Although travel is in my blood, and I can’t think of anyplace I wouldn’t want to visit, there are still certain destinations that inspire more trepidation than others. India was one of those places I was somewhat hesitant to visit alone. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to warm to the idea of it being a great adventure. That is until less than 24 hours after I arrived, I found myself stranded at a train station in the middle of nowhere. I had left New Delhi that morning on a 6 am train to Haridwar, where someone was supposed to meet and transport me to Ananda in the Himalayas, a fabulous destination spa that attracts spa-goers from around the world with its renowned Ayurveda program. I say supposed to because when I got off the train, no one was there. Well, I shouldn’t say no one because the station was somewhat of a mob scene.
There were groups of people laying everywhere with swarms of flies hovering in the air. I wandered around the station for about an hour (being accosted all the while by porters and cab drivers) before I finally gave up and asked some men dressed in military garb where I might find a phone. One of them responded with a dismissive nod to the right. Not knowing what else to do, I set off in that direction, knowing all the while that I had already done several laps down that way and hadn’t glimpsed any sign of a pay phone. Aside from that, I still wasn’t prepared to address how I was actually going to pay for a call, seeing as how I hadn’t yet changed any money.
Looking lost and on the verge of tears, I was approached by a man who asked if I needed help. “Yes, yes, I do need help!” I practically cried. After telling him I needed a phone, my sudden savior escorted me to a booth marked STD. I had noticed it earlier but steered clear not being especially taken with the idea of anything bearing that name. Unbeknownst to me, STD actually stands for Standard Trunk Dialing and refers to the area code. A bored adolescent dialed the number of my contact (because I couldn’t figure out how to do it myself), and I explained that no one had arrived to pick me up and that I was stranded at the STD booth in the station. Mr. something-or-other apologized profusely, and said he’d call me right back. Luckily, he did and with another apology, he asked me what I was wearing (apparently, the fact that I was the only blonde in the entire station wasn’t description enough) and told me to wait in the upper class waiting room. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t imagine it being worse than the lower class waiting room. It was dark, hot, and crammed with people spread across the floor. I opted to wait outside. Half an hour later (after being interrogated by a group of eight-year-old boys), a man ran up to me and beckoned me to follow. Fortunately, he turned out to be legit and put me in a cab to Ananda.