AHMEDABAD – One of the lessons we’ve learned on this trip is that travel is not about the destination, but the experience. And what an experience we had today! Day Seven started in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges and ended 700 miles away in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat.

We knew we were going, but could not have anticipated how we would get there. The plan was to leave Rishikesh at noon and arrive in New Delhi in time for our 8:10 p.m. Air India flight to Ahmedabad. But in India, traffic is painstakingly slow, the roads badly maintained, the honking horns loud and people often late. Our bus driver tried his best to speed through the traffic. Yogi-ji made countless phone calls to Air India staff at Indira Gandhi International Airport. But, as our bus finally approached the gate, and with our flight scheduled to take off around 15 minutes later, we knew our odds were thin.

If only we knew this in advance, we would have left Rishikesh earlier in the day. But Rishikesh is a hard place to leave. The city offers an interesting contradiction in Indian culture. A beautiful town on the foot of the Himalayas, it is surrounded by natural beauty. The turquoise hues of the River Ganges flow below colorful bridges and alongside scattered buildings and shops. This morning, a few of us leisurely explored that world for a couple of hours. We wandered, we shopped and we questioned this enigma of a place — a place of countless yoga practices, ashrams, Ayurvedic cafes selling vegan foods and scones to people who have come here from across the world, clad in baggy pants and with yoga mats under their arms, to embrace their spirituality in India.

After our free hours in the morning, we hopped on the bus to begin the journey to the airport. On board, I immediately questioned Yogi Ji about this place which, at least from my point of view, seemed like an almost inauthentic version of India; a place designed solely for international folks to find themselves, while also shielded from the country’s innate poverty and established as a Western construct of Indian spirituality. But, his response surprised me: “How is this not the real India?”

Yes, Rishikesh is international. It acts as a spiritual haven for the thousands who travel across the world in search of meaning, of purpose from the stresses of life and all its’ complexities. Yes, it lacks Delhi’s smog or slums. The stray dogs are plump and trash on the ground is almost non-existent. But, those are also blatant stereotypes of India propagated by the media. Rishikesh is India — it’s a clear example of eastern spirituality and Hinduism. India is a place of so many stories. Rishikesh is simply one narrative of many.

Looking out the windows on the bus from Rishikesh to Delhi, I am enveloped by a safety net. We pass small huts made of sheet metal, cows grazing on the side of the road, a woman washing her clothes in a stream as her naked toddler runs around behind her. I notice Coca-Cola signs attached to small huts — globalization at its finest — and a small child in a bright red dress skipping through the dirt and grinning from ear to ear. Our air-conditioned bus of foreigners whisks by fruit stands — oranges and bananas and papayas — and motor bikes honking horns and tea stalls and so much trash. We are in India, enmeshed in the country’s culture and rich history and ways of life. But, we will also always be at a distance, looking out the window as the country passes us by.

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Around lunchtime, we stop off at a Domino’s Pizza in a town called Roorke. At first glance, it looks like any Domino’s Pizza found in the states. But, it is also distinctly Indian, from serving a “pizza burger,” which Andrea described as two buns of pizza dough and spices with cheese and sauce in the middle, to the various vegetarian offerings. According to Natasha, it was “the best pizza I’ve ever had on the road from Rishikesh to Delhi.”

When we finally arrived at the airport and realized that we missed our flight, the mood was tense. We sipped our coffees and wondered if we would make it to Ahmedabad that night or if we would have to stay overnight in an airport lounge or, if we were lucky, in an airport hotel.

It was at this moment that our time together on the bus and our many conversations paid off. We found comfort in our group, our second family. We made jokes, checked in on each other and rejoiced when Yogi-ji was able to find seats for all 17 of us on an 11 p.m. Jet Air flight. We may have missed our flight, but we solidified friendships. We demonstrated that we could be there for each other; we reaffirmed our conversation on the bus from only a few hours prior – even though it felt like a lifetime – that we are a team.

That night, or possibly morning since it was around 2 a.m., our group feasted on pizza, pasta, soup and sandwiches at the beautiful Hyatt Regency in Ahmedabad. The staff of the hotel kept the dining service open late for us. The day was long, but we made it to our destination. We made it to Ahmedabad.

Photo by Ana Singh