Getting from Missoula, Montana to Jaipur, India is not the easiest of tasks. Start with a $300 ticket to fly out of Missoula, and you’ll find yourself searching anything out of Spokane instead.
Itinerary: Spokane to Seattle on Horizon. Seattle to Frankfurt on Scandinavian Airlines, Frankfurt to New Delhi on Scandinavian airlines. Total flight time: 19 hours. New Delhi to Jaipur by automobile. Total trip time: 28 hours.
I was disoriented landing in a strangely foggy and somewhat chilly New Delhi. I found my bags and wandered around the terminal for about 10 minutes to collect my thoughts. I bought a Coke and a candy bar and phoned my friends in Jaipur.
The taxi sent to collect me was delayed in a horrific six-hour traffic jam coming into the city. For anyone unaware of what the Indian freeway system looks like, think about a post-apocalyptic Mardi Gras celebration with tank-like floats painted garrulous schemes of red, yellow, green and orange with green tarps. At most, they travel at a benign 15-20 kilometers per hour.
I was starting to fall asleep in my chair when my driver shook me awake. For a moment I forgot where I was, and the red and white color scheme on the Coke bottle in front of me and crumpled Milky Way wrapper gave me something solid to focus on.
We hopped in a tiny car and drove into what seemed like California coastal fog, a shroud that New Delhi wears something like 70 percent of the time.
Barely 15 kilometers from the airport, we ran into the traffic jam, something that reminded me of the lines at the passenger ferry terminals in Europe where you wait for hours to be loaded onto the big ships that cruise the Baltic Sea.
The taxi driver, who didn’t speak any English, tried to communicate that we’d have to wait out the jam and pulled over, turned off the engine and promptly folded his seat back and went sleep.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
Sleep sounded good, and although the excitement of being in a completely foreign place was starting to infest my mind, I put my seat back and went to sleep too. Three hours later I awoke to the sound of a thousand trucks starting. It is not a pleasant sound, in fact it reminds one of the increasing drone of a hoard of angry bees flying in your direction.
I reached over and shook the taxi driver awake, and we inched our way into the slow-crawling line of trucks that make up India’s commerce system. On a good day it’s a six-hour drive from Delhi to Jaipur. On this day it was more than 10 hours with the delay outside of Delhi.
Once on the road, the darkness did what darkness does best. It lent a very mysterious blanket to a place the imagination couldn’t quite conjure up. I found myself trying to stare out in to the field and envision the place, but I couldn’t.
We stopped for tea as the sun came up. Thick, illustrious light raked the fields on either side of the road, illuminating farms and villages that might as well have come from a Dr. Suess book for all the familiarity they had to me. Large disks of collected manure sat drying in stacks in front of huts as burning fuel, and colorful saris decorated clotheslines like whimsical pirate ships.
The sweet tea tasted so good in the cool of the morning. We sat in the truck stop and sipped the tea and snacked on something akin to potato chips. The colors and smells began to resonate with me, causing the synapses to fire and begin the recording process.
The desert region of northwest India offers the most vistas. Big sandy deserts, palm-treed, roadside oasis’ and azure reflecting ponds that increase the beauty of long-empty palaces are a few of the eye-candy treasures. And Suessical images of elephants and two-humped dromedaries plodding along freeways are so magical you can’t help but smile widely at the sight.
Jaipur is not an oasis. It’s a city of three million people on the edge of the desert. An outpost of sorts, the last stronghold of the Rajputs, Jaipur, the Pink City, is a monument to what I imagine life must have been like during the height of Middle Eastern power. A gilded life of finery and luxury unequaled.
We were stopped several times by police men trying to confiscate the taxi for political purposes. If a politician needs a vehicle to get from point a to point b, he has only to have a traffic policeman find a good car and confiscate it for his purposes.
At one such stop we sped off through a tight alley, a feat that reminded me of some such scene in any one of several James Bond films. We slammed into a wedding party, not literally, but suddenly, and soon we were surrounded by drum playing men and women singing dressed in all white.
I looked over my shoulder half expecting a cop to be running after us, but such things are evidently practiced in India all the time.
We arrived at my friends house nearly 36 hours after I left Missoula. I was exhausted and absolutely enthralled with this place.
I had come to Jaipur to teach mobile journalism to a group of media students in the city. My purpose was to teach them storytelling through digital tools like video, blogs and slide shows. In one journey from one place to another, I would have many weeks of teaching materials to relate to the students, not to mention evenings and days spent around the city investigating the rich tapestry of Indian life.
My love for journalism was completely reborn on those dusty, desert streets. Storytelling as art, as life, as science, as the act of creation itself was more real to me in those two weeks in India than it had been up until that point. Sometimes the familiarity of our lives gets in the way of seeing the color and smelling the smells of storyscapes. To be outside of yourself for even a brief period of time, completely immersed in something totally new is an exercise in scraping the scales from our eyes.
Forcing the dream is expensive sometimes. I’m still paying off that trip, but it was the most worthwhile thing I have done for my career. No training, no seminar, no webinar could possibly open my eyes to the quirks of storytelling like my trip to India in the late fall of 2008.
Aside from all the exciting adventures I had in Jaipur, my sister and I were scheduled to stay in the hotel in Mumbai that was attacked by terrorists. Our reservations were for one day after the attacks. Instead of Mumbai, I traveled to Kolkata to visit with my father who was teaching in another Indian city for a week before traveling on to Bangladesh.
While there I filmed segments of video in the Red Light districts to help bring awareness to the plight of Nepalese girls who are trafficked into India. Some are as young as 10, and they are highly sought after for the light color of their skin and their friendly demeanor.
Here it was, the culmination of how far I had dreamed at the time. To travel to a foreign place where injustices occur with alarming regularity and shine a bright light on them was the goal that had driven me thus far in my pursuit of journalism.
After India I would dream new dreams and plan new goals. But forcing the dream along lines that I had never planned has been the evolving nature of a life well lived for me. I will no longer just dream unsustainable dreams. I will dream dreams so big and wide and vast that forcing them will take up the rest of my life.