India has always had a special place in my heart. From a young age I was fascinated by the mysticism surrounding the Indian subcontinent and its 1.3 billion population. I have a terrible memory but from what I do recall one of the first movies I watched that inspired my love was The Little Princess. The protagonist Sarah whispers tales of India detailing aromatic fragrances like saffron and curry, elephants bathing in the Holy lakes, the singing she once heard echoing through Himalayan mountains, the colour of the ever changing skies and recounts mythical tales of poetry she was once enthralled by. The story captures the spirit of India as Sarah uses these senses to escape from her own reality. As a ten year old I was pretty impressed.
Similarly, narratives like The Jungle Book and The Darjeeling Limited left impressions on me. One of my favourite books since being a teenager was The Life of Pie and the poetic adventures fabricated in Shantaram excited adventure in me. Indian philosophy, culture and tradition has always had its allure. It was never a place of danger or something that provoked fear in me. I remember learning about India in geography class and was blown away by the diversity of the landscapes and the chaos of the structure of society. My teacher spoke passionately about India and in university a lecturer laughed about how India didn’t bring in traffic lights until the mid 00’s.
All these memories created a mysterious bubble surrounding India and my unbridled feverish necessity to travel there to experience it all myself and conjure my own opinions. I knew about the inequality and possible dangers but it wasn’t until I was finalizing my decision to go that the media spilled countless stories in the press about the horrifying brutalities committed against women there. In the months waiting in anticipation to leave all anyone would recount were these unsettling stories confessing their worry and concern for me going. How could a young, Western, blonde haired blue eyed girl ever be safe in an impoverished, destitute, corrupt and dangerous place? Would I be travelling alone? I’d surely need to be with a guy? Would I have to dye my hair? There were no words of encouragement from those who had never been to India, their ignorance was wildly blind to the ineffable experience I’d yet to unfold. Thankfully, my passion to experience ubiquitous Spiritual moments, devour spicy saucy Indian dishes, dance to nomadic enchanting traditional music, visit historic temples & monasteries, motorbike across the Himalaya’s, camel trek through the Thar desert boarding Pakistan, explore fertile jungles, swim in The Ganges, witness the sobering cremations along the Ghats in Varanasi and discover more about myself and others, religion, faith or what the meaning of God meant to me than I could ever have possibly imagined never faltered.
I always felt like it was necessary to go. It was always a place floating through my consciousness.
Loudly singing to me it stirred my spirit and soul and having been to India three times in the past year, spending a total of seven unexpected months there, I can wholeheartedly confess that India is like a second mother to me. An adventurous world where something new can be seen, felt, heard and learned at every waking moment. Spirituality is inescapable as is poverty, injustice, discrimination and suffering.You’re forced to integrate yourself in an enigmatic, paradoxical world. You have to immerse yourself in the daily challenges you face, the incredible diversity of each town, city and surrounding space which arouses awe, confusion, stress or even illness. Its an attack of the senses, an adrenaline rush which encourages you to observe, interpret and experience life so far removed from the society we know. It has an impressive democracy and a history as colourful as the saris worn by Indian women, and should not be underestimated. People are very well educated and despite its shortcomings it has an impressive middle class on the rise. People celebrate at any given opportunity. When I first arrived last October fireworks lit the skies and parties commenced all day and night without a single drop of alcohol consumed. People danced and sang wildly down the streets in honour of their God’s. Not one place is the same. Every city and region has its own dizzying characteristic unique to itself. The food, language and philosophy differs from Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity and Judaism. It is so culturally diverse that people say you’d need more than one lifetime to explore India and it’s true! Most people I met had been to India countless times. Most of the memorable inspiring ones were travelling alone, living alternative lifestyles, lone wolves baying to the enchanting moon, living under the crippling heat of the sacred sun.
When I decided it was time to leave Northern India after 3 months I was convinced by a friend I’d met to go to Nepal. I was originally planning on going home the following month but as plans always do, they changed. On our way to the train to book tickets to cross the boarder from Varanasi, three of us on one scooter, we passed an elephant on the street. A symbolism of good luck. Everyday is a day to interpret the world in a more magical sense of a word. I left for Nepal and returned to India for another 3 months. Nepal was the equivalent of rehab. A place of solitude and rest. By the time my visa was running out I didn’t want to leave India for the second time after exploring the Southern region. It was as if I wasn’t quiet ready. I needed more time. For what I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t feel right to go home yet. I had explored a huge portion of the continent but exploration and discovery is endless. So I did what was most convenient and cheap and flew to Sri Lanka and applied for a new visa. Later I returned to India to 40 degree heat, took painting and yoga classes and absorbed all I could in my remaining few weeks in the city of lakes in Udaipur. I had been on the road living out of a backpack for 13 months now having backpacked across 8 different countries. I was exhausted. Worn. Sweaty. Done. I had it. Sick of the intoxicating smells, fed up of invasive questions, the staring, vendors, taxi and rickshaw drivers screaming for attention, the uncomfortable draining heat, endless commuting on trains and buses for hours on end, pollution and countless times I had food poisoning.
But for all that had me in a ball of tears on my bed, feeling confused, insecure, overwhelmed and more uncertain of anything, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a 24 year old kid. I challenged myself, remained open, honest and humble while I adhered to certain formalities to ensure my own safety. I’m so grateful I get to write about my own experience when all I did for so long was sit and stare wide eyed at the people who filled me with fantasies and fairy tales of what to expect while on the road. India might not be everyone’s favourite place but her charm and wonder have a resonating impact on those who are willing to go and find their own bewitching alchemy. You have to let go and surrender to the unknown to allow wonderful things to happen.