4.6.15; DEHRADUN, India

First journal entry as a nineteen year old! Only one year left of being a teenager… What a grim thought. On Tuesday, I went to the summer camp as usual in the morning, and on today’s agenda was acting out the fairytale of Snow White! The kids do love acting things out, but they always feel terribly put upon when they have to play a King and Queen – they’re still at the age when even pretending to be married to someone is cringe-inducing. Ah, I remember those innocent times…

Afterwards, I headed out with Misha and Achala again. On my way to meet Misha (Achala was running a little late), I couldn’t resist running into a second-hand book depot at Astley Hall, opposite Gandhi Park, which is a much needed spot of green in the busy, dusty city which is Dehradun. It’s like a different world in the park – water features (admittedly lacking water) and trees everywhere – very pleasant! I’m told most protests start from there, perhaps in the same way that College Green In Bristol is a meeting point for that kind of thing.

Gandhi Park
Gandhi Park

I bought a couple of books, including Stephen King’s “Christine” and Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” – keep eyes peeled for the reviews! I also got a Lonely Planet Guide to Bangkok; I’m thinking that will be quite useful for when I’m there; I’m going to be in Bangkok on three separate occasions so I’ll probably get quite a bit of time to explore. I don’t want to just go to popular tourist stops, and I wouldn’t really use guidebooks to find cafes or places to stay and eat, but I think they’re very useful for tracking down all the sights and working out how to see what you want to in your available time frame.

And LP guides are ridiculously expensive if you buy them new and up to date; the Bangkok one I bought is from 2006, but what matters to me is the information about the place and the main sights and temples, which I don’t think have changed much in the last ten years! So I think 100 Rs is pretty excellent value! Imagine, £1 for a LP guide… Wonderful!

Reading material!
Reading material!

Misha and I hit up McDonalds (I know, shameful!) but only for an iced tea whilst we waited for Achala, and she turned up pretty quickly. We set off for Rajpur to visit the library café which Misha was talking about the previous day. After a nice (uphill!) walk, we reached the café eventually. There was some speculation by me and Achala as to whether said café did actually exist… The “5 minute walk” was not as short as we were assured. Anyway, I like walking so I didn’t mind.

The café, Café Hilife, is really lovely! It’s quite small with a fairly limited menu but more than makes up for it with its great atmosphere and location, as well as the friendly staff and the attached library! It’s mainly made up of spiritual and theological books, and Misha said she sometimes goes there to study the Bible. Funnily enough, she’s reading the New International Version, which is the one I’m studying at the moment too, in preparation for September. The area is primarily occupied by Tibetan migrants, and going there feels like a different world to being in the city below… You can breathe easier, for a start! And the views of the mountainous area are beautiful.

The owner of the café started it from scratch; when I was speaking to him about his life and outlook, he told me he was a monk for fifteen years, before leaving, and now he’s a follower of Jesus. His talking to me about his beliefs regarding God and Jesus was very interesting, and although I have no religion myself, I can appreciate the effect that the teachings within the Bible can have on people who do hold a spiritual belief. For my part, I’ve found it to be very interesting reading, with a lot to think about, but I wouldn’t say I’ve been converted yet!

We had some drinks and lunch, before heading back into the city. I had intended to go saree shopping with Kiran, but unfortunately she didn’t get time to come out and help me, so the girls and I went to a dress shop, Mahavar, and I had a great time trying on some sarees and eventually buying a couple! Altogether, having bought two sarees, one slightly more formal one and one nice but more casual one, a readymade blouse as well as the blouse material attached to the sarees because I wanted to wear one the next day for my birthday, two petticoats and a length of rope to hold them up, I spent about 3000 Rs on the sarees. That’s only just over £30 and I know that if I bought clothes of that quality in England, it would cost me at least double that!

Saree shopping with Misha and Achala
Saree shopping with Misha and Achala

Nonetheless, I’ve grown very wary of spending any larger amounts of money – which bodes terribly for when I get home where I’ll be horrified at the price of anything, but at least I’ll be keen to budget! – and so spent the rest of the way home trying to justify it as a birthday gift to myself. I didn’t really think it through that well, considering the whole SMALL AND ALREADY FULL backpack situation, and the fact that the sarees are more than a little bulky when folded. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Rode back in a vikram, pretty much hanging my head out of the window like a dog because it’s such great fun! One of these days, I’m probably going to get my head knocked off. YOLO.

When I got back, Ayushi did some beautiful henna patterns on my hands – though I love henna, it’s a nightmare for me because I’m a bit obsessed with picking it off before it’s ready which means that the patterns don’t come out as bright as they should. But I did it right before I went to sleep so there wasn’t as much temptation to pick it off as I slept! I went to bed eighteen years old and woke up… Still eighteen. My birthday time is technically around 8am GMT, so being more than four hours behind, I didn’t really turn nineteen until around midday here in India. Never mind, celebrating anyway!

Washed off the henna, which wasn’t that bright but it got brighter over the course of the day as the dye sank in, and got ready to go to summer camp. Left the house to a cacophony of birthday wishes (the first had come from Ayushi just after midnight the previous night when we were still doing henna) and when I got to the school, several of my students there gave me a few small presents, and some chocolate and fizzy drinks. It was very touching that they remembered and made the effort to bring me something, especially as at that point I’d only been teaching them for around a week!

Kiran and the girls gave me a lovely matching set of a necklace and earrings, which I wore during the day, and some silver bangles. Hema gave me a bangle later too, just from her, which was lovely. Feeling like I’m getting old! I always find birthdays to be a dreadful anti-climax. And more than a little pointless, if I’m honest! Like, congratulations to me. For not dying for another year. Yay. I don’t really get depressed about my birthday coming up as I know I’m still young (even though my life is probably now more than a fifth over… Eek!) but I think people do make too much of a fuss about them.

When I got home, Kiran helped me put my black saree on (and later she taught me how to tie and arrange it myself!) and we waited for some people to arrive for my birthday party. It was a little awkward because Kiran had invited a few of the kids from the summer camp and their parents, whom I had never met before, so that was a little uncomfortable but they meant well. One of them gave me a set of bowls? Don’t think I can take that back to England. I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

All dressed up for my 19th birthday party!
All dressed up for my 19th birthday party!

There was a lot of uncomfortable photo taking and junk food but it was quite a fun afternoon anyway, and it was nice to see everyone all dressed up! I did feel terribly overdressed though! The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, except for a quick call to my parents who wished me a happy birthday, and lamented that the parcel they’d sent me with some presents and birthday decorations had been returned by the mail service AGAIN after having reached Delhi but not been sent on to me in Dehradun twice!

Well, this turned out a lot longer than I expected so I’ll stop there! Until next time,

X Bea

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