An unexpected kiss #2

And myths that are dismantled when you travel to India

travel journal sea wave

By Sofia Scott

People travel for many reasons. Some, you will say, travel to rest. Others, simply to change places. Some travel to shop (that’s a lot!). A few others, to show off on social media. And, the minority, to learn about other cultures and ways of life, for historical or social interest. However, whatever the reason for the trip, it is very possible that it has ever happened to you: during the trip, a myth is dismantled, like a castle of cards that is undone by a gust of wind that you did not come to.

I already tell you my story, but I am one of those who create expectations with travel. Once I have the seed planted in my head – that is, “I want to go as it is” becomes an almost obsessive thought – I begin to build that wonderful journey in my head.

Today it is very easy to do that. Instagram is an inexhaustible source of images from all corners of the world and we can drink from it frequently. But before, it wasn’t right like that. The trip that I am telling you is from a time without Facebook, without Instagram, without WhatsApp. Skype, yes, existed and it was what we used to “call” people in other countries without paying a fortune for it.

It was 2009 and I had a friend living in India, in Bangalore. He had come from London to work for a year and had already been there for about 10 months. So he calls me on Skype and blurts out: “Hey, my time here is almost over, but I don’t want to go back to Europe without doing at least one tour of the country. You sign up?”.

Of course I’m in!, I told her. We had two months to plan everything but we still wanted to leave room to experiment and decide as we went. Forty days, backpacking, just two. How wonderful! I thought every day, and I could already see myself wearing the loudest saris and walking through the Taj Mahal.

India, let’s go!

Once I assumed that I was going to India, I began to create expectations about that trip. It was a dream trip since my teens. I have a connection with Asia, a fascination. I love the history of ancient civilizations and I like to investigate cultures other than my own.

I also love Buddhism and was very busy at that time learning more, mainly about Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet. As the Dalai Lama lives in the Indian Himalaia, naturally Daramsala became a point of the journey. But not only Daramsala.

I knew that Siddarta Gautama, the historical Buddha, was born in the region, and so I had an idea, which my friend loved: we are going to Nepal and, on the way, we do the famous route through 4 sacred places of Buddhism. Have you heard of them?

Lumbini, in Nepal, on the border with India, is where Siddarta Gautama was born in 249 BC. Siddarta was a prince raised by his parents to be oblivious to the pains of the world. When he learned that human existence was practically synonymous with suffering, he decided to abandon the palace life and see the world. His goal was to find a transcendental meaning for existence.

Bodh Gaya is where Siddarta became enlightened, reached Nirvana, became Buddha.

Sarnath is where the Buddha first taught the Dharma.

Kushinagar is where he died and is buried.

When I found out about these four places, I felt like I had to go. More expectations created. With the help of the few bloggers and travel sites that existed at that time, I was riding the route. But, a few weeks before embarking to Bangalore, the news: my friend had an emergency and left India before the end of her contract. Our journey became “my journey.” I went alone to India and Nepal for 40 days.

Butterflies in the stomach, but she was lively, full of energy and curiosity.

Monks, Buddhism, and some idealization

This entire preamble is to give the context of the situation I found myself in weeks later. After touring the many Indies of India, having varied experiences, carrying a 20kg backpack and losing about 15kg of weight, I have to say that India surpassed me in all expectations. It is impossible to be impassive. You either love her or you hate her, they say. And it’s true.

One day I came to Kushinagar, the place of the Buddha’s death. There I met the sweetest monk that ever lived. He ran the tiny Tibetan monastery – the simplest and most humble of all in Kushinagar. With him I had days of long conversations about Buddhism, the world, philosophy, science, Asia. Days of peace, tranquility and meditation. I felt welcomed into Buddhism without being a Buddhist. For the monk who welcomed me into the Tibetan monastery, it didn’t matter. It mattered that I was there and it was just me. We understood each other perfectly. A man in his early 80s, who had been born in Tibet and fled, like so many others, when the Dalai Lama had to go into exile. All his stories fascinated me.

For with that wonderful castle built in my head, I came to Sarnath. I looked for the Tibetan monastery to stay, but I did not have the same connection with the monk there. It was a monastery with many monks and movement. They had a room for a girl, and I stayed in her. But I felt lonely, so I went out every day to see the other monasteries. I was left admiring the details, observing the pilgrims and attending the ceremonies of the temples. Until a Buddhist monastery caught my attention: the one in Sri Lanka.

I don’t remember what the ceremony was, but it was the most important of the day. I attended one day and came back the next. In the end, the monk in charge of her, who was far in his 80s, called me for tea.

And so I got to know the Sri Lankan Buddhist monastery outside the temple area. We went to the richly decorated building and sat on a kind of porch where the other monks passed, looking at us (or “looking at me”) in admiration. This monk, who must have been about 25 years old, told me that he had entered monastic life at the age of nine, without choosing it. I was curious about western life but there they found out a little about how the world was going on the other side because they had Internet access (slow, but they did).

I was still on the roll of knowing about Buddhism, I was still fascinated by the philosophy of life that could be combined with other beliefs, which asked so little in return. And so they spent about four hours of tea.

At the end of it all, I went to say goodbye, a little distracted by all the peace and silence, when suddenly … bang! A kiss. But not just any kiss: a kiss with the tongue! A sensual and daring kiss. A sexual kiss. Followed by a hug and silly hands.

I was stunned. I could not believe it. A MONK kissed me ?? !!!! That existed ??? !!!!

I pushed him away and I think I made a somewhat horrified expression, but the monk did not take for granted – he was still calm and calm, as if that act were totally natural among celibate monks.

I couldn’t believe it, so I asked if they were celibate there, so he answered me something like:

We, yes, but you, no, right?

Back home

The next day I left Sarnath. I felt betrayed. I wanted to learn about Buddhism, and not for someone, in whom I was beginning to place my trust, to abuse me.

This, obviously, was not the first nor the last disappointment that I took on travel. But I was so stupefied that I never stop telling it. In the end, we travel to see the world but also to know ourselves. In a way, in that unsolicited and unrequited kiss, I realized that no one is nothing more than human. It does not matter if they are gurus, saints or monks. We are all human, imperfectly human.

And you? What myths have you dismantled on trips? Comment on our social networks!

See you next week in one more Onboard Journal. If you liked this diary, share it with friends.

Until next time!

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*** About the author: Sofia Scott is an expert in technology, business and travel. ***