My Java Journal

Trains, pains and motorcycles: A Tea Tale From India

I was going to post about Buckingham Palace this week. I decided against it.

The reason?

I still need to test posting with a picture. This week I will add one picture – it will be a Feature Picture so it won’t be embedded in the post itself.

The good news is that I will share another story related to travel and tea – although there is coffee at Buckingham Palace, it is the tea you go to England for (or so I am told). I have to go back some twenty-four years for this story. It is chronologically consistent with the Experience story line, so this should work out well. I also chose this tale because I just happen to have an uploaded picture from that trip that is already formatted and ready to go.

India. 1994.

After my Vancouver experience I returned to Ottawa. I didn’t stick around long. I was planning for a trip to Europe, but it wasn’t a firm plan. A chance meeting with an old high school friend influenced a redirect from European travel and it was off to New Delhi, India. In 1994, India was recovering from a pneumonic plague scare. This forced a serious reconsideration of these plans. Not so much a concern however, to prevent it.

Landing in New Delhi was like landing on another planet. The first night was spent in Old Delhi; a part of the city known as the Bazaar. It was like walking onto the set of the Star Wars canteen. The air was thick with dust. The light from the few street lamps barely penetrated a couple feet. It was hot. It was humid. As the rickshaw slowed to stop we were met by shawl covered figures that emerged from the curtain of thick air; seemingly to satiate curiosity about who had just arrived. In a word, it was – SURREAL.

This would be the beginning of a life altering experience. Oh, how I yearn to go back to India. Part of my heart has always remained there. India will always be for me a milestone that has shaped who I am and my views on life. I spent about 5 months there before I had run out of money, and the dysentery and giardiasis had reduced me to skeletal proportions. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

In India I traveled mostly by train. I also used an old Royal Enfield Bullet 500 and an Asian enduro motorcycle to do some isolated exploration. Of course there were buses and cars and lots of walking – and one can’t forget the waiting. The motorcycles are the more romantic and exciting method of travel, but the trains were where the coffee experiences emerged. Well to be more specific, there was coffee, but tea experiences were much more prolific.

What was really profuse in India was the masala chai tea- and here I am not talking about your $5 Chai Tea lattes. I am referring to the often lukewarm, street teas that were delicious with their distinct spices and milk and sugar. It was everywhere.

What I most remember was not the many chai teas I had from the street vendors (yes, this is likely how you get dysentery and giardiasis in India). It was when riding the trains, where at every station – hell, even if the train only slowed through a station – little hands would reach through the window bars of the coach bunks that in India were First Class. These little hands were selling chai like school yard children climb a baseball bat hand over hand to determine who bats first.

Chai tea in India is a culturally significant experience and one I shall never forget. Of course, it wasn’t always offered or found in this manner. If buying a rug it was proffered as a necessary part of the barter process. On the motorcycle trips through the rural areas it was found by engaging the village ‘elders’ as we offered the customary pens and Canada flag pins and where chai tea, or coffee, were shared – always.

Oh, how I yearn to get back to India.