In October, I joined the Kwan Um School of Zen for a two-week pilgrimage to Buddhist sites in Northern India, followed by another week of travel with several friends. Notes from the road…

As the two week mark in India approaches, I’m feeling pretty beat up. Fascinating though India is, it’s not an easy country to travel in. Let me count the ways:

You are constantly breathing in dust made of finely-powdered human and animal feces, and also breathing toxic smoke from the countless trash piles burning in the streets.

There are no functional sidewalks in most places, so a simple stroll down the street is a life-threatening adventure through crazed honking drivers, cows, dogs, and pushy peddlars.

Because it’s hot, it’s easy to get dehydrated and have your electrolytes depleted. I can tell it’s happening when I feel an exhausted inner tremor.

My body is also rebelling against the unaccustomed steady diet of Indian and Korean food. (We have a cook accompanying the tour who prepares many of our temple meals: boiled greens, more greens, rice, fermented cabbage, spicy curries, radish soup, and did I mention boiled greens? Pretty good stuff, but for breakfast?)

Everything at all times seems to be jerry-rigged and under construction. Take our hotel in Rajir, for example. Last night there was jackhammering on the level directly over our heads till 10:00 p.m. George finally went downstairs and yelled at the management. The jackhammering stopped, but some defiant banging continued for another quarter hour.

The hardest thing, though, has been the length of the bus rides. India is just not set up for long-haul travel by road. I’m starting to brood about the long distances still to come.

The trip to Kushinagar today started at 6 a.m. with an estimated arrival at lunch time. This was quickly revised to 3 p.m., and then dinner time. That time passed, and still we continued to bump along through the gathering darkness, surrounded by smoke and cooking fires.

When we arrived at the Vietnamese temple after 14 hours of travel, everyone was exhausted. Diana and Maggy and I went to our room and I flopped down on the futon-like bed. A moment later, from the bathroom, came an enormous crash.

“Uh…you alright in there, Diana?” I went in to check on her and this is what I saw.

The sink, which had been affixed to the wall with two small dabs of plaster, had flipped off at her touch and smashed to pieces. What could we do at that point but collapse into hysterical, helpless, snot-flying laughter? We laughed and laughed, and all the fatigue and difficulty sort of melted away. It was great.

India is funny that way. The “bad” stuff and the “good” stuff seem to be inseparable.