Note: During our time in India there were simply too many dubious taxi encounters to list here. The following includes a few choice encounters.

Many westerners have a misconstrued ideal of what the Mother country of Yoga looks like. At least we did. We sought peace and serenity. We found chaos and tumult. Incessant car horns; Fog so dense you can’t see your arm out stretched in front of you; The smells, oh the smells, both good and bad; The crowded streets lined with vendors and young children begging; The roving packs of dogs and monkeys; The red residue of beetle-nut spit in every corner painting it to look like a murder scene. This is an India we did not envision.

Fight or flight; Adrenaline and Noradrenaline blood levels surge; The heart races, respiratory rate increases, and pupils dilate; Cortisol levels respond to stress especially stimuli of your surroundings. Born into chaos your body adjusts, but being tourists in the tumult caused constant tension in our bodies, often wondering if we would make it out alive….seriously

Our first great Delhi taxi endeavor was a freeway folly. In an attempt to partially insulate ourselves from the madness we splurged on a private car from New Delhi to Agra. We made relatively good time in less than 4 hours utilizing the beautiful new tollway. The road was nearly empty as it is likely cost prohibitive to commuters, however, there were frequent pedestrians scrambling across the sea of tarmac to get to the next village as well as herds of goats and buffalo grazing on the shoulder and median unfazed by the traffic speeding by. On our way home there was even less traffic, and the monotonous scenery was hypnotic. With residual fog and no lights to line the highway the ride turned into a quiet lullaby to sooth us to sleep. Our driver included! He nodded off several times, changed lanes inadvertently, and it was all we could do to make small talk and keep him awake. This was made more difficult due to his limited English and our limitations in Hindi.

In Delhi we took to the tourist track to visit the holy temples, shrines, and historic relics. The Red Fort was underwhelming and the included museum told a disjointed and patchy history. Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial is understated as he would have wanted. The national mall between the Parliament building and the India gate was already covered with bleachers and equipment in preparation for the Jan 26 Republic Day Celebrations. This year’s guest of honor is our very own President Obama. Although, it’s questionable how much time Mr. President will actually spend outside considering the forecast for dreaded air quality levels during his visit.

We visited Sikh, Muslim, and Baha’i holy sites to gain a deeper appreciation for the religious diversity. It’s probably all relative to its surroundings, but even inside the holy gates there seemed to lack piety and reverence to those in observance. The exception was the beautiful Baha’i Lotus temple. It floats above a surrounding water feature alone among the lush expansive grounds. The temple itself is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” arranged in clusters to form nine sides. After a brief introduction staff led us into the temple open for silent meditation. This was the first religious building with a quiet atmosphere and the first that felt remotely spiritual, but even the thick concrete walls and spacious grounds couldn’t completely drown out the noise of Delhi.

Our next roadway lesson was that, “Too safe is unsafe.” We hired a driver to take us from Mumbai to Pune; A drive we were told would take anywhere between 2.5 to 4.5 hours. Our driver seemed as capable as any; weaving through city traffic and cutting off trucks and tuk tuks at every opportunity. We thought we’d make great time, that is, until we hit the highway. For whatever reason our aggressive and hurried driver in the city cut it to just 45 mph on the highway. Cars and trucks sped by us in the fast lane, and we were even passed by a tractor. The few slower trucks he did pass he would overtake on the shoulder. His behavior didn’t change despite our inquiries and protests as he insisted, “Safety is number one.” His Mumbai instincts returned as we exited the highway and headed into the hills outside Pune. Again, our driver would tailgate constantly and even pass on blind corners atop the cliffsides.

The Taj Mahal, or Crown Palace, Is truly a jewel of India. A full day return trip from Delhi. Still worth the trip as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was truly majestic. The white marble was barely discernible from the fog if not for the iconic silhouette separating the two. The grounds were immaculate and visitors were quiet and respectful. Stats on the structure are mind boggling when you consider the materials utilized and the man-hours required. The sheer size impresses as much as the minute artistry of precious stones inlayed into the marble. The 17th century Mughal king built the structure as a masouleum for his third wife after she passed. Essentially, a gift she could never appreciate.

On our way back from Pune we insisted on a different driver than whoever brought us there. The driver that greeted us, although no English to speak of, seemed professional enough at the outset. We had an uneventful trip atop the cliffsides and onto the tollway. That is, until we stopped in line at the toll booth itself. We were immersed in a program on our iPad when we noticed our driver had changed from intermittent honks to a constant ringing of the horn. He laid on it for a solid two minutes before getting out of the vehicle to throw a hissy fit. Just before his agitation truly boiled over, the truck ahead us began to move. We thought we were on our way until our crazed-eyed driver cutoff the truck and grinded to a halt in front of it. Despite our protests our driver jumped out of the car shouting the only Hindi words I know (swear words) and faced off with the truck driver. Although we could guess what was likely being said, we still cannot figure out what could have happened to cause two grown men to come so close to blows in the middle of the busy tollway. Our last two hours in Mumbai traffic were awkward to say the least and our driver certainly did not subscribe to the mantra, “Don’t drive angry.” Whew, survived another one.

Wanting stillness and a place to decompress from the cities madness we found a quiet ashram tucked away in the hills of Pune. We were delighted to find a community that would support a private retreat for us. Accommodations were sufficient with a spacious two-story duplex and flavorful vegetarian Indian cuisine. We reconnected with our yoga asana practice and meditation in the quiet wilderness. As with most ashrams or communities, there are ancient teachings of a guru perpetuated by the order of swamis. We did, however, fail to read the small print that somehow included Jesus in its ancient lineage. Everyone there was kind especially the sweet community dig, mamma. Their teachings weren’t something that’s spoke to us.

Our last taste of India was one of the hardest to swallow. An early departure meant an even earlier cab ride to the airport. We exited our hotel room at 3 am only to find the hotel staff asleep and strewn throughout the hallway like dirty laundry hastily discarded on the floor. We crammed into a government owned taxi and immediately began negotiations. The driver didn’t speak much English and the bellman acted as translator. The driver opened with a high price explaining it was a night-time rate. I suggested we use the meter and he acted as if it was blasphemy. To avoid a round-about tour of Mumbai to jack up the fare we kind of agreed on a fixed rate. I say “kind of” because the bellman just kept doing the side-ways head shake and the driver sped off. The fixed-rate attempt to avoid the scenic tour was for naught. Our driver avoided every freeway and found the sketchiest and most putrid smelling back alleys to drive us through. It’s unclear whether his clutch was shot or his understanding of its purpose was incomplete – probably a combination – but after we stalled for the fourth time the situation turned from comical to borderline scary. Our direction indicated we were headed towards the airport and we endured. The cab sputtered to a stop in front of international departures and we couldn’t get out fast enough. Knowingly or not the driver started the meter when we left the hotel. I paid him the fair, even generously rounded up. He angrily held out his hand looking for more and I lost it. I lost it for all of the miscommunications, headaches, and rip-offs. I lost it over the head shake, the filth, the begging, and crowds. I lost it over the stress inducing, catecholamine-surging, fearing for my life. “Your taxi shouldn’t even be in service!” I exclaimed. He may not have understood my words, but he saw it in my eyes, redacted his request, and drove off. And that was India…

You don’t have to visit an Ashram in India to find peace, and you don’t live in India, you survive.

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