Focus: Night train version

Manage your mindset

Recently I went on a wild adventure through India. It was short lived due to time constraints, but didn’t lack experience.

I dropped into New Delhi for a few days, took a car trip to Agra, night train to Varanasi, a flight to Kolkata then flew out to Thailand.

It was a fast paced blur of experiences combining multiple facets of culture and self awareness. I wish I could say it was all rays of sunshine or that I came out the other side with a spiritual awakening, but that wasn’t entirely my experience.

I could write a piece that only shares the positive notes, but there are plenty of those articles online. Instead I’ll wander to the other side of travel and use it as an illustration of the potential to lose focus and cloud perception.

The side where I watched a grown man getting beat down by two others in broad daylight in the middle of a crowd and nobody flinched. The side where warnings of being drugged and robbed on the night train were the norm.

The side where kids warn you about using the taxis because they’re dangerous for tourist and instead suggest only use Uber to avoid something bad happening.

Shout out Kolkata kids, you were a few of the good social interactions I had along the way.

Research will only get you so far

I’ve read many articles about this amazing country called India. Amazing people and food. Incredible sights and so much to discover. 

I know one day I’ll have to give India a second chance, but for now I’ve had my share. 

Where I’m going with all this is a discovery, or reaffirmation, I had along the way. It relates to the idea of having control over your focus and how you allow it to dominate your mindset.

I allowed my perception to be skewed to the darker side of things while traveling through India. Instead of maintaining a balance I began to focus heavily on what was bad and very rapidly it began to consume any good there may have been.

I was challenged in so many ways. I guess in some sense a form of enlightenment came from confusion, frustration, anger, fear and a number of other emotions.

Nearly every interaction and experience on this short journey was shrouded in a whirlwind of emotions. The problem was I allowed the negative to overcome the positive.

There were very few interactions that didn’t involve someone trying to hustle me out of money or time. I wish I had experienced more casual conversation without an agenda driven by money.

Jaded perception

I began to look at everyone as a hustler and stopped viewing them as individuals. I stopped enjoying traveling and started to view it as a mission to get out in one piece with all my gear.

My driver warned me numerous times to not eat or drink anything from anyone on the night train because I may get drugged and robbed. This is a reality on the night train and those that suggest it isn’t are delusional.

Yet again, most women I know in the states are aware to pay close attention to their drinks at a bar or not accept drinks from strangers because the same is possible.

However, it’s still possible to go out to a bar and enjoy yourself, but it’s necessary to be aware.

Instead of just being aware and enjoying the interesting night train experience I found myself defensive, agitated and ready to strike at the first potential conflict.

I was offered chai by a stranger during the trip and the first thought through my mind was I should punch them in their throat and move to a different car. Not an ideal mindset on a 15 hour train ride.

Hollow eyes

The stares on the faces was something to get past, but I never did. In India there is no personal space and the notion of it not being polite to stare is no where to be found. 

It became somewhat concerning at times to see I was who everyone was staring at within a one hundred meter radius. Hundreds of pairs of eyes just glaring, not a smile in sight.

I could hear everyone silently chanting fresh fish every time I turned the corner or entered an establishment. The target on my back grew bigger by the hour.

I’m a taller white dude so I stick out like a sore thumb in India, but the staring was an aspect of daily life I’m not accustomed to. Having a security mindset messed with me in this regard.

I began to have a sense of extreme readiness and thoughts developed on how to manage potentially dangerous situations that would arise. 

I read many articles prior to traveling that suggested the need to be extremely cognizant of your belongings and where you were navigating for safety. Sure this goes without saying in all parts of the world, but the prevalence for India is undeniable. 

A $6000 camera is roughly two years salary for the average person there. I can only imagine that price tag can solicit some violent tendencies from shady characters.

Bleeding heart

When you see the severity of poverty you begin to understand. Seeing homeless people with no legs dragging themself through piss and shit in the streets is a disturbing site. 

What makes it worse is they are everywhere and the idea of social services was lost. Nobody even looked at them. They were the forgotten lost souls left to die in the gutters.

I would have been broke after the first day if I was to try help all of them with a little cash. Empathy was a battle on the daily.

Avoiding eye contact with a pan handler on a street corner in the states is much different than telling a kid covered in dirt with no shoes and heavily worn clothes to stop grabbing you and asking for food in India.

I started to feel like a horrible person telling them no. It was a regular occurrence throughout the day. Where’s the spiritual awakening there? Where’s the enlightenment there?

I struggle with this one because sure I could be like everyone else and avoid looking at them, but I knew they were there. Once you see them you can’t unsee them.

I still see their innocent eyes staring up at me with their palms open. So many it’s difficult to get past.

Cold and heartless is my thought when I consider how I managed to navigate through their pleas for help.

I started to see a world that prizes fancy things over social wellbeing and this also began to impact my mindset for the duration of the trip. It really is true some people are born into a horrible reality or find their way there for one unfortunate reason or another.

Circumstance is a force multiplier

Truth is I didn’t see a smile on the faces of any of those dragging themself along. As much as I push mindset and positivity I know there are some instances which if I was to push that agenda it’s unreasonable.

For those that think otherwise go wander around markets in New Delhi or Kolkata for a few days, you’ll find answers relatively quickly. If you still believe it’s reasonable to tell someone to smile more who’s covered in filth with no legs and dragging along asking for food then you’re not human.

If you’re from a developed country and think you understand poverty, you’re going to be disturbed quickly. It reminded me of Iraq during the mid 2000’s, minus the thriving insurgency.

Government travel sites have elevated warnings for travel in India and certain regions are no-go zones, especially for a white dude from the states. Our blood is the brightest against our skin when the head is cut off on the nightly news.

Pretty easy to lose focus if you allow yourself to. My mind has a way of seeing the potential for the worst case as a means for survival.

Unfortunately this can take the fun out of a lot of opportunities. It’s a love hate relationship I have.

There were numerous people that warned me about having photography gear out in public or carrying around at night. They had previously traveled there with gear and had their own experiences to share.

Evidence is overwhelming

A further illustration of the region is the week that followed my travel was the Sri Lanka Easter day bombings (2019). Hundreds were targeted, bombed and killed because of their religion or being a tourist. Hotels and churches alike.

Sri Lanka is just off the tip of India and illustrates a regional security dynamic that’s undeniable. There’s a certain thought process that comes with having vehicles searched for explosives before entering different areas. 

For those of you who haven’t traveled to regions with even slightly elevated security advisories you’ll have fun on your first go around. 

To get into one nicer hotel I went to eat at in Kolkata the taxi trunk was opened and searched, engine searched, mirrors looking underneath the car and dogs sniffing. This is normal in a war zone and security checkpoints for government buildings, but to get to a hotel restaurant?

Reminiscent of a war zone indeed and elevated my thoughts on security awareness to the next level. Oh shit, I remember car bombs, they’re fucking crazy. 

Tit for tat

I’ll admit it can be argued this is the reality in the states or western countries in general. Anyone remember the Oklahoma city bombing?

Some areas are dangerous and there are those who are going to try hustle you rather than help you. Anyone who’s lived in bigger cities in the states knows this all too well.

Hell, in the states we’ve had so many mass shootings they’ve become natural to see in the news and in some respect I’ve become desensitized to them. However, in some ways it’s not so difficult to manage focus in the states for a number of reasons.

One, I understand English when navigating cities. If you’ve never been in a situation where you’re trying to accomplish something in a foreign country and language you’ll have fun your first time.

When those around you are all speaking in the language you will understand the disadvantage this presents.

You’re at their mercy and mostly just along for the ride. Even when you know you’ve just been hustled all you can do is smile and either try again somewhere else or accept the interaction for what it is.

Two, understanding culture is massive. By the end of the journey I began to realize the blank facial stares that went on forever or stern looks where just the norm.

In the states that behavior reminds me of being in areas where thugs have something to prove. Those that are laying claim to their territory and sending a warning to any who enter, beware.

Truth hurts

I’m not here to talk shit about India, although I’m sure it would appear so. Rather I’m illustrating what happened to my own balance of mindset. 

The reality is this can happen anywhere in the world and I’ve tried to share that as well. It just happened rapidly and as intensely as I’ve ever experienced on this short trip.

I took all these pieces of negativity that happened along the journey and piled them up. Rather than allowing myself to see the lighter side of things that were also present I allowed my vision to be clouded. 

I started to see perceived threats everywhere. Questioned the security in different areas and developed plans in my mind just incase something happened. 

Being aware and prepared in one thing, being paranoid is another.

All of the photos in this blog were taken by me during the trip and a reminder of the beauty that was in front of my eyes.

There was good and I did have a number of interesting and pleasant experiences. I did meet locals that were enjoyable to converse with and experienced great food and sites. 

However, looking back, I can see many instances where I had my guard up or was approaching a situation in a manner that wasn’t necessary. This was due to previous experiences of an attempted hustle or otherwise unsavory experience on the trip.

Peace of mind

One day I hired a row boat in the Ganges river, referred to as the Ganga by the locals. It really was a magical experience in Varanasi.

Mostly due to the fact it was the first time I had felt any sense of peace during the journey.

The first moment I really felt like the oxygen entering my lungs was truly performing it’s function as a provider of life. The moment the weight I had been carrying left my shoulders and my chest freed of tension.

Babu, my boatman, wasn’t trying to sell me anything. He wasn’t filling the silence with talking about where I needed to visit or bazars I needed to buy things from.

It was beautiful silence.

Can you spot the solo person meditating?

Pure unadulterated peace of mind. Floating on a foggy morning sunrise along the river seeing the morning rituals play out by the locals.

Even in that moment I knew some of the mindset I had developed on the journey was extreme. I told myself I needed relax and not push against the current so much. Fitting metaphor considering I’m discussing a boat ride.

Experience is a teacher

I thought I’d share a bit of a recent journey I was on, both physically and mentally as a way to illustrate the potential for loss of focus on what matters.

India really is an amazing country, but it takes a very strong sense of understanding to manage what comes with it. 

I’m sure if I traveled to Goa or some other chill tourist destination, performed yoga and drank frosty beverages on a beach I’d have come back with a much more “woke” experience.

That’s not what happened and in many ways I’m glad I had the night train version.

The challenges that came with the journey I took are unparalleled with any other civilian traveling I’ve done. The insights I got into my own thoughts and tendencies were brutally honest and impactful. It wasn’t a vacation, it was travel at it’s finest.

For those of you who’ve never taken a 15 hour night train in a developing country, I dare you. You’ll learn something through the experience guaranteed. That said, I’m not responsible for anything that may happen in that journey, good luck! 😉

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