Judith (pronounced YU-dit): German woman, late 20s, maybe early 30s. Full mane of frizzy brown hair falling down to her shoulders, big eyes, large smile. On her third trip to India, loving Ladakh as she’s a fairly serious student of meditation. We meet her in yoga class, ask her to join us for breakfast at Wonder Land, and within a day she’s one of my favorite people to bump into in Leh. We talk about Buddhism at dinner that night, after Julia and I team up with her to go to the Hemis Festival. She spent 30 days at a meditation retreat in Nepal and says that things changed afterwards. Even unconscious things–she’s always been terrified of chickens, for no reason, but a few weeks after she got back, she had to feed the family flock and was shocked to find she could approach them with no fear. I would call her a believer in fate.
Simon: An Australian/New Zealander/Indian that I meet through Judith after the two of them go trekking for 8 days. As cynical as Judith is wide-eyed, yet I catch him reading books like “The Yogis of Ladakh” and he’s off to Dharmasala for a traditional medicine course. He also spent a year or two in China–China? Japan? Thailand?–working in a hospital in a similar capacity. Possibly late 20s, or maybe late 30s: huge beard conceals age on long narrow face. His skin color can be attributed to his half Indian heritage. He makes some jokes about where his father’s from, Bihar, and when I raise my eyebrows in question, he says, “Mmm, it’s the Wild West of India.” “Like the Outback,” I tease. “No,” Simon says, “In the Outback you generally don’t get kidnapped.”
Patrick and Jo: Friendly Brits who were married less than a month before I met them. Fellow meditators in the 2-day retreat. Jo is a blonde Jew who got married in a Keralan sari. (We have a long conversation on Indian misogyny at one point. Entry on that subject pending.) Patrick is an Indian Brit who moved to India to play professional football. Tell me this: do you know any American athletes who would go to a 2-day meditation retreat and enjoy it? Yeah, me neither.
Dutch girl in my Buddhism class: I can’t remember her name. I would say she spent the day stoned, except that in class she confessed she came to India to be a nun.
Tara: A half-Indian Brit who is on her third or fourth trip to India–this one’s lasted 6 months. She shows me on a map where she’s been: started at the southern tip, went through Kerala and Goa and Rajasthan, went out to Kolkata and I’m missing tons of others before hitting Ladakh. She seems to know everyone in Manali. She talks about buying acid and going parasailing (though notes she should not do it in that order). It’s only after the bus ride from Leh to Manali, when she’s talking about her upcoming birthday, that I learn she’s 19.
Minsu: A friendly South Korean who is on our bus to Nubra Valley and our puttering Jeep the next day. He’s a wedding photographer who shows me pictures of radiant Koreans in gowns on his iPod. We are Facebook friends almost immediately.
Saurabh: An Indian living in Delhi who seems to miss Bombay. Develops software for finance companies. Is our savior on the bus ride when we are stopped by the avalanche, because he appears to be the only Indian on the road for several kilometers who speaks English. Acts as our translator for the next 24 hours. Meets me in Delhi for a delicious South Indian dinner and marvels at how Americans and Europeans can travel alone. Indians, he assures me, are not capable of this.
Random American in a bar in Varanasi: This is the one who began by talking about his 40-day hiking trip in either Nepal or Bhutan, then talked loudly about watching bodies decay on the far bank of the Ganges while the restaurant was trying to eat. When we told him we were flying to Leh a few days later, he said, “Ha, I hope you’re not flying Air India! They had a crash a few days ago! Good luck with that.” I actually kept trying to meet other Americans after this, but I could not tell you why.
Struggling with the fact that my trip is over so soon, even though I was very close to changing my ticket and decided it was definitely not worth it. My Ultimate teammates in college always shouted “stay with, stay with!” when someone was running to try and line themselves up with the disc. I think of that saying a lot.