This time last year I was on the final stretch of a month long journey through India, earning the titles of both the most challenging and most rewarding trip to date. Below is a short story I wrote sharing some experiences from the trip, the highlights are seen in my India Portfolio.
When I first visited India in 2009, it was my first foray into the third world – solo, at that - and I left feeling quite defeated. I had fallen prey to some of the oldest tourist traps in the book but in the long run it was a successful journey with no missed trains or lost luggage. Still, I came home dreading the possibility of returning and thankful I only spent a week there. It wasn’t until years later, having filled an entire passport with stamps, I realized how much I wanted to return to that magical country. With an open mind, I was off to India for the chance it deserves.
Exiting the Delhi airport for the second time, thick stagnant dust invasively shrank my personal bubble down to a humbling singularity. Innumerable taxi drivers touted their services with social engineering skills honed to take advantage of the jet lagged tourists. Before I knew it, I was launched into the ballistic dance of midnight traffic and the stale memories of the thirty-hour journey quickly faded. The driver threaded through pedestrians, rickshaws, and cows with surgical precision, miraculously navigating the way to one of a thousand hotels in the city… tired and hungry, it would take almost a month to feel comfortable in my new environment.
My month-long itinerary included the Taj Mahal, the holy city of Varanasi, the saturated periwinkle blues of Jodhpur, a week in Kanpur, and a quick stop in the town that inspired Kipling to write the Jungle Book.
Describing travel through India is like trying to interpret a new form of music while walking through a perfumery - it’s a nonstop assault on all of your senses. To fully experience India requires a certain threshold of fortitude, else one quickly becomes overwhelmed with the nonstop blur of colors and faces. I quickly learned the best way to appreciate India is in little vignettes - A quiet pre-dawn boat ride down the Ganges before the chaos of the day ensues, the difference between air saturated not with trash fires or diesel exhaust but instead with sandalwood and jasmine, or the echoic calls of the chai vendor as he lures customers with his melodic chanting.
A particularly interesting sensual overload took on the form of many hundreds firecrackers that resonated through the maze of alleys that comprise Jodhpur. I found myself in the heart of Diwali celebrations, and while I won’t pretend to fully understand this holiday, my takeaway was the celebration of light over darkness, good over evil, and new beginnings. Between the anxieties of anticipating the next firecracker and avoiding (what I assumed to be) fractional sticks of dynamite, there was a sincerity in the people that resonated with my memories of childhood and suddenly I felt connected to the people of India. I took comfort knowing that one billion others were sharing this experience… at least until the next explosion reinstated my survival instinct.
We all know that phrase - travel broadens the mind - but instead, I feel a more appropriate saying is that travel is a tool for personal growth. If used correctly it breeds a deeper appreciation for others while giving perspective to other parts of your life. Travel (and it's inevitable stressors) requires the same attention the rest of the toolbox demands, it just so happens that India is a country that requires constant honing.