By: Alan Zoppa, Software Engineering Manager
Intro: Continuing our Enova Sabbatical series this week is Alan Zoppa, Software Engineering Manager. Alan has been with Enova for over five years and shared his story of his well-earned vacation with us.
I spent two weeks of my sabbatical traveling across Northwest India with my wife. After a flight to Delhi and an overnight train to Dehradun, we arrived in Rishikesh. This is a quiet hill station where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas. The Beatles wrote the White Album in the jungle nearby. It’s unlawful to consume meat or alcohol within its borders. We arrived the day before Diwali, and there were marigolds and diyas everywhere. The next evening I paid ten rupees for two aartis, which we lit and set floating down the river. After three days, I made a final trip to the river, where I stepped in to collect water to distribute as gifts.
We then flew to Amritsar. 20 miles from the Pakistan border in Punjab, this is the holiest city in Sikhism. On the first night, we walked through the tangled Old City, looking for a famous, hundred-year-old restaurant called Kesar Da Dhaba.
Western tourists are uncommon in Amritsar, and we were often treated like celebrities. The next day, we visited Jalianwala Bagh, the site of a famous massacre during the colonial era. In a less solemn moment, three young Sikh men asked to take a picture with us. This happened dozens of times during our trip.
We visited the Golden Temple, the holiest site to the Sikhs. We went inside the temple and visited the Langar Kitchen. The Golden Temple has been serving a free, simple meal 18 hours a day, non-stop for 300 years. This is open to anyone willing to cover their head and remove their shoes. Despite the fact that Sikhs aren’t necessarily vegetarians themselves, the meal is meatless out of deference to visitors of other faiths.
After four days in Amritsar, we flew to Udaipur. This was comparatively uneventful, but beautiful. Every night, we’d drink Kingfisher Beer at a café on Lake Pichola. We had a favorite open-air restaurant run by a married couple. On our second night, they made us pakora, hummus and pita from scratch while we waited. At the next table, the owners’ son was flirting with a trio of Spanish tourists. Across the street, two fourteen-year-olds were having a fist fight over a motor scooter. A rickshaw driver watched and laughed and the cows scoffed. A few feet away, I bought a marble elephant for 250 rupees from a man carving them with just a chisel.
We left Udaipur on a night train to Jaipur. We took a few hours the first afternoon to eat, shop, and visit the Amer Fort. The highlight was our visit to an elephant rescue called Elefantastic. This was… indescribable. I can only say that it was deeply humbling to wrap an arm around a six-ton mammal that could crush me on a whim. They sent an autorickshaw to take us from our hotel to a village outside of Jaipur. There we met Sampha, a 40-year-old female elephant. We fed and watered her by hand before we were taken to the proprietor’s family home, where his mother cooked and served lunch for us. Afterwards, we returned to paint Sampha’s skin (she loves this, apparently) and take a bareback ride around the perimeter of the ranch.
The next day we took a train to Delhi and flew home that evening. There’s little else to say. I bathed in the Ganges. I watched the nightly border closing ceremony at Wagah. I took Langar at Harmandir Sahib and visited the martyr’s well at Jalianwala Bagh. I climbed the hill to Neemach Mata and saw hills and city on all sides. I spent all afternoon with an elephant who lifted my 210 lbs. onto her back with just her trunk. I’ll be back, to the south next time, and I don’t think I can wait another five years.