schooled by a cowRecently I returned from India, a two-week adventure involving stops at half-a-dozen cities, writing and photographing sites for a major magazine. Unlike most pre-packaged trips where the travel agency takes care of small details like hotels, transportation, food and visits to preordained tourist spots, my friend Bev and I were pretty much on our own, although we used Holidays at India, a boutique travel agency that mostly caters to Europeans, for some tours and hotels. I was also dealing with a cultural tourism representative who helped organize and coordinate contacts and visits to the necessary places. To accommodate our budget, we flew via Air India during the “off” season — April, the beginning of their very hot summer. And steerage was still packed during the 13-hour flight.

When I’d mention the excursion to friends and others, they would say things like, “Lucky you!” But luck had very little to do with it and I knew this when I got the assignment back in February 2015. Rather than go into the ups and down and occasional craziness involved, I’ll cut to the take-away: Keep going. If one thing doesn’t work out, try something else. The motion thing also worked well in terms of the physical demands of the trip itself, which involved climbing steep steps and navigating uneven pavement, walking for miles on end and dragging luggage everywhere. (Hint: Use two equally weighted medium bags, even if you have to run out the day before and buy one. It’s far better than a single heavy suitcase in case you have to schlep the thing up a flight of stairs against a huge mass of people pushing in the opposite direction, like Bev did at the train station in Pune.)

I also came away with a couple of insights about fortune. I met my new BFF Ganesh, which I later learned is the Hindu elephant god of wisdom and learning and remover of obstacles, at a temple, also in Pune. He was so sparkly and colorful that I purchased a mini-version of him and immediately put him in a prominent place in my office. Within a week of my return, I had several pending assignments and a huge contract, which I thought had been closed, suddenly opened up for bidding.

But to mix religious metaphors, on the yin (dark) side, I thought it would be hilarious to “tip” a sacred cow by handing it a rupee note. Cow-tipping being a Midwestern thing as in, on a Saturday night in your one-stoplight hometown, you go into a field where the cows sleep standing up and push them over. Of course I would never do such a thing because it not only is physically dangerous and traumatic for the animal but I would probably try to knock over a bull, which would end badly. But while at the Taj Mahal in Agra, I did come face-to-face with a cow and proffered it a 500-hundred rupee note, after finagling a friendly native to photograph the event for Facebook posterity. Several people saw and warned me not to do this as the cow would eat the equivalent of about $10. So I switched to 20 rupee note. The cow walked away, an annoyed look on its face. Within a couple of hours, bug spray exploded in all over my bag, I stepped in huge pile of cow dung, and upon returning to the hotel, found a major spill inside my makeup bag due to a mysterious distribution of very expensive face cream. I deleted all the pictures of myself with the cow but kept this one photo as a reminder not to mess with Mother Nature and what other people consider holy. Some might call it – groaner alert! – bovine revenge.

Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself. You may make mistakes, but you might find a “lucky” Ganesh to inspire you try again or at least get moo-ving in the right direction. And if you need any additional motivation or information please check out my updated list of events and conferences for the fall!

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