The Road to Jaigoan

I’ve ridden the wooden Cyclone roller-coaster at Cony Island just one time. One minute and fifty seconds in the apple-red car, etched in time.

The spine-jarringly rough ride and being thrown from side to side as the car lurched through its turns both stick in my memory. These set the coaster apart from its peers more than the climbs and plunges. And it was these that brought the Cyclone to mind hour after hour as we drove to Jaigoan through the night.

Potholes isn’t an appropriate word here, because it implies a few isolated depressions in the road. This was a road as uneven as the Cyclone’s tracks.

Indian traffic provided the swerves. Their traffic flow isn’t restricted by lanes. Cars maneuver with organized chaos much the way that pedestrians maneuver on a packed New York City sidewalk, flowing, rarely colliding, rarely moving in a straight line.

It was late when we arrived in Jaigoan, and I was tired — but not too tired to be struck by three lessons:

1) Our hotel in Jaigoan was spare and clean. We checked-in there before doing anything else. The beds were thin, firm palettes. Ceiling fans kept us cool-ish. We had an outdoor bathroom on the balcony. (By bathroom I mean a room with a toilet, small mirror, wall spigots, and buckets — not a tub or shower stall).

The one piece of technology — something I’ve seen in many countries, but still not the US — was a power slot on the wall for the hotel key. When you remove the key, lights, outlets, and ceiling fans throughout the room all turn off.

The implementation wasn’t perfect (you needed your key to open your closet on the other side of the room, but couldn’t see to get there if you took the key from the slot). But the lesson was clear. Before other refinements, not wasting energy is fundamental.

Likewise, the bathroom was primitive in some ways, but featured a small/large dual flush toilet. They start with conservation as the first feature.

2) Late at night, exhausted, we were invited to a glorious dinner of home-prepared North Indian dishes. Even with eyelids drooping, the food and company were fantastic.

The evening was capped off with a rare, expensive treat: Bhutan apples.

Apples are an exotic delight in India. Apples are easier to obtain in the US, but no less precious. Learn to treasure apples.

3) Early the next morning we went to the end of the road to Jaigoan: the Gate to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan. At the ornate gate you’ll find a collection of vendors, commuters, and booking agents for exotic adventures.

I was struck by two boys armed with spray canisters. They doused each car entering India from Bhutan with “medicine”. When pressed, they described it as poison to kill insects and germs, to prevent Avian Flu.

Pesticides and disinfectants sprayed in the streets. Sprayed on cars, bikes, and rickshaws. Sprayed without protective gear. It’s jarring to see. They are combating a legitimate threat in a clumsy and risky way.

Of course in the US we spray pesticides on our food!. Most of us just aren’t there to see it. And we spray chemical disinfectants on our kitchen counters. And use chemical disinfectant wipes on our kids’ toys..

There are better ways to control germs and pests! Thymol is a powerful, safe, natural disinfectant, reliably killing germs. Organic techniques can be sustainable, safer, more effective ways of dealing pests.

A cyclone is a whirling windstorm. I emerged from our brief dizzying time in Jaigoan swirling with desires to reduce wasted energy, to reduce unnecessary toxic chemicals, and to value apples like they were exotic treasures from Bhutan (which they are).

Not just for one minute and fifty seconds of a thrill ride storm, or for the several hours of an Indian expedition, but as part of the everyday weave of the fabric of life.

These things are both a journey and a destination., useful not just in a storm, but in everyday life.

We can all learn to ask ourselves, “How many power switches can you turn off in your home or office right now?” “How are you protecting your family from toxic chemicals?”

And to enjoy an apple everyday that we can.

Read more in this series:
We Know the Secret
Greetings From Chenga, India
They Say an Elephant Never Forgets
Eating What The Host Serves
The Road to Jaigoan
One Cup of Tea
The Epicenter

Published on: March 11, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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