a yoga demonstration. After the culture overload we headed to Captains Cavalry for food and beer. Quite a few other conference goers sat with us and it was nice to get to know more people.
Today was another talk filled day. In the afternoon it was Michal and Pawel’s turn to present their posters. A nice addition was a yoga session. A woman wanted to talk to us about Ashtanga yoga practice. There are 8 limbs of yoga, not just postures and breathing. She had the most relaxing voice and went through some principles of yoga practice and different breathing exercises. Did you know…you shouldn’t drink water standing up, you should eat sat down with your legs folded, you should do sun salutation with the sunrise and you should just breathe. After another science filled day we headed back to Captains Cavalry for beer and curry.
Today was only a half day because there was an optional excursion in the afternoon. There was a really interesting talk in the morning about tap-dancing cordon-bleus. Me and the guys decided to skip the excursion and created our own. We all squeezed into a tuk tuk and headed for the hills at the edge of Haridwar city. On our way we passed a school being painted with various pictures and signs. One of them said “Education is the pathway from darkness into light, you are so lucky you can read this”. It stuck with me for a long while, I just kept saying it over in my mind. Yes I am lucky. I hope one day I can give a bit of hope in the way of knowledge to others. I can try. We stopped at the end of a small road and carried on on foot. We just wanted to go higher and further. Our company came in the form of birds, monkeys, pigs and lizards. The Ganges was in sight and looked magnificent. At one point I stopped to take a photo of a nearby macaque munching on some fruit, not realising a few others were sneaking up behind me. I think I swore a little bit when I realised just how close they were. A bit further and we found very big cat footprints in the dirt. Leopard? Tiger? I really didn’t want to find out. Exciting though, proper adventure. We were quite high up and far from the centre of the city but the noise from the cars carried, it was still so loud. In the distance we could see two huge statues of Goddesses appearing from the river. After a while we decided to turn back and get closer to the Ganges. We wound our way through a maze of market stalls. A huge bull was blocking the way at one point, and another cow was sneakily munching on something off a nearby stall. Colour was everywhere. Shining metal of jewellery, vibrant materials to wear, bright white sea shells, aromatic spices. Eventually we got to the rivers edge and I couldn’t resist dipping my toe in. It was warm. All along the route there were small stalls set up with people creating small baskets from leaves and filling them with an assortment of flowers. You could buy them to lay on the Ganges. People of all ages were enjoying a wash in the river. The Ganges being the only physical Goddess in Hinduism. I felt so peaceful being there, the sun was setting and the atmosphere was just perfect. Me and Pawel.R sat amongst the crowd at the rivers edge at Har Ki Pauri to watch the Ganga Aarti (ceremony of the Ganges). Each day, at sunrise and sunset, a ceremony to the Ganges is performed. The Ganges is the divine mother in Hinduism and this site is the most spiritual in Haridwar. You cannot purchase any alcohol within a 10km radius of this point. There was lots of singing and chanting. Swifts were screeching above us. The sky was a wash of purple and orange. It was India. When the ceremony finished we made our way through the crowd and received a bindi off a local woman. We walked for a while through the city and eventually found a tuk tuk to take us back to the hotel. We left the tuk tuk and needed to cross two busy roads in front of the hotel. We crossed the first, dazzled by headlights of passing cars, and ran straight into a line of barbed wire! I came away with a single scratch. On checking the crossing in daylight the next day, there was only a couple of meters stretch of the snagging wire. What are the chances of us meeting it….
The next day arrived and I was still so happy from the previous afternoon. Me and Pawel.R carried on our Indian culture trip with a pre-conference yoga class. A man arrived in a motorbike helmet, work t shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. Then a squad of super lean, super fit lads. Then two other men wearing robes. A lovely selection of yogis. We were told about various aspects of yoga and then went through poses. They were so strict with us, it was amazing. I was complimented on my cow pose. Towards the end we did a session of laughing yoga which was fantastic at releasing lots of energy. You laugh a lot and then relax, surrounded by the vibrations you just created. At the end of the class the yogis demonstrated advanced cleansing. First, they pour salt water into one nostril and out of the other. Then, they use a hardened piece of thick cotton to thread up a nostril, down into the back of their throat and out. No thanks. I’ll just stick to olbas oil for now I think. The rest of the day was full of amazing science. The evening was the social dinner. Let’s just say there was a free bar, with alcohol.
Next day I felt quite jammy. I wasn’t too hungover. I made it to the first talk. Impressive eh!? Lots of interesting talks and then a quick trip into the centre of Haridwar for one last explore. Captains Cavalry was our final stop. We needed beer by this point. And curry.
The next day we made our way back to Delhi. The traffic was crazy and the driving was even worse. After 7 hours we made it, in one piece. We rested and enjoyed our last taste of proper curry.
And that was it. My first trip to India. Definitely not my last.
This country is too difficult to describe properly. Reading back I just don’t know how to get everything across. Of all the countries I have visited so far, India is without a doubt my favourite. I felt so welcome and happy the entire time I was there. I can’t wait to explore more in the future. It has made me want to bring more peace into life. Why worry so much?