You always meet the most interesting people when traveling.
January 23, 2013 was a cold morning in Varanasi, India. I had ended up there by complete accident... hopping the wrong train in Amritsar I missed Delhi by 500 miles, and wound up in Varanasi, the ancient city located on the Ganges(Ganga) river. I had left Texas right after graduating college in December of 2012, intent on finding myself. What started as a "cultural immersion" in Pakistan quickly turned into me fleeing the country and crossing into India on foot. I had never done anything like this, or really traveled anywhere alone; but three weeks and a thousand miles later, here I was sitting in a cold guest room in one of the most culturally significant cities in the world, with two other travels that I had just met... by accident.
I had met this pair just two days prior. Thomas, a French vagabond with a shaved head ponytail and a habit for chain smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes; and Nadia, a twenty-something German girl who I had started talking to while sitting outside a Pathani guest house. They had invited me to the Kumbh Mela, the largest Hindu religious festival in the world. This festival happened to be in Allahabad, less than 100 miles west of Varanasi and it only occurred there once every twelve years... talk about serendipitous timing.
"There is another American coming with us."
Said Thomas as he rolled another cigarette, lying on a cot waiting for the arrival of our fourth and final companion. How these two met Susan D. I don't know, but she was a character straight out of a novel. An energetic and spry woman in her mid 60s, carrying a backpack almost as large as she was. Yet despite her small stature she had a presence that you could feel... she filled the room.
We arrived in Allahabad several days before the start of the festival. The bus dropped us a few miles from the festival grounds, and when we got there Thomas and Nadia wanted to go drink opium tea with "The Rainbow Gathering". So Susan and I said our goodbyes to the pair and parted ways with them, continuing to wander around the sprawling grounds looking for the ashram where she would be staying. The sun was setting by the time we finally found it, and Susan had booked a nice heated room for her stay. Up until this point I had been sleeping outside or in cheap guest houses and she was extremely gracious and offered to let me stay on the floor for the night. However, the ashram wouldn't allow me to stay on the floor unless I paid 1100 rupees for the night, which is roughly 10% of an Indian's monthly wage. This festival was supposed to be a place of "enlightenment" and "self discovery", but I understood that it was a business they were running and didn't bother objecting. Night was rapidly falling as Susan walked with me to the gate and one of the last things she told me was to "enjoy the ride" as I walked on into the night. I ended up making my way back across India and up into Nepal several weeks later where I realized that I wanted to start Kuros!™ and provide free pepper spray to women in developing countries as a way to protect themselves against assault.
Susan D. was the only other American that I talked to on my way across India, and I met her the day after having some pretty big realizations about my life. While I spent less than twenty-four hours with her, I still remember her very clearly. I have omitted the rest of her last name for privacy but she was traveling alone, originally from the Boulder Colorado area, and around 65 years old. She was about 5'3 in height with white hair and worked in research prior to traveling. She had a tremendous energy about her, and a worldly presence that anyone who knows her will understand.
If anyone knows a Susan D. this sounds like who was traveling alone through India in 2013 please let her know that I have been trying to track her down(firstname.lastname@example.org), if nothing more than just to thank her for the kindness she showed, the good conversation she gave, and to let her know that I am still enjoying the ride.